“In the past six weeks, nearly two thousand children have been forcibly separated from their parents,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in his opening remarks to the 38th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva – the last session before his four-year term expires in August.
Mr. Zeid said that the American Association of Pediatrics in the US, had called it a cruel practice of “government-sanctioned child abuse” which may cause “irreparable harm” with “lifelong consequences”.
“The thought that any State would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable,” he said, calling on the United States to immediately put a stop to the policy, and ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
In a statement issued on Monday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres defended the rights of migrant and refugee children, but did not single out the US.
“As a matter of principle, the Secretary-General believes that refugees and migrants should always be treated with respect and dignity, and in accordance with existing international law,” said a statement issued by his Spokesman Stéphane Dujarric.
“Children must not be traumatized by being separated from their parents. Family unity must be preserved,” said the statement.
The human rights situation in the US was one of the many topics to be discussed at the latest Human Rights Council session, which runs through 6 July.
Mr. Zeid also expressed his deep concern about a bill presented to Parliament in Hungary last month which, if adopted, would effectively criminalize human rights monitoring at borders and within border zones, as well as criminalizing the provision of information, legal aid and assistance to migrants.
The High Commissioner stressed that “people do not lose their human rights by virtue of crossing a border without a visa”.
At the onset of his speech, the UN human rights chief warned of the return of “chauvinistic nationalism” around the world, and urged leading politicians to combat this “menace that stalks our future.”