UNITED NATIONS — People on the move — refugees, asylum-seekers, migrants and victims of human smuggling — are “some of the world’s most vulnerable people,” said Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, who heads the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations.
They have “no fewer human rights than lawful residents,” he added. “We must avoid, as Pope Francis has warned, a ‘globalization of indifference’ that makes these vulnerable people ’emblems of exclusion.'”
He made the comments in a statement to a session of U.N. General Assembly’s Sixth Committee, the primary forum for consideration of international law and other legal matters concerning the world body.
Msgr. Fredrik Hansen, first secretary at the observer mission, delivered the archbishop’s Nov. 10 statement regarding the committee’s agenda item on “The Expulsion of Aliens.”
“The issues before us — the expulsion of aliens, human beings who are our brothers and sisters — are complex and politically sensitive” but their rights “must be fully ensured and protected,” the archbishop said, adding, “It must be stressed that fundamental human rights must always take precedence over state interests.”
Guiding the discussion was a draft of guidelines prepared by the International Law Commission for the Sixth Committee. The draft, the archbishop noted, had been prepared “in a cautious manner and while seeking the broadest possible consensus” among the U.N.’s member nations.
Caccia welcomed in particular the articles in the commission’s guidelines that affirmed that no one “should be expelled, returned or extradited to another state when there are substantial grounds for believing that his or her life or freedom would be threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, or where he or she may be subjected to the death penalty.”
“We believe that this provision codifies a growing consensus in the international community,” he added.
He expressed caution on the article that presumes “persons subject to expulsion would be detained,” saying that detention “should be the exception rather than the rule.”
“It is also important to improve conditions of detention and to ensure the procedural rights of those in detention,” Caccia said. “Pope Francis has emphasized that ‘our response to the challenges posed by contemporary migration can be summed up in four verbs: welcome, protect, promote and integrate.'”
“Children, moreover, should never be detained and their best interests should be the primary consideration in all decisions made on their behalf,” the U.N. nuncio said.
“The rule of law, in fact, requires that the state justify any limitation on a human right, taking into account any specific circumstances,” he continued. “There should be provisions for detention facilities to be clean, provide access to doctors and take into account the needs of families, women and children, as the basic concept of human dignity requires. The right of children who may be subject to expulsion to enjoy the care of their families must be ensured.”
He also said due process guarantees “are enshrined in international law” and “states must ensure respect for procedural rights.”
“Providing substantive rights while denying the procedural means to claim and obtain such rights would render them virtually meaningless,” he said.