Last Rights

Creating a new framework of respect for the rights of missing & dead refugees, migrants and bereaved family members

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First & Last Rights Projects

Statement in support of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child’s Call for an Immediate Ceasefire in Gaza.

Every year thousands of children are killed or injured, orphaned, or deprived of their parents, families, friends and carers, as a consequence of armed conflicts, both directly and indirectly.

We condemn the loss of all children and the harms they are forced to endure because of these conflicts.

We strongly support the United Nations Committee on the Rights Of the Child’s own statement calling for a ceasefire and addressing the actions of all parties to this catastrophic situation that have already caused so many deaths and so much injury and bereavement to so many children. This harm will continue to cause lasting psychological and physical trauma, as well as denying even basic survival and development opportunities to so many.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child condemns the killing of children in Gaza.

Please endorse our Statement on Gaza on our First Rights page.


On the draft General Comment on Enforced Disappearances in the context of migration

The UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances has adopted the first draft of its General Comment No. 1 on “enforced disappearances in the context of migration”.

The General Comment highlights the use of increasingly dehumanising border governance tactics and draws attention to the thousands of migrants who are injured, die, or disappear in the course of migrant journeys.

It recognises the particular vulnerability of persons making migrant journeys and that this is an issue of high priority at an international level. As such, it requires the coordinated efforts of States to counter smuggling and trafficking in human beings and to take adequate steps to safeguard the right to life in the context of migrant journeys.

The General Comment further cements the need for States to take urgent measures to ensure compliance with international legal obligations. Border management must be conducted in full compliance with obligations under international human rights law, humanitarian law, refugee law, and the law of the sea.

This recent legal and political development is particularly pertinent in light of the recent shipwreck off Pylos, resulting in the deaths of at least 650 migrants. However, this tragic incident is not an anomaly. For instance, in 2014, a vessel sank in the Aegean Sea, near the island of Farmakonisi resulting in the death of eleven foreign nationals as a result of insufficient action by Greek authorities to safeguard the lives of those on board. There have been numbers of fatal shipwrecks elsewhere, most recently off the Italian island of Lampedusa on 9 August 2023, with at least 41 people feared dead..

The General Comment has potential to provide improved protection against the denial of post-mortem care and for the rights of the dead and their relatives. In this regard, Last Rights refers to the 2018 Mytilini Declaration for the Dignified Treatment of all Missing and Deceased Persons and their Families as a Consequence of Migrant Journeys. The Mytilini Declaration recognises the inherent right to life and that no person should lose their identity after death. It further recognises the fundamental importance of the right to truth in ending impunity and promoting and protecting human rights. It serves as a practical tool to support actors to perform actions in ways that respect the substantive rights of the missing, dead, and their bereaved families in accordance with international law.

Like the Committee, Last Rights is deeply concerned by the growing trend of enforced disappearances in migration and the need for urgent and effective measures by States. It hopes that through this General Comment, the Committee will offer authoritative guidance to assist States to develop and implement policies to protect persons from enforced disappearances, ensure access to justice for victims, and encourage international cooperation in respect of the protection of persons and the use of investigations of disappearances, death, or injury.


The Memorial of Grief and Grievances

On the 24th March 2023, The Last Rights Project in collaboration with other civil society organizations and human rights defenders publishes a strong condemnation of the laws, policies and practices of states and their agencies, which lead to the avoidable death and disappearance of so many people on the move, crossing borders on migration journeys.

Our Memorial of Grief and Grievances calls for an end to all discriminatory policies and increasingly violent border security practices which expose people to the risk of injury, death, disappearance and loss and that states instead abide by their international human rights obligations and put in place measures that fully respect and protect the dignity and rights of all people on the move, their families and communities, irrespective of their status. It calls for real accountability for the actions of states and an end to the effective impunity of all those who enable and cause such egregious harm.

The Memorial of Grief and Grievances was drawn up at a meeting of civil society organizations and individuals held at the French, former internment camp at Salses-le-Chateau, near Rivesaltes on the 24th March 2023. It is based on an historic 18th century documentary form used by peoples of South America to petition against discrimination by their colonizers and later, in the 19th century, by Catalans campaigning for their own rights in Spain.

