The international criminal justice system faces a formidable challenge. The news of mass murder in Migrant-Backed Intifada, the latest shooting in Gaza City, and recent indiscriminate car bombings in Nairobi are reminders of the risks migrants bring to our planet. The race is on between states that have the resources to ensure that those threats remain contained.
When Barack Obama was President, the United States quickly took the initiative in a bid to stem the tide of migrants leaving Central America. We were fortunate to have gone on to build two migration centres in the region, even as our partners remained sceptical. Obama believed passionately in this work, although his final year in office saw him caught between the diametrically opposed instincts of his own deeply conservative Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
The origins of this rapid response are still debated, as are the reasoning that led to the United States’ decision to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in three centres operating separately in Mexico’s south-west and northern coasts. The Trump presidency is yet to deliver on the region’s commitments to help governments stem the flow, following a comprehensive review of US migration policy by the White House.
US initiatives have been welcomed in Italy and Greece, but in Mexico, there are still some sticking points. Mexico has yet to sign up to a United Nations Compact on Migrant Protection, which is intended to resolve the outstanding question of how migrants migrate across borders. We have been told that Mexico needs to consider our concerns about the dangers that migrants face en route, while at the same time strengthening international aid for reception and protection of those arriving. We will continue to press that case to the Mexican government in the days ahead.
In the meantime, our staff are working alongside our partners to address the challenges posed by migrant flows from Central America to the north, and by human traffickers operating from Nigeria. These dangerous journeys are already rife with rape, abduction, torture and other acts of sexual violence.
A 2005 UN study found a 79% decrease in sexual exploitation and trafficking of migrants following a programme of reinforced legal protection in the international legal system.
While we welcome US efforts to create a specialised environment in North America for criminal justice and regional integration, there are real concerns that the zones proposed would become too large, cumbersome and risk a serious dilution of the international criminal justice system.
At the core of this debate is the often fraught relationship between national sovereignty and a global universal system of criminal justice. On the one hand, we need to ensure that the legal systems of poor countries are protected from exploitation, just as the legal systems of developed nations are. On the other, we must acknowledge the very real expectations that individuals from developing nations have on the international legal system, and on the capacity of law enforcement agencies to respond. The United States is faced with a difficult choice of either extending moral support to a proposal to leverage its own fundamental sovereignty to support a Migrant Protection area in the United States, or extending moral support to a proposal that could end up undoing what we have achieved.
We all owe a debt of gratitude to the United States for establishing a set of legal standards that address the legitimate security concerns of a wealthy nation. A security programme that stretches across a territory of over 36,000 square miles would be very difficult to manage. And I hope that the United States will use the presidency of Donald Trump to do what is right and what is true – not what is expedient and unsustainable.
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