Logo Assembly Logo Hemicycle

Lithuania: rapporteur on pushbacks expresses grave concerns about the legality of amendments to new border protection law

Border crossing between Belarus and Lithuania

Pierre-Alain Fridez (Switzerland, SOC), Rapporteur on Pushbacks on land and sea: illegal measures of migration management, has made the following statement:

“On 25 April 2023, the Parliament of the Republic of Lithuania approved the amendments to the Law on the State Border and its Protection which aim to legalise pushbacks at the Lithuanian border with Belarus, and which seeks to consolidate the establishment of border guards' ‘supporters’ by enabling civilians to use coercion and violence when protecting the state’s borders. The provisions of this law are a wilful distortion of core UN and European conventions.

I am worried that the amended law will make it very challenging for the relevant authorities to ensure effective access to fair and individualised procedures: these are the conditions for the principles of non-discrimination, non-penalisation and non-refoulement – pillars of the Refugee Convention, to be fully respected. Besides, through the repeated legislative changes in Lithuania, refugees and victims of trafficking are denied the much-needed protection they should be guaranteed. This is not a valid policy response to the issues at stake and severely contravenes human rights standards.

These amendments violate the right to a fair and effective asylum procedure, as well as the principle of non-refoulement. They also restrict the ability of NGOs to conduct their humanitarian assistance and independent human rights monitoring activities. Although the instrumentalisation of migration by the Lukashenko regime constitutes a threat to Lithuanian national security, this cannot justify the Lithuanian state infringing human rights.

Already in 2021, the UNHCR’s Representative to Nordic and Baltic countries Henrik Nordentoft declared that Lithuania’s pushback policy was illegal and failed to meet internationally agreed obligations. Evidence of violations at the borders has also been gathered by prominent international human rights and humanitarian organisations such as ECRE or MSF.

The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, called on the Lithuanian Parliament to reject the draft amendments to the present Law, which would legalise ongoing practices putting persons in need of international protection at risk of pushback.

I am expressing severe concerns as regards the risks entailed in this legislation, as amended: legalising pushbacks does not mean such practices are lawful by international and ECHR standards. I therefore urge the Lithuanian institutions to ensure that the concerns expressed at the highest international level are addressed in the design of all their border management policies.”