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Opening address by Mr. Craig Mokhiber, OiC, Development and Economic and Social Issues Branch at the 13th session of the Committee of Migrant Workers

22 November 2010

Mr. Chairperson,
Distinguished Members of the Committee,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to the 13th session of the Committee of Migrant Workers, a special session where you will have the opportunity to take stock of the contribution of the Convention and the Committee to the protection of the rights of migrant workers on the occasion of its 20th Anniversary.

At the outset, allow me to highlight some new and important developments of interest to the Committee that have taken place since your last session and also note upcoming events that relate to your work.

I am pleased to inform you that the Chairpersons of the treaty bodies have, issued a joint statement on the occasion of Millennium Development Goal (MDG) Summit in September. In the statement, which will be made available to you, the Chairpersons urged Member States to be guided by human rights in finalizing the Summit Outcome Document and in establishing national action plans. They drew the attention of Member States to the guidance offered by human rights treaties and to the work of treaty bodies and emphasized that realizing the MDGs is an important step on the longer road towards the full and effective realization of human rights for all and that, at the same time, the protection and promotion of human rights is itself critical for the achievement of the MDGs.

As you are aware, calls to strengthen the treaty body system and to make it more effective continue, not least from the members of this Committee themselves, and from the High Commissioner herself. A meeting of treaty body experts on this topic was recently held in Poznan, organized by the University of Poznan with the support of the Polish authorities, at which the participants reflected, among other things, on the independence of members and the enhancement of the role of the Chairs. The outcome document is available in your files.

In addition, OHCHR is facilitating a series of consultations involving all treaty bodies. A meeting with the Committee on Migrant Workers is scheduled for 9 April 2011, together with members of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  The objectives of these consultations are to identify options for the future work of the TB system as a whole, including in respect of working methods, and to allow treaty body members to discuss in advance issues tabled by the Inter-Committee Meetings (ICM) and the Meetings of Chairpersons.

In this connection, allow me to refer briefly to the 22nd meeting of Chairpersons of the human rights treaty bodies held in Brussels on 1 and 2 July 2010, the first of such meetings organized outside of Geneva. This was intended to bring treaty bodies closer to the implementation level, to NGOs and regional mechanisms, to raise awareness in Europe regarding treaty bodies’ work, and to strengthen linkages, synergies and coordinated implementation between international and regional human rights mechanisms. The Chairpersons agreed that to hold such meetings in different regions every other year can provide real added value to their work and requested OHCHR to continue this practice. We welcome this request and will do our best to facilitate it.

Turning to some practical issues, we have noted the rightful concerns of the Committee about servicing levels. OHCHR works closely with all the relevant units of the UN Office at Geneva to ensure that the highest possible level of servicing is provided to the treaty bodies. Unfortunately, however, the demands on the conference servicing units in Geneva have grown tremendously in recent years, not least due to the explosive growth of documentation needed by the Human Rights Council, the increase in the number of treaty bodies, as well as their evolving reporting and follow-up procedures. While demands have grown tremendously, resources have not. OHCHR and the chairs of treaty bodies have worked to sensitize the General Assembly about the need to ensure that additional human resources are provided as required for any request for additional meeting time or for new treaty based requirements.

In this regard, we welcome the call by the ICM for all treaty bodies to enforce page limitations set in the harmonized and treaty-specific guidelines. The Secretariat has also acted on the recommendation of the ICM to inform all States parties of the page limits and to advise States parties whose reports exceed those limits on how they can reduce them, specifically through a note verbale to that effect that was sent out to all Permanent Missions to the UN on 8 September. And, as agreed by the ICM, a number of treaty bodies have begun to systematically refer to page limitations in their concluding observations.  

At the same time, it is also true that States parties face difficulties in focusing their reports or replies to lists of issues, when recommendations in concluding observations or the list of issues themselves are not focused as they could be. The Deputy High Commissioner, in her opening speech to the ICM in June, suggested that lists of issues prior to reporting can facilitate the preparation of both, more focused reports and more targeted concluding observations. In this regard, we are pleased to see that you will devote two meetings to discuss your working methods.

