Sur 23 – Letter to the readers


Oliver Hudson

Managing Editor

Deisy Ventura

Guest Editor for the Sur File

The Sur File on Migration and Human Rights

One of the principal reasons the Sur International Journal on Human Rights moved to its new format after the publication of the 20th commemorative edition was to ensure that it was always a relevant forum for discussion of contemporary human rights issues. This edition of the Sur File, which discusses Migration and Human Rights, could not be more pertinent.

In preparing this edition of the Sur Journal the topic of migration has been constantly in the news. The violence in, for example Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and the extreme poverty and repressive governments of certain countries in sub-Saharan Africa continue to generate large flows of refugees and migrants. In the first 6 months of 2016, over 2,800 people have already died in the Mediterranean as compared to 3,771 in 2015. This suggests that 2016 will become the deadliest year on record in the Mediterranean.11. For more informatIon see and Anti-immigrant sentiment is running high in Europe. As an example, after the recent referendum on UK membership in the European Union, which saw an ugly and divisive campaign that reinforced the idea of immigration being a threat to the country, videos of racist abuse filled social media while reports of hate crimes increased by 57 per cent. Meanwhile, a stalemate in the United States of America (U.S.) Supreme Court over the legality of President Obama’s executive orders for deferred action against deportation of irregular migrants, leaves millions of immigrants in a legal limbo.22. For more informatIon see In Latin America, it is still not clear how the severe political and economic crises currently experienced by many countries will impact international migration flows. Unfortunately, there is a realistic fear that migrants and refugees may be doubly affected: in addition to the ongoing setbacks in the field of human rights in several states there is also the absence or lack of implementation of national laws that offer migrants and refugees the same rights as nationals. Paradoxically, the city of São Paulo, Brazil – a major hub of international migration within Latin America – adopted a law implementing the Municipal Policy for the Immigrant Population,33. For more informatIon see a few days before hosting the VII World Social Forum on Migrations.44. For more informatIon see However, the implementation of this policy will face serious obstacles in a megalopolis that is marked by extreme inequalities, particularly in a country where the federal law on migration, which dates from the military regime, still prevails.55. For more informatIon see

The trend is clear and it is concerning: migrant populations are seen as a security issue with increasingly little regard for their fundamental rights or any attempt to understand the complexities behind the decision to migrate.

The Sur File on Migration and Human Rights seeks to address this trend. It does this with the modest hope that by collecting a group of experts from academia, international organisations and civil society we can contribute to resetting this worrying imbalance that is being played out on the streets and in the corridors of power across the globe.

The Sur File begins by asking the question “who is migrating, to where and why”? Responding to these questions are two of the leading academics on migration. Firstly, Catherine Wihtol de Wenden (France) sets out the key trends in migration today. In doing so, she debunks the myth that migration is a phenomenon that sees only migrants from the Global South moving to the North, noting that both regions have the same number – approximately 120 million – of migrants. Saskia Sassen (The Netherlands) then examines three new migratory flows – unaccompanied minors from Central America that head to the U.S.; the surge in Rohingyas fleeing from Myanmar; and the migration towards Europe originating mostly in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and several African countries, notably Eritrea and Somalia. Analysing these flows enables us to understand the complex dynamics behind them, demonstrating that in nearly every case human rights abuses are amongst the principle reasons that cause individuals to migrate.

The second section of the Sur File, “policy under scrutiny”, addresses the day-to-day effects that misguided migration policies have on migrants across the world. Messaoud Romdhani (Tunisia) describes how the European Union-Tunisia Mobility Partnership and the European Agenda on Migration have neither stemmed irregular migration from North Africa to Europe nor reduced the death toll in the Mediterranean and calls on European and Global South civil society to unite against such policies. Meanwhile, Jamil Dakwar argues that the Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act, currently being considered by the U.S. Senate, would essentially bring the resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees to a grinding halt. This legislation further underlines how the immigrant population in the U.S. is increasingly vulnerable. Deisy Ventura (Brazil) examines the policy responses to international health crises which very often serve to incite or justify human rights violations against migrants. Using the recent Ebola outbreak as an example, she argues that the restrictions on international migration adopted during the crisis are illegal under international health law and counterproductive to the effort to combat the epidemic. For the first time, the Journal includes a video essay, directed by João Wainer (Brazil), which looks at immigration in the city of São Paulo and examines the municipal policies that have been implemented to respond to the needs of the migrant population.

The final section of the Sur File, “moving forward” considers how the discussion on migration needs to be reframed with human rights at its core. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, François Crépeau (Canada) argues that European politicians must look to establish a long-term strategic vision that facilitates mobility through visa liberalisation. He suggests that the best way to change the discourse on migration is to make the issue personal, by sharing migrants’ stories with decision makers and opinion formers. Echoing this sentiment Zenén Jaimes Peréz (Mexico/U.S.) sets out the methods and tactics used by United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth led advocacy organisation in the U.S. The organisation successfully forced the White House to pass two key executive orders that offered deportation relief to millions of Central American immigrant youths and their parents. The article’s pragmatic guidance is useful for other advocacy organisations seeking to launch tough campaigns on other issues. Finally, Pablo Ceriani (Argentina) demonstrates how the language we use to talk about migrants, whether it be in the press or in a policy document, plays a critical role in how the migrant population is viewed and therefore the level of protection they are afforded.