The Memorial Of Grief and Grievances is today opened for endorsement by any individual, organization, institution or network that wishes to support and promote The Memorial of Grief and Grievances in their own activities.

To endorse the Memorial Of Grief & Grievances

The full statement is here: Memorial Of Grief & Grievances

All Memorial of Grief & Grievances photographs by Vanessa Castaillet-Stone.

Last Rights Publishes a New Report

Every Body Counts

A pandemic is by its very definition a global concern. It should not matter where in the world a person finds themselves or on what basis, in ensuring that everyone has access to their basic necessities, to safety, healthcare and protection and is treated with dignity in death as in life.

Respect for the right to health is a public good.

Every body counts because everybody counts

The following is a summary of this report: Every Body Counts: Death, Covid-19 and Migration: Understanding the Consequences of Pandemic Measures on Migrant Families

Over the last few months the Last Rights project has been speaking to migrants in different parts of the world, both those who have a recognized formal immigration status and those with none, to try to establish an early picture of some of the many difficult issues facing them during the global pandemic, including as a result of their immigration status or lack of status. Difficulties arise for many reasons such as lack of access to services, often dangerous front-line occupations in the workforce and a generally precarious place in all societies. In particular we wanted to achieve a much better understanding of how migrant populations experience the traumas of the Covid-19 pandemic: ultimately, death and bereavement, plus the ways in which their abilities to support, mourn and lay to rest their loved ones has been affected by their status or lack of it, and the restrictions and barriers imposed on families separated by borders.

Poverty, overcrowding, lack of access to sanitation and healthcare, affect millions of people the world over whatever their legal status and nationality. But of additional concern are all those who are also in temporary situations, lacking legal status, still in transit on migration journeys or awaiting the resolution of refugee and migration status determination procedures. People often wait in detention or in restricted and inadequate reception conditions. Those who may be living and working lawfully as temporary migrant workers or working informally, are also affected. The pandemic hits everyone.

Under the cloak of emergency measures passed by authorities, especially since 11 March 2020 when the pandemic was declared, many of the privations and impacts of hostile border security environments have continued not just unabated but have accelerated in some countries.

The resulting report shines spotlights on experiences and identifies gaps and obstacles unreported or hidden from mainstream attention.

The Last Rights Project, coordinated by the charity Methoria, is a global project which promotes the rights of bereaved missing and deceased migrants and calls on States and their agencies to act in accordance with well-established international human rights norms in establishing good practice in this regard.

This report is one of very few so far to focus on this hard to reach and vulnerable population. Although not the result of wholly traditional methods given that these are not traditional times, the report has benefitted from the research of four experts in their fields and the trust and confidence they have built with migrant communities and those who work within them. They give a powerful voice to bereaved families and articulate their sense of isolation, fear and loss despite the need to conduct their research almost entirely remotely and online.

From the outset, the intention has been to act quickly, in order to make concrete, practical recommendations during the pandemic and in advance of its undoubted further phases, in a way that we hope can influence and improve the understanding of policy makers and legislators, those with operational responsibilities, at international, national and local level. The aim is to ensure that migrant communities are not overlooked, not treated in a discriminatory way, even if inadvertently.

In these days of the dead, when cultural traditions cannot easily be followed, if at all, many of us will not be afforded the respect and dignity in death or bereavement that we would wish for ourselves and our loved ones, making it difficult or impossible for survivors to mourn as is necessary, to achieve a degree of peace or consolation, to move on as part of the living.

We call for practical measures to be put in place to overcome some of the many obstacles and barriers faced by bereaved families and to ensure that there is fairness, accountability and justice for migrant families during and after the pandemic as societies begin to rebuild their lives and economies as well as to mark, in reflection, both our collective enormous struggle and inestimable loss.

The absence of a properly oriented and fair system relating to the death of migrants during this pandemic has been exposed, but we are still only scratching the surface of these inequalities. Key is to recognise that in order to address the pandemic effectively in all its manifestations, we have to act globally. Governments have a duty to provide for and to protect every individual on their territory irrespective of their status.

Every Body Counts presents over 100 recommendations including measures especially for the dignified treatment of the dead and bereaved based on the experiences of migrants and rooted in well-established international human rights law that can and should be readily adopted without delay by all governments and international agencies as well as to help inform responses to inevitable similar global events in future, whether of disease or other disaster.

