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Opening address by Ms. Maria Clara Martin, Chief, Americas Section Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division to the 17th Session of the Committee on Migrant Workers

10 September 2012

Distinguished members of the Committee,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to the seventeenth session of the Committee on Migrant Workers. The High Commissioner has asked me to extend to you her best wishes for a successful and productive session. I feel particularly honoured to have been invited to open a session of this august Committee, in my capacity as Chief of the Americas Section of the Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division. The Americas, as you know, is a region for which this Convention holds special significance, and my Section, together with field offices in the Americas, has worked hard to ensure that the recommendations you make are followed up and that the information essential for maximizing the impact of your work in our region reaches you. So, on behalf of all staff in the Americas, thank you for this invitation, and for the excellent cooperation we have established.

Status of ratification of the Convention

Before exploring this connection, allow me to update the audience about important developments that have taken place since the Committee’s last session, beginning with ratifications. Since April, one more State, Indonesia, has ratified the Convention, which brings the number of States parties to the Convention to 46, over one third of which are from the Americas. The number of States that have signed but not yet ratified the Convention is now at 16.

Achieving universal ratification of the human rights treaties remains one of the primary goals of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Migration is one of the six thematic priorities of OHCHR, and various parts of the Office have long been making efforts to promote ratification of the Convention, including OHCHR’s field presences. The Office also works towards mainstreaming migrants’ rights within the entire UN system, for example by promoting a human rights-based approach to migration at the Global Forum on Migration and Development which will take place in Mauritius in November this year. In addition, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants recommends to all States that he engages with to ratify the Convention if they have not yet done so. Similar recommendations are made by other human rights mechanisms, in particular the UPR.

With this in mind, I am confident that the Committee’s continued efforts to define the scope of the rights of the Convention, as well as your personal engagement to promote the Convention inter-sessionally, will build trust among all stakeholders, including States, and ultimately encourage more States to ratify the Convention.

General introduction of FOTCD’s work

Before I enter into the work of my Section, I thought I would say a few words about the Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division (FOTCD) of which the Americas Section is part. FOTCD is responsible for implementing Sub-programme 3 of the Secretary-General’s Strategic Framework entitled “Advisory services, technical cooperation and field activities.” As the operational Division of OHCHR, FOTCD supports the work of human rights field presences and leads OHCHR’s dialogue and activities related to human rights at the national, regional and sub-regional levels, also supporting implementation efforts on the ground. The objective is to strengthen protection systems; enhance the implementation of international human rights norms at country level; and prevent and reduce human rights violations.

Through its five geographic sections organised in three Branches, as well as thematic Sections relating to Peace Missions Support and Rapid Response; National Institutions and Regional Human Rights Mechanisms and UPR Follow-Up, the Division supports 57 field presences, seeking to ensure that national authorities and civil society actors have the capacity to address human rights concerns and are informed about international human rights standards.

Through the Division, OHCHR has ensured growing worldwide partnerships with actors working in the areas of development, humanitarian assistance and peace and security in order to advance the promotion and protection of human rights, firmly grounded on international law. Furthermore, FOTCD provides senior United Nations officials, in particular the High Commissioner, with strategic advice regarding human rights matters when engaging with UN Member States and regional organizations.

It is because of all this that FOTCD has made it a priority to collaborate with the treaty bodies – our work on the ground is based on international law, and treaty bodies provide its interpretation and specialised recommendations for advancing the human rights agenda on the ground. Thus, desk officers, in collaboration with colleagues from the field offices, actively follow up on the Committee’s recommendations and monitor their implementation by the States parties concerned.

Focus on migration related activities in the Americas

The Americas has seen a deterioration of the human rights situation of migrants, particularly migrants in an irregular situation and their families mainly in Central America and Mexico in the context of the increased violence perpetrated by organised criminal groups. We would like to do more, but we have very few resources so we have concentrated on those areas where the situation appears more desperate. However, the Committee’s concluding observations on the countries reviewed provide an important basis for our work in the region and help us to establish closer links and cooperate with organisations working on the defence of migrants’ rights. For example, in Mexico, following a recommendation of the Committee, our office has prioritised cooperation with the National Institute of Migration in assessing the staff human rights training programmes through the use of the indicators methodology of OHCHR. With this initiative we will have information on whether staff training is having an effect on the enjoyment of human rights of migrants and their families, which is the end result that we all are seeking. The fact that the Committee reviews many countries our region has opened up further work on migrants for us too, and has helped us established closer links and work together with organisations working on the defence of the rights of the migrants. In many countries defenders of the rights of migrants are in a very vulnerable situation; together we can contribute to their strengthening and protection.

Working on the rights of migrants presents several challenges for us – most States focus on their own nationals who have migrated abroad rather than on migrants within their countries; xenophobia and hostility towards migrants exists at all levels, and there is a serious lack of statistical data that would allow us to map the situation of migrants in each country, and address it adequately. In this, the advocacy and normative role of your Committee is crucial, and strengthens our work. And in turn, the more we know and do, the more we will be able to contribute to the implementation of the Committee’s recommendations.

