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Experts from human rights institutions discuss border controls in Vienna

Experts from national human rights institutions (NHRI) and representatives of international organisations from EU countries met in Vienna on 17 November 2022 to discuss the establishment of national independent mechanisms for monitoring respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms on the external borders of the European Union, from the draft Regulation introducing screening of third country nationals at the external borders (regulation). The conference was attended in the name of Slovenian national institutions by the deputy Ombudsman Ivan Šelih, who is also head of the national preventive mechanism (NPM).

Participants discussed how the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) guidelines on the supervisory mechanism from the regulation support the effective monitoring of human rights on borders. The guidelines are based on many years of experience of the authorities and agencies involved with controlling and protecting borders.

They agreed that monitoring respect for fundamental rights is especially important where public access is limited or non-existent, for example onshore and on EU coasts. Effective and independent monitoring reduces the risk of rights violations.

The participants said the guidelines were a useful tool for setting up control mechanisms, which they will further improve in the future. They also agreed that for the operationalisation of guidelines, it will be absolutely necessary to address certain issues that were highlighted by experts in the course of the discussion. Here are some of them:

  • Independent national border control mechanisms must be established on the basis of a comprehensive approach; the compliance, complementarity and synergy between different authorities must be ensured.
  • The NHRI and national preventive mechanisms have years of experience in monitoring respect for human rights in different environments, so when establishing national mechanisms for monitoring human rights on borders it is necessary to take their expertise into account. Some NHRI may already have a mandate for implementing border controls, so putting them into practice may only require sufficient funding.
  • Considering the increasingly important role of new technologies in protecting borders, it is essential that protocols governing access to information and data stemming from border control are created. These are important for the effective monitoring of fundamental rights. Border control will increasingly demand expert knowledge with appropriate understanding of IT systems.
  • Participants recognised the added value of tools that enable the supervisory body to implement risk assessment in the control of fundamental rights, which enables targeted supervisory visits.
  • The frequent work of supervisors on borders is made difficult by safety precautions, so it is necessary to take this into account when deciding on the use of control tools and methodologies.
  • Control mechanisms must always operate according to the principle “do no harm”, bearing in mind that asylum seekers and migrants at borders are vulnerable and potentially exposed to risks.

Participants also emphasised that the staff implementing border control must receive clear instructions on how to do their work.