As communicated to you at your last session, OHCHR has made the promotion of the human rights of all migrants one of its six thematic priorities for this biennium. Together with our colleagues in the field across the globe, we carry out numerous activities, with UN and other partners, to promote and protect the human rights of all migrants, drawing also on the work of this committee.

The High Commissioner currently chairs the Global Migration Group (GMG), a collective of 14 United Nations agencies, the International Organization for Migration and the World Bank. Through the GMG, OHCHR seeks to promote and mainstream a human rights based approach to migration within the UN system and beyond, and to highlight key migration and human rights issues at the international level. I am pleased to inform you that on 30 September this year, the GMG Principals adopted a landmark statement in promoting and protecting the human rights of perhaps the most vulnerable of all migrant groups – those in an irregular situation. The Statement unequivocally declared that universal human rights norms apply to all migrants, regardless of their immigration status. 

The GMG, under OHCHR’s Chairmanship, was also active at the fourth Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD), held from 8 to 11 November in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. At the Global Forum, OHCHR organized a GMG side event to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Convention, ably supported by the International Steering Committee on the Campaign for Ratification of the Convention, a unique gathering of international organizations and civil society that work together not only to promote ratification but also compliance with the Convention. At this event, the High Commissioner herself invited all States to sign and ratify the Convention and thus seize the opportunity to send a strong signal about their commitment to ensure the human rights of all migrants. Mr. Chairman, this event also benefitted from your presence and we thank you for that. The High Commissioner reiterated her support for the Convention in her statement as Chair of the GMG and her participation as a panellist in the Common Space session on ‘Improving Public Perceptions of Migrants’.

Slowly but steadily, acceptance of the Convention continues to grow, although not quickly enough for many of us. The recent accession to the Convention by Guyana and by Saint Vincent and the Grenadines brings the number of States parties now to 44. The number of States parties that have accepted the competence of the Committee to consider complaints under article 77, however, remains unchanged at two.

Turning now to the work ahead, the agenda for this session will be a heavy one, which we consider to be an indication of the future workload trends of the Committee. For the first time you will examine three (3) State party reports (Albania, Ecuador and Senegal), as well as adopt a list of issues on the 2nd periodic report of Mexico.

You will devote some meetings to the Committee’s first draft General Comment on Migrant Domestic Workers. The choice of this subject, long neglected as a human rights issue, is most timely given the large numbers of migrants who are working as domestic workers, their vulnerability due to their often undocumented status and irregular nature of their work, their treatment as criminals under many jurisdictions, and the high risk of sexual violence to which they are sometimes exposed. You now have a consolidated draft based on comments and inputs received from many actors working in the field of migrant labor. We are pleased to note the great interest that the subject has generated among the other treaty bodies, not least CEDAW and CRC, and look forward to seeing inter-Committee support for a solid text.


I mentioned at the outset that this is a particularly important session, marking the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Convention. In collaboration with the Steering Committee for the ratification of the Convention, you have organised a commemoration day which will take place on 29 November. Your chosen theme speaks to the essence of the Convention:  “Protecting Rights, Building Cooperation.” I wish you successful deliberations as you celebrate this significant event.

The theme of this year’s Human Rights Day on 10 December of discrimination is equally important for the Committee. It calls upon us to “Speak Up: Stop Discrimination”. On many occasions, the High Commissioner has expressed concern at the rise of intolerance, xenophobia and racism directed at migrants and their communities, including acts of extremist violence against migrants in transit, and has urged States to take firm measures to protect them.


Before I conclude, allow me to formally present to you your new secretariat team. The members will already know Ms. Noemy Barrita-Chagoya from her work with the Committee. I am pleased to announce that she will be serving as the Committee Secretary ad interim, pending recruitment of the post, under the guidance of Ms. Wan-Hea Lee, who was fresh off the airplane at your last session but has now settled in her post as Chief of the Groups in Focus Section of the Treaties Division, which is responsible for your servicing. I know you will join us in warmly welcoming them as part of your team. 

I wish you a very productive 13th session. Thank you.