UNHCR chief addresses European Court of Human Rights
STRASBOURG, France, January 31 (UNHCR) - UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has warned that Europe's human rights agenda is coming under increasing strain from the pressure of the global economic crisis and a wave of xenophobia.
Guterres, speaking last Friday in Strasbourg, stressed that guidance was needed from the European Court of Human Rights to address "protection gaps with respect to persons of concern to my office." He added that the court remained "above the vagaries of public opinion."
The High Commissioner's remarks came at the opening of the judicial year of the European Court of Human Rights, which is the world's busiest international judicial body. A large portion of its caseload concerns asylum issues.
The Court's extensive involvement in asylum cases highlighted the unsettling fact that many asylum-seekers, refugees and other forcibly displaced people consider that their rights are not adequately respected, Guterres said.
He referred to gaps in the protection of refugees in the emerging Common European Asylum System and pointed out the Court's crucial role in addressing them. UNHCR follows the developments of case law with great interest and is available to provide information based on the organization's field experience, he said.
UNHCR's concerns include the insufficient protection for people fleeing conflict; the attempts of some European states to deflect their protection obligations to other countries; and the detention of asylum-seekers at borders in order to prevent their entry.
Guterres said the recent asylum judgement by the European Court of Human Rights in M.S.S. vs Belgium and Greece, was a "vivid reminder of just how much still needs to be done, to achieve a truly common European asylum system, in full respect of human rights."
Past speakers at the opening of the Court's judicial year in Strasbourg have included the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights and the president of the International Court of Justice. Guterres took the opportunity of his appearance to thank the European Court of Human Rights for its continuing engagement.