Treaty body strengthening process

Mr. Chairman,

After almost three years of consultations held with different actors, including treaty body experts, States parties, United Nations entities, civil society organizations, and national human rights institutions, the High Commissioner released her report on the strengthening of the treaty body system on 22 June 2012. The report provides a coherent framework compiling key proposals made by the different stakeholders, identifying synergies, linkages, and a basis for future mutual reinforcement of the treaty bodies system.

As you can see from the High Commissioner’s report which is available in your files, your Committee has already anticipated some of the proposals addressed to treaty bodies, namely by adopting a calendar to ensure strict compliance by States parties on an equal basis with their reporting obligations, as well as by adopting lists of issues prior to reporting with a view to simplifying the reporting procedure. Other proposals addressed to the treaty bodies in the High Commissioner’s report include enhancing the accessibility and visibility of the treaty body system through webcasting of public meetings and the use of other new technologies; and aligning working methods to the maximum extent possible without contradicting the specific requirements of each treaty, including by aligning models for the adoption of general comments and by standardizing interaction with NGOs and other stakeholders. The report also contains a concrete costing of each proposal. As requested at the last annual meeting of chairpersons of the human rights treaty bodies, the Secretariat will soon provide all Committees with an implementation chart in order to keep the meeting of Chairpersons informed and enable it to review the progress in implementing the High Commissioner’s proposals. The Chairs asked to be informed about the progress made on a biannual basis.

I understand that you will have a first discussion of the High Commissioner’s report at this session and will continue to discuss the individual proposals contained in the report during the Committee’s eighteenth session in April 2013.

Twenty-fourth annual meeting of the chairpersons of the human rights treaty bodies

Mr. Chairman,

Let me congratulate you for having presided so ably over the twenty-fourth annual meeting of chairpersons in Addis Ababa in June this year. At the meeting, the Chairs welcomed the report of the High Commissioner and endorsed the vision it contains. They expressed support for the proposals contained in the report and recommended that each treaty body should carefully review the recommendations addressed to the treaty bodies and compare them with their current working methods in order to determine what steps are required for the implementation of these recommendations.

In Addis Ababa, the Chairs also held a video conference with the two co-facilitators of the General Assembly’s inter-governmental process on strengthening and enhancing the effective functioning of the human rights treaty body system, as established by GA resolution 66/254. During the video conference, the Chairs particularly stressed that the treaty bodies should participate in the deliberations as resource persons. As a result, the Chair and Vice-Chair of the twenty-fourth meeting of chairpersons were invited and participated as resource persons in the informal meeting of the intergovernmental process held in New York from 16 to 18 July 2012. I understand that time has been set aside later this morning for Mr. El Jamri to brief you on his participation in the meetings in Addis Ababa and New York.

Dear Members,

A significant achievement of the twenty-fourth meeting of chairpersons is that the Chairs discussed and endorsed guidelines on the independence and impartiality of treaty body members (“Addis Ababa guidelines”) which they strongly recommended for prompt adoption by each treaty body, in particular through inclusion, in an appropriate manner, in their rules of procedure. The guidelines are annexed to the chairpersons’ report to the 67th session of the General Assembly which is available in your files. The Human Rights Committee, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women have all had a chance so far during their sessions to review the Guidelines, and CEDAW as well as CERD adopted resolutions welcoming the Guidelines as a basis for further discussions. Later this morning, my colleague Paulo David will brief you in detail on the treaty body strengthening initiative and on the next steps in the intergovernmental process.

The current 17th session of the Committee

Mr. Chairperson,

Turning to the work at hand, I note that your busy agenda for this session again reflects your determination to maximize your available meeting time. In a single week, you will consider the initial report of Rwanda and the second periodic report of Bosnia and Herzegovina, discuss the first draft of your general comment No. 2 on the rights of migrant workers in an irregular situation, and meet with the States parties to the Convention. In 2010, the High Commissioner chaired the Global Migration Group and participated in the Global Forum on Migration. Her office also led the drafting of a landmark statement on the human rights of migrants in an irregular situation, with contributions from the Americas Section. I therefore wish to assure you of FOTCD’s openness, and especially of the field presences, to contribute to this important drafting process, once the Committee opens it for consultations, as well as to facilitate NGO inputs in the drafting process of this important document.

If your agenda is busy now already, the Committee’s workload is likely to increase drastically from 2014, when you will start to examine States parties’ reports according to a reporting calendar under which all States parties will be considered within a five-year reporting cycle. Based on the current ratification level of the Convention, the reporting calendar will require the Committee to consider at least nine States parties per year. The Committee will thus inevitably need additional meeting time to effectively fulfil its functions. Accordingly, the Secretariat has prepared a request for one additional week of annual meeting time that you will discuss at this session.

Lastly, I would like to take this opportunity to encourage intergovernmental as well as non-governmental organizations to cooperate more actively with the Committee by submitting information about the implementation of the Convention by States parties scheduled for consideration. In that regard, please rest assured that my Division, FOTCD, is determined to support the Committee’s efforts to strengthen its cooperation with external partners in relation to such country-specific information.

I wish you a very successful and productive session.