Legal Experts Adopt Declaration on the Right of Emigration and Return
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Legal Experts Adopt Declaration on the Right of Emigration and Return

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A conference of legal experts at the International Institute of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, has adopted a highly significant declaration on the international right to leave and return, it was reported by Sidney Liskofsky, director of the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights of the American Jewish Committee.

Co-Sponsored by the Blaustein Institute and assisted by a grant from the Ford Foundation, the conference called for all nations to: adopt legislative or other measures ensuring full enjoyment of the right to leave one’s country, temporarily or permanently, and to return; prohibit penalties or reprisals against those seeking to exercise that right; invoke restrictions based on “national security” only in situations where the exercise of the right poses a clear, imminent and serious danger to the state.

Also, to impose no taxes or fees, other than nominal ones related to travel documents; tolerate no lengthy or burdensome procedures in issuing documents or notification of decisions; allow appeals of decisions to higher administrative or judicial bodies; permit communication with international organizations or other bodies or persons with regard to the right.


The conference has forwarded its Strasbourg declaration to the 35 participating states in the Helsinki Accords review conference taking place in Vienna, the Human Rights Commissions of the Council of Europe and the Organization of American States, and other inter-governmental as well as non-governmental organizations.

The conference was chaired by Alexander Kiss, Secretary-General of the Strasbourg Institute. The Blaustein Institute was represented by Liskofsky. The participants included experts from Europe, the U.S., Latin America and Africa as well as observers from the UN Secretariat and Council of Europe.

The declaration was designed to serve as a model for the expert member of the UN Subcommission on Discrimination and Minorities, Mbonga-Chipoya of Zambia, in carrying out his mandate from that body to prepare for the Commission on Human Rights a preliminary draft declaration on the subject. The Subcommission had recommended nearly a quarter-century ago that the UN adopt such a declaration.


In elaborating their declaration, Liskofsky said, the experts drew upon several model drafts, in particular the historic Uppsala Declaration on the same subject adopted 14 years before at a conference co-sponsored by the Strasbourg and Blaustein Institutes, at the University of Uppsala, Sweden. He added:

“The issuance of the Strasbourg Declaration came on the heels of the Soviet government’s publication of a recently promulgated decree to take effect January 1 adding 11 new provisions to others now made public contained in a 1970 statute of the Council of Ministers. Presented as an easing of the emigration and travel process, the new regulations fall short in fundamental ways of the standards in the Strasbourg Declaration.

“They do not recognize emigration as every person’s inherent right–as affirmed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the legally binding International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. They also refuse permission to leave to applicants without relatives in other countries.”

Moreover, Liskofsky noted, they narrow the family connection basis for emigration to applicants seeking to be reunited only with their closest kin–spouses, parents, and children and siblings.

Also incompatible with the Strasbourg Declaration, Liskofsky stated, are the broad and unqualified grounds for denial of emigration, among them, “knowledge of state secrets,” “reasons which affect state security,” the “basic rights and legal interests of the USSR,” and “preservation of the public order,” as well as the failure to provide legal means of appeal to higher administrative or judicial bodies.


Some analysts, he said, find reason for optimism in the fact that the Soviet government for the first time officially recorded its emigration rules, which specified among other seeming liberalizations, that applicants refused permission to emigrated or travel would be told the reasons. However, the overwhelming tendency of the rules point to a continuing, mainly “closed door” policy.

The Strasbourg Institute, located at the site of the Council of Europe, was founded in 1969 by Rene Cassin, renowned French statesman and Nobel Laureate and co-author with Eleanor Roosevelt of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Blaustein Institute, established in 1971 to perpetuate the memory of Jacob Blaustein, encourages projects in human rights, inter-religious understanding and international affairs, areas with which he was closely identified. Its chairman is Richard Maass, honorary president of the American Jewish Committee.

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