GENEVA (AN) — The U.N.'s top human rights official called on the United States to immediately end a new policy that has separated nearly 2,000 migrant children from their parents in the past six weeks.
Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, a Jordanian prince who heads the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said nothing could justify a policy that punishes children because their parents wanted to traverse the Mexico-United States border.
"In the past six weeks, nearly 2,000 children have been forcibly separated from their parents," he said in a speech to the United Nations Human Rights Council. "The thought that any state would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable."
The border policy of U.S. President Donald Trump's administration has been in place since January 2017 when the newly-inaugurated president issued two executive orders on migration. The American Civil Liberties Union brought a class action case against the government on behalf of hundreds of parents forcibly separated from their children.
Zeid cited the opinion of the American Association of Pediatrics that the policy represents a cruel practice of "government-sanctioned child abuse" and could cause "irreparable harm" to children that has "lifelong consequences."
He urged the Trump administration to end the policy and to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child so it ensures "the fundamental rights of all children, whatever their administrative status, will be at the center of all domestic laws and policies."
The 1990 U.N. treaty sets standards for protecting children younger than 18 through quality education, health care and social services — and for giving them a voice in decisions about their lives. It is one of the most widely adopted human rights agreements.
The treaty aims to prevent forced child labor, child marriage, denial of health care to disabled youth and other serious threats to the well-being of children globally. The United States signed it in 1995 but is the only U.N. member nation that has not ratified it. Republicans in the U.S. Senate have blocked the treaty, claiming it impinges sovereignty.
Zeid's office has previously called attention to the U.S. border policy. Earlier this month, his office accused the Trump administration of violating the rights of children under international law by breaking up Mexican families seeking to migrate across the border.
Asylum seekers also at risk
Filippo Grandi, who heads the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, said he also was concerned that the United States has been separating children from parents who are asylum seekers, an issue he said he has raised with U.S. officials.
“On measures that result in separating children from their families we are very concerned and have expressed this concern," Grandi said in an interview with Reuters.
The United States has the world's biggest backlog of asylum cases — and the Trump administration has legitimate concerns about some asylum applications — but it must figure out how to offer solutions "without penalizing the people themselves," he said.
Nikki Haley, the American ambassador to the U.N., sharply rebuked the United Nations.
“Once again, the United Nations shows its hypocrisy by calling out the United States while it ignores the reprehensible human rights records of several members of its own Human Rights Council," Haley said in a statement. She did not specify which members of the U.N.'s 47-nation council in Geneva that she had in mind.
While Zeid's office "ignorantly attacks the United States with words, the United States leads the world with its actions, like providing more humanitarian assistance to global conflicts than any other nation," said Haley. "Neither the United Nations nor anyone else will dictate how the United States upholds its borders."