The full report is here: Every Body Counts: Death, Covid-19 and Migration: Understanding the Consequences of Pandemic Measures on Migrant Families

ReFOCUS presents a new film:

“Even After Death”

Since 2014, over 20,00 people have died crossing the Mediterranean Sea as well as the Evros river along the land border between Turkey and Greece. Most were found without documents which makes identification extremely difficult if not impossible.

ReFOCUS Media Labs work with refugees and migrants on the Greek islands of Lesbos and Samos, teaching media skills including film-making. They also work elsewhere including , currently, at the border between Poland and Belarus. We at Last Rights made links with Douglas Herman and Sonia Nandzik of ReFOCUS Media Lab a while ago and are pleased to commend to readers the film they issued in 2020 with the support of Minority Rights International, that was conceptualized and made by refugees and in which Last Rights participated. It has been shown at local film festivals. Here is what ReFOCUS Media Lab say about the film:

Even After Death, our first feature film, presents the problem as handled by coroners and forensic experts in different parts of Greece and the movement to develop an internationally recognized system of human rights even after death.”

The film was an official selection and slated for a world premiere at the 2020 Movies That Matter Festival (Den Haag, Netherlands) but this was postponed because of the pandemic. The film was shown recently at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in Berlin.

Press Release: Mytilini Declaration Signed

The Mytilini Declaration for the Dignified Treatment of all Missing and Deceased Persons and their Families as a Consequence of Migrant Journeys

On the 11 May 2018, following two days of discussions between experts from across the world, the Mytilini Declaration was agreed. We believe this is a landmark in establishing the rights of and duties toward all those who experience suffering because of the death or disappearance of their loved ones as a result of migrant journeys and we now call upon all countries and international bodies to ensure that these rights are respected and that the standards contained in the Declaration are implemented as a matter of urgency.

Here are the GreekFrench, German, Spanish, Arabic, Turkish and Italian language versions. The English language version is the version that was agreed at the expert drafting meeting and prevails in the event of any differences arising.

Death and Disappearance

There is an urgent need to understand how international law can be used to protect people’s rights in situations of border death and loss, to recognise the rights of families and to define states’ duties in clear, practical, implementable terms. The movement of people, through forced, internal displacement and across international borders, is sadly part of everyday life and unlikely to reduce.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), millions attempting dangerous journeys are in need of international protection, fleeing war, violence and persecution. Many others crossing borders on ‘voluntary’ migrations risk their lives on dangerous journeys and suffer the same fate.

Every year these global cross-border movements continue to exact a devastating toll on human life both on land and at sea.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) Missing Migrants Project states that determining how many die or are killed is “a great challenge”, that, at a minimum, 46,000 migrants have lost their lives or have gone missing worldwide since 2000 and that the actual number is no doubt greater given the many who are never found. Reporting mechanisms on the African routes are lacking and the number of deaths on the Central American routes is largely undetermined. We also have very little idea of how many have perished in the Gulf of Aden, the Bay of Bengal or the Andaman Sea.

By 13 February 2018 at least 589 people are known to have died in the first two months of the year, 401 of those in the Mediterranean area. Many were women and children. Many more remain missing.

Tragically deaths will continue to occur, in particular when States and the international community as a whole fail to meet their moral and legal commitments.

Unresolved Loss

Very many of those who have moved have fled war, conflict or persecution. Whilst some of the dead have been counted, many more are missing. The names of most of the dead and missing are not known; their families have not been traced, and where bodies have been found, they are often buried in unmarked graves. Families do not know if a missing relative – a parent, spouse, brother, sister or child – is alive or dead. As has been said by UN Special Rapporteur, Agnes Callamard, in her August 2017 report ‘Unlawful death of refugees and migrants’ “This represents one of the great untold tragedies of this catastrophe, one that triggers the responsibility of States to provide dignity and accountability in death.”

Procedures for how the dead should be recorded, their mortal remains identified, and families traced in situations of conflict are set out in international humanitarian law. Drawing on international human rights law, principles have been developed to protect the rights of the missing and their families in other situations of death and loss: enforced disappearance, internal displacement, and humanitarian disaster.

