Managing migration challenges by upholding human rights values

Eredoctor Navi Pillay: Hou vast aan normen en waarden van

The only effective way to  manage migration crises is to follow the principles of human rights that have proved the test of time and have grounded societies in inclusiveness and respect for dignity. This is one of the messages of the South-African human rights advocate Navi Pillay in the Mandeville Lecture 2016. The former High Commissioner of Human Rights is concerned about the situation in Turkey and calls for the EU to act in accordance with its own well-established and respected laws and principles.  Non-conformity with International obligations sets a bad example. Pillay is rewarded an honorary doctorate at Erasmus University Rotterdam.

An alarming tendency of what has been called the “ migration crisis” in Europe is the  xenophobia, inhuman rejection, suspicion and aggressive  push-back. Migration is not a problem to be solved. Rather it is a normal and inevitable feature of the human experience. Human beings have always and will always move in search of opportunities for a better life. It is important to  counter the negative misconceptions spread about migration; that it poses a threat rather than a benefit to existing communities. Migrants bring value. Europe has historically benefited from migration.

We must challenge assumptions underlying rejection of migrants, by upholding human rights values, codified in International Human Rights law, International Humanitarian Law, Refugee law and the Law of the Sea. These have been around for some time, proudly embraced by societies. They are as relevant during crises as they are in peacetime; in fact more so. We are all appalled at  television footage of the use of violence against refugees,  the use of high-powered water hoses against them and the barbed wire fencing imprisoning them.
Criminalisation of irregular migrants leads to unnecessary detention and  exposes them to the risk of a wide range of human rights violations.

The voice of the victim everywhere
Navanethem ‘Navi’ Pillay, a trailblazer in human rights law, was born to a humble Indian family in apartheid South Africa.  Her first hand experiences with the repression and institutionalised discrimination of the apartheid regime did not only pose enormous obstacles to her aspirations for further education and a meaningful career, but also instilled in her a deep felt need to fight these injustices.

First black female judge
In the end she beat all odds and, in 1967, became the first black woman in South Africa to set up her own law practice. She defended anti-apartheid activists, and sought to protect the rights of political prisoners. Remarkably, in 1973, she succeeded in obtaining legal representation and basic amenities for the inmates of Robben Island. In 1995, when the first democratic government was formed in South Africa, Nelson Mandela nominated Pillay as the first black female judge in the Supreme Court. In the same year she joined the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Since then Pillay has become one of the world's leading advocates in the field of human rights. She was appointed as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2008, a position to which she referred as: "the voice of the victim everywhere”. 

Mandeville Lecture
The twentieth  Mandeville Lecture is an initiative of Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Rotterdam business community (Club Rotterdam) and the Erasmus Trust Fund, united in the Bernard Mandeville Foundation. The Mandeville Lecture is named after the Rotterdam-born philosopher and physician Bernard Mandeville (1670-1733). It is a token of appreciation for the recipient’s significant social achievements. Previous laureates include Jean-Claude Trichet, Jeroen van der Veer and Carla Del Ponte. It is the first time a formal honorary doctorate is awarded on the occasion of the Mandeville Lecture.

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