UN Special Rapporteur attacks “international regime of impunity” over migrant deaths
NEW YORK (27 October 2017) – A United Nations human rights expert has issued a strongly worded critique of the
international community’s failure to protect the lives of migrants and refugees, and to investigate their deaths.
“Mass casualties of refugees and migrants globally; a regime of impunity for the perpetrators and overall tolerance for
these fatalities: this can only be described as a human rights and humanitarian crisis and it demands urgent attention”
said the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard, presenting a report
to the UN General Assembly in New York. ”This crisis can be addressed.”
“An international commission of inquiry to establish the scale of this tragedy is needed. The absence of accurate data
on dead and missing refugees and migrants only deepens this tragedy. Numbers recorded currently are certainly
underestimates leaving untold the loss of life of thousands.”
The expert emphasized that criminal networks and armed groups pose the greatest risks to migrants’ lives, and that these
risks are compounded by Governments’ failure to protect. However, some States are themselves guilty of the unlawful
killings of refugees and migrants, either by excessive use of force or by policies and practices that are intended to
deter migration but increase the risk of death.
“The world-wide failures to investigate these deaths are themselves additional violations of the right to life. This
contributes to an international regime of impunity; deepens the invisibility of the violations; hides their victims, and
makes for ill-informed policy-decisions related to migration which may result in even further deprivation of life,” she
“Mass killings of refugees and migrants constitute an international crime whose banality in the eyes of so many makes
its tragedy particularly grave” said Ms. Callamard, urging States to prioritize investigations into all practices that
endanger the lives or safety of the migrants and refugees, and to collect and share data on the dead and missing. “All
people’s lives should be equally protected and all unlawful loss of life should be investigated, regardless of migration
The Special Rapporteur said International initiatives related to the global governance of refugees and migration
constitute an opportunity to address these problems and violations, and to ensure that the right to life of refugees and
migrants is respected and protected, including against foreseeable and preventable loss of life,” she noted.
Ms. Callamard paid tribute to all those within governments, international organizations and civil society working to
protect and save the lives of refugees and migrants around the world.
“They do so in a global context where migration is associated with criminality and national security threats, and where
their actions to uphold a legal obligation and a moral imperative - saving lives - are attacked, criticized and
sometimes criminalized,” said Ms. Callamard.
The Special Rapporteur also commended non-governmental groups and some national and local authorities for their
search-and-rescue operations at sea, forensic investigations and dignified treatment of the dead.
Ms. Callamard urged States to respect and protect the right to life of all refugees and migrants, including by
respecting the principle of non-refoulement.
In a series of recommendations, she said the 2018 global compact on safe, orderly and regular migration and the 2018
global compact on refugees should include a focus on the prevention of, and responses to, the arbitrary deprivation of
life of refugees and migrants. She called for the development and implementation of common protocols for search and
rescue operations, the tracing of the missing, and the treatment of dead migrants and refugees.