IMAGES For the first time the Sur Journal features a series of cartoons, which complement the Sur File on Human Rights and Migration. Through a partnership with Cartooning for Peace we are proud to showcase the talents of some of the leading cartoonists in the Global South, all of which offer a critical reflection on the debate on migration in the European context. We are also delighted that Latuff (Brazil), another influential cartoonist, complements this collection of talent with two of his cartoons one which comments on the issue of migration in Europe and the other in Brazil. Sur 23 also includes – in the article by Deisy Ventura – four cartoons by Patrick Chappatte (Switzerland), one of the leading exponents in the history of the cartoon reporting genre.66. For more informatIon see Once again, we present a series of infographics, designed by Estúdio Kiwi (Brazil) and researched by Deisy Ventura and Natália Araújo (Brazil) which offer a panorama of key facts and figures on migration.

CONVERSATIONS Sur Journal was honoured to interview the retired Supreme Court judge of Australia, Michael Kirby (Australia) about his experience as the chairperson of the United Nations Committee of Inquiry (COI) on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea). Kirby describes the COI’s importance – not only for bringing greater international attention to the atrocious human rights conditions in North Korea but also because of the innovative methodology the COI used and which might be replicated in the future.

ESSAYS This section of the Journal, which offers a space for deeper analytical reflections, begins with a contribution from Makau Mutua (Kenya). He examines the concept of the rule of law and how it has been applied in the post-colonial African context. Mutua suggests the concept needs to be revised in order for sustainable development to take place on the continent. Alice de Marchi Pereira de Souza, Rafael Dias and Sandra Carvalho (Brazil) present a comparative study on the protection policies for human rights defenders in Brazil, Colombia and Mexico identifying the main challenges and calling for greater regional coordination on the issue. In her contribution, Julieta Rossi (Argentina) deals with the court judgment in the U.S. that undermined the sovereign agreement Argentina had reached with the majority of its creditors. The decision set a worrying precedent that the property rights of a few – the creditors – could be held to be more important than the rights of the many – those populations predominantly, though not exclusively, in the Global South.

EXPERIENCES Taking advantage of the opportunity to unpack a human rights victory against the private sector at the level of the South Africa Supreme Court, Lisa Chamberlain (South Africa) sets out the lessons that can be learnt from the case Company Secretary of Arcelormittal South Africa and Another v Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance. She sets out how communities and the human rights lawyers that support them might apply these lessons in other access to information legal battles.

INSTITUTIONAL OUTLOOK Lucia Nader and José Guilherme F. de Campos (Brazil) distill the results of hundreds of interviews and many hours of research into a few pages to help us better understand what innovation really means and what lies behind the fear of many rights based civil society organisations to innovate. In doing so, the authors take the opportunity to analyse these concerns – many of which will be familiar to our readers – and offer counter arguments to them, before suggesting five questions that are important for any organisation to consider before it begins innovating.

VOICES Addressing the state of civil society in Africa and the context in which it now finds itself, Kumi Naidoo (South Africa) takes a brief look at prior attempts to bring African civil society together before setting out how the new African Civil Society Initiative, his current challenge, is taking shape. Finally, Laura Dupuy Lasserre (Uruguay) commemorates the tenth anniversary of the United Nations Human Rights Council by reflecting on some of its successes – in particular the Universal Periodic Review mechanism as well as the important role which Global South countries have played in the council over the last decade. She does this while identifying elements of each that might be strengthened going forward.


Finally, we would like to emphasise that this issue of Sur Journal was made possible by the support of the Ford Foundation, Open Society Foundations, the Oak Foundation, the Sigrid Rausing Trust, the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), as well as some anonymous donors.

We are also extremely thankful to the following people for assisting with this issue: Adriana Guimarães, Akemi Kamimura, Barney Whiteoak, Caio Borges, Celina Lagrutta, Evandro Lisboa Freire, Fernando Campos Leza, Fernando Scire, Inês Virgínia Prado Soares, Josefina Cicconetti, Josua Loots, Karen Lang, Louis Bickford, Maité Llanos, Malak El-Chichini Poppovic, Marcela Vieira, Mauricio Albarracín, Mia Swart, Oscar Ugarteche, Paula Martins, Renato Barreto, Sebastián Porrua Schiess and Vivek Malhotra. Additionally, we are especially grateful for the collaboration of the authors and the hard work of the Journal’s editorial team and executive board. In particular, we welcome Néia Limeira to the team and thank her for her hard work helping to prepare this edition.

Special thanks also go to the Center for Human Rights and Justice, University of Texas, Austin for our continued partnership and to Thiago Amparo. This issue is the first issue since Sur 20 without him as the executive editor. Thiago played a crucial role in devising the Sur Journal that we read today and therefore, we want to make a special mention of the legacy he leaves for both Conectas and Sur.

And finally, Ana Cernov, Camila Asano and the Communication Team from Conectas deserve great credit for their dedication to this issue. As ever we are very appreciative for the invaluable support and guidance given by the directors of Conectas Human Rights – Jessica Carvalho Morris, Juana Kweitel and Marcos Fuchs.