PARIS – Human Rights Watch called the European Union’s migration policy ‘hypocritical’ and raised concerns about France’s anti-terrorism laws on the launch day of its World Report 2018.
At the launch of the 28th edition of the charity’s global report, executive director Kenneth Roth said that by financing and training the Libyan coastguard, the EU was ‘directly or indirectly’ forcing people to stay in ‘hellish conditions.’
It would be wrong to suggest that there was ‘anything approaching a systematic improvement of conditions’ of migrants in Libya, he said.
‘Either they have the right to receive protection in Europe, or they are de facto sent back to their countries of origin,’ said director of advocacy Philippe Dam in a Facebook Live shortly after the press conference, ‘but pretending that training Libyan coast guards to send [migrants] back to Libya is the right thing to do is absolutely wrong.’
Roth said that the EU should ‘by all means’ endeavour to provide migrants with alternative ‘safe and legal avenues’ to Europe, but that authorities must still treat them humanely, using the correct asylum procedures for those arriving in Europe by boat.
In December, France took in a group of 25 migrants – from Eritrea, Sudan and Ethiopia – who were rescued from Libya and flown from Niger to Paris, avoiding the treacherous Mediterranean crossing.
In a press release published on the same day as the report, Benjamin Ward, HRW’s deputy Europe and Central Asia director, said that too often in 2017 the EU had treated human rights as an ‘optional extra.’
The communiqué also said responses to migration and terrorism ‘should reflect’ the institution’s ‘core values.’
Macron must do more
On the day that Emmanuel Macron visited British Prime Minister Theresa May at Sandhurst military academy to discuss, amongst other things, counter-terrorism and migration policy, Roth described the French President’s record on human rights issues as ‘mixed.’
Roth described Macron’s recent diplomatic visit to China as a notable ‘low point,’ saying that he heard ‘barely a peep about human rights’ from the French leader.
He also expressed concerns that France’s anti-terrorism laws, adopted late last year, could lead to ‘discriminatory abuse, particularly against the Muslim population,’ and added that Interior Minister Gérard Collomb ‘continues to be in denial’ about ‘police abuse’ of migrants.
Last year Human Rights Watch published reports documenting and denouncing the police’s ‘excessive force’ when dealing with both adult and child refugees in Calais.
Roth congratulated Macron, however, for firmly opposing such mistreatment on his recent visit to Calais, and praised him for ‘reinforcing rather than running away from democratic values’ during his presidential campaign.
He described Macron’s rejection of the authoritarian populist tendencies adopted by some other European leaders as a ‘turning point’ of 2017.
The bigger picture
In a wide-ranging press conference, Roth described the United States as ‘a wall when it comes to human rights,’ and said that Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi was ‘not the leader the world should look to for guidance’ on how to combat ‘the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya.’
Asked about the UK, he said he was ‘concerned’ about the rhetoric of certain Brexiteers, and criticised those who wanted to leave the European Convention on Human Rights for their ‘very short-sighted approach.’
However, the World Report also noted that there were ‘hints’ that European leaders were ‘beginning to recognize’ that the future of the EU ‘depends on a willingness to stand up for human rights’. This was particularly observable in the bloc’s response to the ongoing threats to the rule of law in Poland.
‘The lesson of the last year,’ said Roth, ‘is that resistance matters.’
by Frank Andrews