US Human Rights Network Blog

US Human Rights Network Blog



High Commissioner Bachelet: Immigration detention is never in the best interests of a child

Jul 10, 2019

Say their names: Juan (16 years old), Darlyn (10), Jakelin (7),
Felipe (8), Wilmer (2), Carlos (16). Rest in peace.
No more deaths. No more child detention. No more family separation.
Read our full statement on our blog.

This week, as we face new reports of scabies and shingles outbreaks and the sexual assault of a child at Border Patrol detention centers in Texas and Arizona, our determination to advocate for the cessation of child detention and family separation is stronger than ever.

It is with gratitude and appreciation that the US Human Rights Network shares the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s statement on the conditions of migrants and refugees in detention. We commend High Commissioner Bachelet’s efforts to cooperate with US Civil Society and listen to our accounts of atrocities at the US-Mexico border. 

The Network has been at the forefront of advocating for the rights of immigrants:

  • We continue to meet regularly with key staffers at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) regarding the violations of human rights at our Southern border in an effort to push the issue to the top of the High Commissioner’s agenda.

  • One year ago this month, we led an Indigenous Peoples delegation to the United Nations in Geneva in support of migrants at the US-Mexico border. We held a UN press conference where our delegation members Arizona State Representatives Eric Descheenie and Wenona Benally (Navajo) denounced the federal government’s denial of state representatives’ access to border detention centers.

  • Last November, we started a petition protesting the use of force against asylum seekers. In a joint effort with our partners at CREDO ActionSomos Presente, Puente Arizona and Mijente, we acquired nearly 80,000 signatures. We then presented the petition to the OHCHR in New York.

  • This year, we formally invited the High Commissioner to visit the border and meet with our member organizations who are on the frontlines, fighting to protect and defend the human rights of immigrants everyday. The Network looks forward to the possibility of welcoming her and her team later this year.

  • The US Human Rights Network thanks High Commissioner Bachelet for her bold statement against conditions at Border Patrol Facilities. The High Commissioner’s statement is a vital and resounding confirmation that we are facing a humanitarian crisis at our border, and we must act now to prevent further human rights violations.


In Solidarity,
Dr. Rosalee Gonzalez
Executive Director 


Bachelet appalled by conditions of migrants and refugees in detention in the US

GENEVA (8 July 2019) - UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said on Monday she is appalled by the conditions in which migrants and refugees - children and adults - are being held in detention in the United States of America after crossing the southern border. She stressed that children should never be held in immigration detention or separated from their families.

The High Commissioner stated that several UN human rights bodies have found that the detention of migrant children may constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment that is prohibited by international law.*”

“As a paediatrician, but also as a mother and a former head of State, I am deeply shocked that children are forced to sleep on the floor in overcrowded facilities, without access to adequate healthcare or food, and with poor sanitation conditions,” High Commissioner Bachelet said.

“Detaining a child even for short periods under good conditions can have a serious impact on their health and development - consider the damage being done every day by allowing this alarming situation to continue.” The High Commissioner noted that immigration detention is never in the best interests of a child.

Noting the disturbing report by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General on the conditions in migrant centres along the southern border, Bachelet urged the authorities to find non-custodial alternatives for migrant and refugee children – and adults.

“Any deprivation of liberty of adult migrants and refugees should be a measure of last resort,” she said. If detention does take place, the High Commissioner emphasized, it should be for the shortest period of time, with due process safeguards and in conditions that fully meet all relevant international human rights standards.

“States do have the sovereign prerogative to decide on the conditions of entry and stay of foreign nationals. But clearly, border management measures must comply with the State’s human rights obligations and should not be based on narrow policies aimed only at detecting, detaining and expeditiously deporting irregular migrants,” she added.

“In most of these cases, the migrants and refugees have embarked on perilous journeys with their children in search of protection and dignity and away from violence and hunger. When they finally believe they have arrived in safety, they may find themselves separated from their loved ones and locked in undignified conditions. This should never happen anywhere.”

The UN Human Rights Office’s presence in Mexico and Central America have documented numerous human rights violations and abuses against migrants and refugees in transit, including the excessive use of force, arbitrary deprivation of liberty, family separation, denial of access to services, refoulement, and arbitrary expulsions.

The High Commissioner recognised the complexity of the situation and the challenges faced by States of origin, transit and destination. She called on them to work together to address the root causes compelling migrants to leave their homes by implementing crosscutting policies that take into account the complex drivers of migration. These include insecurity, sexual and gender-based violence, discrimination, poverty, the adverse impacts of climate change and environmental degradation.

Bachelet also paid tribute to individuals and civil society organisations that have been providing migrants with the most basic of rights, such as the rights to water, food, health, adequate shelter and other such assistance.

“The provision of lifesaving assistance is a human rights imperative that must be respected at all times and for all people in need – it is inconceivable that those who seek to provide such support would risk facing criminal charges,” she said.

High Commissioner Bachelet’s statement on the OHCHR website (July 8, 2019)

USHRN’s statement on conditions at Border Patrol facilities where child migrants are detained (July 3, 2019)

USHRN’s statement on Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to construct a border wall (February 15, 2019)

USHRN’s statement on family separation (June 15, 2018)