But attention has yet to be given to the legal duties of states to identify the dead, and to protect the rights of families in the context of refugee flight and irregular migration. It is important to clarify the steps states should take to investigate disappearances and deaths, identify those who die, provide a decent burial to the dead [whether or not they have been identified], and trace their families, including their children. It is also important to consider how and by whom data taken from bodies, and from families whose relatives are missing, should be held, and under what safeguards. This will involve a review of international law to ascertain how it should apply, to identify gaps in its provisions and propose measures to close those gaps, in the specific circumstances of refugee and migrant death and loss.

Respect for Human Rights

We believe there is a pressing need for principles, minimum standards and practical guidance, informed by international law, which we now propose in a new protocol, setting out the steps which states should reasonably be expected to take to record the missing, recover, preserve, and identify the dead; to collect and retain appropriate data to facilitate future identification; to enable repatriation or decent and dignified burial and to respect the rights of family members, including their right to know the fate of relatives who are missing or who have died. The aim of the Protocol is to assist states, civil society, and others, including those working in the field, to respond to these tragedies in ways which respect human rights and human dignity.

These international guiding principles will draw on experience and knowledge gained from events arising in the course of the current refugee and migrant flows across the Mediterranean region and also upon the experience and knowledge of other human rights organisations across the world in regions such as Central and Southern America, Africa and Australia, as well as garnering better understanding of identification and recovery work from other non-migration traumatic events in places such as Argentina, Japan and Ukraine.

It is intended that these guidelines will have a wide reach internationally and act as a catalyst for action, including by human rights organisations which have not been engaged with these issues to date.

Mytilini Declaration Developments

Summary to date and proposed schedule

In the course of discussions during the past few years, there have been expressions of strong support for the protocols proposed by Last Rights, including from individuals in organisations as well as practising lawyers; academics, and others whose daily tasks involve them in work with the dead and their families and searching for the missing, including police and coastguards. Although there is already support for work of this kind, and there has been some related research, no existing NGO or other body is specifically working on the creation and promotion of the protocols proposed by ‘Last Rights.’

A small consultative roundtable legal discussion was held at the London School of Economics on the 14th April 2016, with participants from Last Rights plus other human rights lawyers and academics who discussed how International Law including International Human Rights Law might be drawn upon, interpreted and developed to provide a sound legal basis for the proposed protocols, together with examples of good domestic laws. A smaller group of lawyers and academics subsequently worked on what is now the Last Rights Legal Statement. For the September 2017 version see the Links and Documents page.

In October 2017, Catriona Jarvis participated in a meeting convened by Dr. Agnes Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial, arbitrary or summary Executions, which followed Dr. Callamard’s presentation of her report “Unlawful deaths of refugees and migrants” to the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly, in which the work of Last Rights was relied on. (See our Links and Documents page for both the report and the statement).

In January 2018 Catriona Jarvis and Syd Bolton undertook a fact-finding visit to the Sonoran desert, on the Mexico/US border, where, amongst other meetings they were able to go to the Colibri Centre to hear from some of the staff there about the extraordinary work they do, in conjunction with the Pima County Medical Examiner, to support families; help identify the dead and reunite them with their loved ones. An international meeting in Mexico City followed, organised by the Equipo Argentino de Antropologia Forense, attended by forensic experts and lawyers, to discuss genetic data crossing. These visits were extremely instructive for us and we have incorporated relevant learning into the work of Last Rights and will continue to do so as we progress.

All relevant sources, experiences and learning have been used as an aid to draft, in skeleton form, the protocols. A wide consultation took place, in electronic form for quick and inexpensive dissemination to as many relevant persons as possible, particularly those who have a practical role in working with the dead or missing and their families. The draft protocols was discussed and refined at an expert drafting group meeting on Lesbos in May 2018. See below.

The Mytilini Declaration

The Mytilini Declaration for the Dignified Treatment of all Missing and Deceased Persons and their Families as a Consequence of Migrant Journeys

On the 11 May 2018, following two days of discussions between experts from across the world, the Mytilini Declaration was agreed. We believe this is a landmark in establishing the rights of and duties toward all those who experience suffering because of the death or disappearance of their loved ones as a result of migrant journeys and we now call upon all countries and international bodies to ensure that these rights are respected and that the standards contained in the Declaration are implemented as a matter of urgency.

