Home News Leaving migrants stranded at sea breaches international law, UN says

Leaving migrants stranded at sea breaches international law, UN says

Published on 16/09/2009

Geneva -- The United Nations human rights chief on Tuesday accused authorities and ships of violating international law when they reject or ignore the pleas of migrants stranded at sea.

"In many cases, authorities reject these migrants and leave them to face hardship and peril, if not death, as though they were turning away ships laden with dangerous waste," said Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

"Their fate is thus sealed as they try to cross the Mediterranean, the Gulf of Aden, the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, and other stretches of water.

"In clear violation of international law, they are abandoned and rejected without proper check of whether they are fleeing persecution," she told the Human Rights Council, which opened its 12th session Monday.

Italy has faced criticism lately for sending back boats of African migrants to Libya, after it concluded a controversial agreement with Tripoli earlier this year.

Pillay said the "hardship" of those stranded near the shores of Libya, Malta and Italy drew attention to the plight of these migrants and refugees, as she called on states to respect the human rights of individuals regardless of their status.

In her address to the 47-member Human Rights Council, Pillay also outlined a slew of other issues ranging from the recent sentencing of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to further house arrest, to the killing of human rights activist Natalia Estemirova.

She drew attention to the plight of the Roma minority across Europe, including in France, Britain and Spain, where "direct and indirect discrimination against Roma, Sinti and travellers and or forced evictions are known to have taken place."

"In Italy, there has been abundant documentation of discrimination and degrading treatment affecting the Roma population," she charged.

Turning to another problem surrounding minority ethnic groups, this time in China, Pillay called on Beijing to "reflect" on the underlying causes — including discrimination and the failure to protect minorities, of the violence in Xinjiang and Tibet.

"While condemning such violence and urging the Chinese authorities to respect human rights in upholding the law, I also encourage them to reflect on the underlying causes of such incidents, which include discrimination and the failure to protect minority rights," she said.

Riots broke out in July in Xinjiang, which China blamed on separatists, while the region’s mostly Uighur Muslim minority say they were sparked after security forces reacted harshly to peaceful protests over an earlier factory brawl in southern China.