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Address by Ms. Navi Pillay United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights at the Fourth Global Forum on Migration and Development

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, 10 November 2010

Excellencies,
Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to address the Fourth Global Forum on Migration and Development as Chair of the Global Migration Group (GMG). I would like to thank our host, the Government of Mexico, for inviting me and engaging so actively with the GMG. We 14 UN agencies, the International Organization for Migration and the World Bank join hands in the Global Migration Group to seize the opportunities and to respond to the challenges presented by international migration. We do so by working constructively with Governments, civil society, social partners, national human rights institutions and other stakeholders. This Forum is an excellent opportunity for such collaboration. We are convinced that in the face of these multiple and multifaceted challenges, a global approach addressing migration in an integrated and comprehensive way, and one that anchors migration policies in a system of rights and corresponding obligations established by international legal standards will contribute to more effective and humane policy decisions. The promotion and protection of the human rights of all persons, regardless of their immigration or any other status, is a shared commitment of all Governments represented here today. We trust that with this unity of purpose, we will rise to the challenges and help make migration a positive experience for all.

Today, 214 million people, about three per cent of the world’s total population, are international migrants, while the number of internal migrants is estimated at 740 million. Migration affects us all. Many countries are now simultaneously countries of origin, transit and destination. Migrants contribute to economic growth and human development both in countries of origin and destination. Officially recorded remittance flows to developing countries alone estimated to reach $325 billion in 2010, according to the World Bank’s Migration and Remittances Factbook 2011. This does not include the substantial amount of remittances to developed countries, such as France, Spain, Germany, Belgium and Britain, which according to World Bank data, are among the top 20 recipients of migrant remittances. But positive contributions of migrants go far beyond the economic realm. Migrants enrich societies through cultural diversity, by introducing new practices, ideas and technology, fostering understanding and respect among peoples, and contributing to demographic balance and the labour force in aging societies. For many, migration is a positive and empowering experience, but many others endure human rights violations, discrimination, and exploitation.

We the 16 entities of the Global Migration Group are committed to working with you to realize the benefits of migration for development and to safeguard the human rights of all migrants. Currently there are $240 million worth of multilateral projects in this area. But much more needs to be done.  This is the case concerning documented migrants with full legal authorization to live and work where they are, yet still face discrimination in employment, schools, access to health care and many other aspects of their daily lives. This is even more so for migrants in an irregular situation. Although their number is unknown, they are estimated to be in the tens of millions worldwide. On 30 September this year, the GMG Principals adopted a landmark statement speaking out in one voice for the protection of the human rights of all migrants, particularly those who are in an irregular situation.

Migrants in such a situation are more likely to face discrimination, exclusion, exploitation and abuse at all stages of the migration process. They are often denied even the most basic labour protections, due process guarantees, personal security, and healthcare. They often face prolonged detention or ill-treatment, and in some cases enslavement, rape or even murder. They are more likely to be targeted by xenophobes and racists, victimized by unscrupulous employers and sexual predators, and can easily fall prey to criminal traffickers and smugglers. Rendered vulnerable by their irregular status, these men, women and children are often afraid or unable to seek protection and relief from the authorities of countries of origin, transit or destination.

Children, especially those unaccompanied and separated from their families, are particularly at risk. They are often banned from classrooms or denied other fundamental rights. A recent study by my Office, with contributions from UNICEF and other GMG agencies, has identified “serious protection gaps for migrant children in every region of the world.” Female migrants in these situations face greater risk of sexual exploitation, gender based violence, multiple discriminations and specific challenges in access to employment and health services, including reproductive healthcare. People who leave their own countries because their lives and liberty are at risk are often obliged to move in an irregular manner and find it increasingly difficult to seek and obtain refugee status.

Too often, States have addressed irregular migration solely through the lens of sovereignty, border security or law enforcement, sometimes driven by hostile domestic constituencies. Yet we know that human mobility, as underscored in UNDP’s 2009 Human Development Report, the new GMG publication “Mainstreaming Migration into Development Planning”, and the IOM 2008 World Migration Report, makes economies and societies more dynamic and prosperous. Even beyond the human rights imperative, protection and human development gains could be realized by ending the criminalization of irregular migrants, reducing barriers to human mobility and expanding channels for regular migration.
Although States have legitimate interests in securing their borders and exercising immigration controls, such concerns do not trump the obligations of the State to respect the internationally guaranteed rights of all persons, to protect those rights against abuses, and to fulfill the rights necessary for them to enjoy a life of dignity and security. These rights, such as the right to life, liberty and security, the right to seek and enjoy asylum, the right to a fair trial and to legal redress, the right to health, food, adequate housing, just and favourable conditions of work; and the right to be free from arbitrary arrest or detention, to be free from discrimination, and to be free from slavery, involuntary servitude or torture, are guaranteed by the core international human rights instruments and by customary international law. Indeed, the right to just and favourable conditions of work is also elaborated in the over 180 conventions of the International Labour Organization, including two instruments specifically designed to protect migrant workers.

To mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 2008, the GMG launched a joint publication on international migration and human rights. Indeed, the Universal Declaration provides a solid and common basis all of us in our efforts to ensure the effective promotion and protection of the human rights of all migrants. Human rights violations against migrants are often closely linked to discriminatory laws and practice, and to deep-seated attitudes of prejudice and xenophobia against them. The principle of non-discrimination is fundamental in international human rights law and runs across all international human rights instruments inspired by the Universal Declaration, notably the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Today, all UN Member States have ratified at least one of the nine core international human rights treaties, and 80 percent have ratified four or more conventions that guarantee these rights. International law is loud and clear. It prohibits discriminatory treatment against migrants, whether they are in regular or irregular situations, and protects their rights and freedoms.

This year, as we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Their Families, we urge those States that have not yet done so to ratify the Convention and ensure its effective implementation, thus seizing the opportunity to send a strong signal of commitment to ensuring the human rights of every person. For State parties to the Convention, we urge you to make the rights guaranteed therein a reality through concerted efforts at implementation. And even if for States which are not yet party to the Convention, they must ensure that domestic laws and regulations conform to international human rights standards.

The GMG is committed to working with you to promote and protect migrants’ rights, and to build the necessary capacity in countries to develop comprehensive policy frameworks to address migration and its linkages with trade, employment, education and health.

We must work together to address the root causes of irregular migration and the demand side of trafficking; to combat xenophobia, racism and incitement to discrimination in national politics, public discourse and the media; to develop practical and forward looking migration policies; to protect all migrants, as well as to actively promote tolerant societies in which every person can enjoy his or her human rights.

The irregular situation in which many international migrants find themselves should not be seen to deprive them either of their humanity or of their rights. To conclude, let’s remind ourselves of the fundamental principle of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”

Thank you. I wish you a fruitful and successful meeting.