Freedom of Movement: A Fundamental Human Right?

Post by Kate Ehrlich, J.D. Expected May 2017, Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University

International law recognizes certain fundamental human rights, including the right to life, liberty, and security of person. (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”), articles 6 and 9.) There are multiple international instruments that have provisions discussing additional human rights. Specifically, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (“UDHR”), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the ICCPR, the Convention Against Torture and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, among many others. Not one of those international instruments, however, expressly grants a right to enter another country.

All states have the right to determine who may enter their territory and may require individuals seeking to enter their territory to be subjected to certain procedures. If applicants fail to meet these procedural requirements, they can be denied access to the state. Is this an infringement on individual rights? The technological world has advanced rapidly, allowing for the ease of international travel. In fact, given recent developments in the United States specifically, there are more requirements in place. The reason is for public safety, to protect job opportunities of American citizens, and to deter so-called economic refugees. While these are certainly legitimate reasons for having stricter requirements, are such restrictive immigration policies an infringement on individuals’ international human rights? Individuals have a right to self-determination. As part of the right to self-determination, individuals should be able to travel wherever they want to go without being denied access. If there is a need for restrictions based on general public safety reasons, where is the line? When does it cross over into an infringement on a fundamental human right?

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