Environmentally Displaced Persons After The Global Compact For Safe, Orderly And Regular Migration Adopted In Marrakesh On 10 December 2018

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Decryption of Professor Michel Prieur, Professor Emeritus at the University of Limoges, Scientific Director of CRIDEAU, Honorary Dean of the Faculty of Law and Economics of LIMOGES, President of CIDCE.

     Do people forced to move because of a natural or industrial disaster have more rights after the adoption of the Marrakesh Compact on 10 December 2018? Unfortunately the answer is no. Nevertheless, this international document represents a step forward that should lead to the adoption of an international treaty conferring effective rights on environmentally displaced persons.

The Marrakesh conference, the largest ever gathering on international migration (about 2500 participants and 800 journalists), reflects the willingness of the vast majority of UN Member States (164 out of 193) to finally take seriously into account the question of migration. It was only in 2004 that the UN General Assembly decided to convene a high-level dialogue on international migration and development. The first dialogue was held in 2006 and resulted in the establishment of the Global Forum on Migration and Development as an informal and voluntary setting for cooperation.[1] On 19 September 2016, UN Member States adopted in New York a Declaration for Refugees and Migrants[2] which led, after two years of negotiations, to the adoption of two Compacts in December 2018: one on migrants in Marrakesh, and the other on refugees in New York.

Recognizing the diversity of the drivers of migration, the Marrakesh Global Compact identifies the causes of the various forms of migration. Thus, out of 34 pages, it devotes nearly one page to environmental migrants. As a result, the general considerations preceding the 23 Objectives that are listed do apply to such migrants. Indeed, the text proclaims that international human rights law and the principles of non-regression and non-discrimination benefit all migrants. “By implementing the Global Compact, we ensure effective respect for and protection and fulfilment of the human rights of all migrants, regardless of their migration status, across all stages of the migration cycle.”[3] It should be recalled that, legally, all international human rights instruments apply to all categories of environmentally displaced persons and are already binding even on the States that have refused to adopt the Marrakesh Compact and are Parties to human rights conventions.

Specific recommendations target migration induced by natural disasters, the adverse effects of climate change and environmental degradation. Under Objective 2 on combating the adverse drivers that compel people to migrate, States are invited to share information on migration movements caused by those disasters, to develop national adaptation and resilience strategies, and to address the vulnerabilities of persons affected and the challenges posed by migration movements in the context of sudden-onset and slow-onset natural disasters.[4] Under Objective 5 relating to regular migration pathways, States undertake to create national and regional practices for admission and stay of appropriate duration for environmentally displaced persons by providing humanitarian visas, and to cooperate to identify solutions for environmental migrants by devising planned relocation and visa options.[5] Hence, the Compact only refers to national or regional legal frameworks to address the question of environmentally displaced persons.

However, since the Marrakesh Compact is not an international treaty and therefore imposes no new obligations on the States, these keep control of their migration policy and environmentally displaced persons remain without internationally recognized rights of reception.

Yet, the absence of an international legal status for environmentally displaced persons is not a new finding. This was already emphasized in the 2005 call of Limoges, and in 2008 Antonio Guterres, then UN High Commissioner for Refugees, pointed to the international legal vacuum concerning environmentally displaced persons. Ten years later, as environmentally displaced persons are becoming increasingly numerous owing to the growing number of disasters and the rising impacts of climate change, they still lack a legal status adapted to their situation, in respect of both internally and internationally displaced people.[6] Apart from the Marrakesh Compact, there are only two global non-legally binding documents: one on internally displaced people and the other on internationally displaced people.[7]

While there are more environmentally displaced persons than political refugees, it is time that they be granted an international legal status in the name of international cooperation and solidarity, as was done in 1951 for political refugees. After Marrakesh, international negotiations should be initiated with a view to adopting a convention to this effect, with support from the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Ten years ago, CIDCE prepared a draft of such convention that is now in its fourth version.[8] This prospect was brought up on the eve of the Marrakesh conference by Louise Arbour at a press conference in Geneva on 7 December 2018,[9] and by Craig Mokhibar of the New York Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights at a press conference in Marrakesh on 10 December 2018.

Open to state and non-state actors, the United Nations Network on Migration that the Secretary-General has just established to monitor implementation of the Global Compact, and which the International Organization for Migration is expected to coordinate, can provide an enabling environment to work towards the advent of an international convention providing a legal status for environmentally displaced persons.

Millions of environmentally displaced persons can no longer be left without guaranteed human rights that are legally enforceable at the borders and in the courts.

In Marrakesh, 11 December 2018

By Michel Prieur, President of CIDCE.

[1] Resolution 58/208, para. 9.

[2] Resolution 71/1.

[3] Para. 15-f.

[4] Paras. 18-h to 18-l.

[5] Paras. 21-g and 21-h.

[6] Environmentally displaced persons were estimated to be 26 million in 2017; they could amount to 143 million in 2050.

[7] The 1998 UN Guiding principles on internal displacement, and the 2011 Nansen Principles to protect people displaced across borders in the context of disasters and climate change.

[8] www.cidce.org.

[9] UN Web TV.

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