Here are the GreekFrench, German, Spanish, Arabic, Turkish and Italian language versions. The English language version is the version that was agreed at the expert drafting meeting and prevails in the event of any differences arising.

Catriona Jarvis and Syd Bolton the co-conveners of the project are available for interview and comments by email and telephone.


The electronic consultation on the draft protocols, which closed on 30 March 2018, was followed by a two-day meeting of a working group of international experts on the 10 and 11 May 2018, held on the Greek island of Lesbos (where most of the refugees and migrants arrived in 2015, as well as many before and since, and where many have died), attended by delegates from Lesbos and around the world who brought to bear upon the draft document both their theoretical knowledge and practical skills and experience to hone the content. Included among the delegates (some of whom were speakers) were representatives able to speak for affected migrant and refugee groups, as well as the local community, since it is key that all voices be heard. Indeed, representatives from all sections have been participating in the reference group from the early days.

On day two, the revised version was presented in plenary to permit final discussion prior to adoption and signature (entirely optional), in protocol form, of what is titled ‘The Mytilini Declaration.’ It is intended that the Declaration be a tool that will be commended to all relevant bodies and persons, requesting that they give serious consideration to the adoption of such a tool and put it into practice without delay. The aim is to create a protocol that will not, if at all possible, necessitate primary legislative changes. Sitting behind the Declaration will be other papers previously prepared as well as the wealth of material gleaned from the consultations and discussions, from which an Explanatory Note will be created to accompany the Declaration prior to final wider circulation.


The Mytilini Declaration, although based upon and springing from legal theory, social and legal research, and humanitarian practice, will be, above all, a practical tool that will enable all actors to perform their tasks in ways that meet best practice and deliver respect for substantive rights to the missing, the dead and their bereaved families, assisting the bereaved to continue with their lives, at the same time enabling respectful and appropriate treatment of local populations. It goes without saying that it is in the interests of good government and in the general public interest that all these matters are dealt with respectfully, in accordance with the law.

The Declaration and Explanatory Note as well as other relevant documents will be made available online and all interested researchers and other readers, as well as institutions will have access to these.

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The Last Rights Team

Catriona JarvisCatriona Jarvis LLM, MA

is a retired judge from the United Kingdom. She is a former chair of the Prisoners of Conscience Appeal Fund, trustee (and former chair) of the Inderpal Rahal Memorial Trust, Chair of Trustees of Methoria.

She is the author and co-author of various articles and blogs and a contributor to handbooks on refugee and migration law.

She has a particular interest in improvement of law, procedure and practice, especially concerning women and children; has co-drafted guidelines on gender; unaccompanied children, vulnerable persons, as well as cross-jurisdictional protocols and professional development guidance to assist judges in the family, criminal and immigration/asylum fields to work more effectively.

Syd BoltonSyd Bolton

is a Children’s Human Rights Lawyer (currently non-practising), former legal and policy officer including for Coram Children’s Legal Centre; The Children’s Legal Centre; Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture; Islington Law Centre, Wilford Monro Solicitors. He has spoken and delivered training on the rights of children, in particular, refugee, asylum seeking and migrant children, both nationally and internationally, and been an adviser to the Children’s Commissioner England.

Danai AngeliDanai Angeli

is a lawyer and member of the Athens Bar Association. She holds a PhD in international human rights law from the European University Institute in Florence. She has significant litigation and training experience in the field of migration and asylum, has acted as a consultant on human rights issues for national lawyers and has provided legal representation in selected cases before the European Court of Human Rights. In 2016 she was appointed as the national trainer on human rights and asylum in Greece under the Human Rights Education for Legal Professionals (HELP) program of the Council of Europe.

Her professional experience includes her appointment as a chair of the Appeal Committees in the Greek asylum service and her participation in UNHCR’s emergency mission to the island of Lesvos. As an academic researcher, she has been involved in several projects on asylum and migration management with the European University Institute in Florence and the Hellenic foundation for European and Foreign Policy in Athens and has written articles, policy papers and academic papers on a wide range of issues including detention, labour trafficking and migrant smuggling.

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