Back High-level segment of the 31st session of UN Human Rights Council

Geneva , 

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Right now, in Europe, the very idea of human rights is coming under attack.

The UN Declaration talks about “the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family”.

Our predecessors signed that Declaration and, in Europe, the European Convention on Human Rights…

…agreeing to a system of international human rights protections…

…precisely because they understood the horror that is possible when state power is unrestrained and human dignity is disregarded.

Yet, today, as the refugee crisis continues to dominate, some are retreating from these principles.

Last week Hungary’s Prime Minister announced his intention to hold a referendum on EU plans for refugee quotas.

If it goes ahead, we can expect that voters will be presented with a choice between either mandatory quotas or the independence of their nation.

It is a polarizing and irresponsible act.

We do not put the fundamental rights of a minority into the hands of the majority – especially at a time of heightened anxiety and fear.

And states cannot simply opt in and out of their international obligations as they see fit.

A picking-and-choosing mentality towards the rules governments do and do not like is dangerous – because it’s contagious.

We are already seeing government after government scrambling to halt the flow of people into their territories with an array of new, domestic restrictions.

Erecting fences.

Seizing refugees’ belongings.

Tightening up rules on family reunification.

Returning children without a proper, individual assessment of whether this is in the best interests of the child.

Finding ways to make it easier to expel asylum seekers in the future.

Many such steps raise serious questions under European Human Rights standards.

And, notwithstanding the immense generosity of certain states and certain leaders…

…what you can hear in Europe today is the sound of one door slamming after another.

A Europe-wide policy of door-slamming is not a sustainable solution.

I hope that the fragile ceasefire in Syria will remain intact;

I hope that Syria’s neighbours will play their part…

…and the Russian Federation and the United States too, who have a shared responsibility for global stability, as laid down in the UN Charter.

But whatever happens, the flow of people across the Mediterranean is not going to stop overnight.

And a lasting solution to this situation can only be delivered by solidarity among nations:

Collective action, guided by common standards…

…to ensure that refugees are spread, absorbed and integrated across European states…

…in a way which supports our democratic health and long-term stability.

This means a comprehensive registration system.

Claims must be assessed according to common, legal standards.

The fundamental human rights of these people must be upheld at all times.

So no pushbacks at the border, for example; no collective expulsion; no discrimination; no refoulement: people must not be sent back to countries where their safety is not ensured.

Special care must be given to vulnerable groups, particularly unaccompanied children.

And, most importantly, Europe’s leaders must now move beyond blame and brinkmanship to agree a proper relocation strategy.

The European continent cannot delegate moral responsibility for these people to a handful of states.   

It is time for timidity to give way to courage.

We know from our history that, at times of strife, Europe’s nations are capable of thinking big and moving together.

It’s time to prove it again today.