Committee on Rights of Migrant Workers
15 April 2013
The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families this morning opened its eighteenth session, during which it will review the reports of Azerbaijan, Bolivia and Colombia on how they are fulfilling their obligations under the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. During the meeting the Committee heard an address from Simon Walker, Chief of the Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Section, Human Rights Treaties Division, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. It also adopted its agenda, and heard from a non-governmental organization on Colombia and the Office of the Ombudsman of Azerbaijan.
In his address, Mr. Walker updated the Committee on events and interventions relevant to its work including activities undertaken for United Nations International Migrants Day; a statement issued expressing outrage at the beheading of Rizana Nafeek, a national of Sri Lanka and a domestic worker in Saudi Arabia, on 9 January 2013; recommendations made to Greece and the European Union on the plight of the growing number of irregular migrants trapped in Greece on their way to other European Union destinations; and the rights of children in the context of international migration. Mr. Walker also spoke about anticipated budgetary cuts and how they would affect the Committee’s work, and the treaty body strengthening process.
Abdelhamid El Jamri, Committee Chairperson, said to date 46 United Nations Member States had signed the Convention, of which 17 States had signed but not yet ratified it. There were 19 overdue reports. He updated the Committee on his intercessional activities, and outlined the programme of work for the session, which included consideration of three periodic reports and adoption of the annual report, a new General Comment, and lists of issues for five countries. There would also be a general debate on statistics, which were so important in the presentation of periodic reports and in migration policies.
During the meeting Committee members held a general discussion in which they spoke about their intercessional activities in their respective regions, and about current migration issues, including the isolation of workers in Gulf States and potential policy change in the United States.
When the Committee reconvenes at 3 p.m. this afternoon, it will start its consideration of the second periodic report of Colombia (C/CMW/COL/2). The Committee will complete its consideration of the report of Colombia on Tuesday, 16 April at 1 p.m.
SIMON WALKER, Chief of the Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Section, Human Rights Treaties Division, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, updated the Committee on events and interventions relevant to its work. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay sent out letters on 18 December 2012 as part of activities undertaken for United Nations International Migrants Day, commending the States that accepted, during their first Universal Period Review cycle, the recommendation to consider ratifying the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. He noted that United Nations Experts had issued a statement expressing outrage at the beheading of Rizana Nafeek, a national of Sri Lanka and a domestic worker in Saudi Arabia, on 9 January 2013, as violating international human rights treaty obligations. He said that tragic case underscored the importance of the need for States to ratify the Convention to protect the human rights of migrant workers. Furthermore, to mark International Migrants Day a joint statement entitled ‘Migrants deserve full recognition as rights holders’ was issued by various experts which recognized the contributions of migrants, reaffirmed that human rights were rights for all persons, including migrants, and called upon States to ratify the Convention.
Following a visit to Greece in December 2012 as part of a regional study of the human rights of migrants at the borders of the European Union, the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants made recommendations both to Greece and the European Union especially focusing on the plight of the growing number of irregular migrants trapped in Greece on their way to other European Union destinations. He stressed the need for a European Union-wide approach based on human rights. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child held a day of general discussion last September in Geneva on ‘the rights of all children in the context of international migration’. The ensuing report included a strong recommendation for States to expeditiously and completely cease the detention of children on the basis of their own or their parents’ migration status. It affirmed that the detention of a child due to migration status constituted a child rights violation and contravened the principle of the best interests of the child. The contribution of the Committee’s designated representative that day, Mr. Azad Taghizade, was much appreciated.
Mr. Walker reminded the Committee that the General Assembly would hold a High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development later this year during its sixty-eighth session from 3 to 4 October 2013. The Dialogue would provide a unique opportunity to take stock of the progress accomplished in the global discussion about migration policies worldwide and would include a roundtable on the human rights of all migrants. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was actively preparing for it, including the endorsement of a set of human rights-based key messages on migration, the preparation of an analytical report on migration and human rights and other initiatives.
Regarding the treaty body strengthening process, which was undoubtedly the most prominent issue of common concern to United Nations treaty bodies, Mr. Walker commended the Committee for implementing the simplified reporting procedure on a strict reporting calendar, as recommended by the High Commissioner. Turning to the budget crisis, Mr. Walker reported that system-wide cuts of USD $100 million in the regular budget of the United Nations Secretariat for the 2014 to 2015 biennium were unfortunately anticipated, of which $USD 4.5 million would likely be drawn from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Right’s regular budget. Despite the fact that 70 per cent of those cuts must be in staff costs, Mr. Walker was pleased to inform the Committee that its secretariat would not be affected by those measures at this point in time. However, the treaty bodies had been asked to further rationalize their working methods and practices in light of the budget crises, and the Committee was commended for agreeing to green its sessions, since much of the information for it was provided on CD-Rom, saving much staff time and paper.
Statement by the Chairperson
ABDELHAMID EL JAMRI, Chairperson of the Committee, thanked Mr. Walker – and the High Commissioner – for their support of the Committee and awareness raising of the Convention at so many opportunities. To date 46 United Nations Member States had signed the Convention, of which 17 States had signed but not yet ratified it. The Secretariat had sent a reminder to all States that had overdue reports, which currently numbered 19.
The Chairperson said he had taken part in several activities to promote the Convention in the intercession, although he noted with disappointment that budgetary restrictions had prevented several Committee members from attending events around the world. Mr. Jamri reported that he attended the World Social Forum on Migration in Manila, Philippines, in November 2012; a workshop in the Middle East held by the International Trade Union Confederation at which he held discussions with union officials on how better to implement migrant workers rights on an equal footing with regular workers; and took part in a dialogue with the United Nations Economic and Social Council. The Spanish Government recently invited him to give a series of lectures nationwide in Spain to better explain the Convention, because Spain today had a lot of migratory issues, particularly given that country’s importance for migrant workers at an international level. Hopefully Spain could be the first European Union country to take the step of joining the Convention. The recent International Labour Organization report on forced labour entitled ‘Caught in a Trap: Trafficking of Persons in the Middle East’ estimated there were 600,000 victims of forced labour living there. The International Trade Union Confederation was campaigning for a better guarantee of the rights of migrant workers, particular in the Gulf States where people were working in conditions close to slavery, in the run up to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Mr. Jamri said he had taken part in several activities on treaty-body strengthening, including a three-day dialogue with States during the General Assembly in New York. During the session the Committee would have the privilege of receiving two General Assembly nominated co-facilitators, from Iceland and Indonesia, on that topic. He welcomed that the Committee would continue with its paperless – green – session and thanked Members for continuing to work on digital documents which avoided using so much paper. This year there would be a High Level Dialogue on Migration and Development for which the Committee would make proposals. The question of human rights at borders was a key issue; States were sovereign and their policies for entry, stay and exit were theirs, although they had rules to respect on expulsions. The Committee would like to see more protection for travelling workers, starting from the point at which they requested a visa, and would call on States to consider an instrument to better protect people at frontiers. Mr. Jamri hoped this year’s debate would be better organized than the previous high level debate of 2006.
During the session the Committee would review the reports of Colombia, Bolivia and Azerbaijan. It would adopt lists of issues for Burkina Faso and Morocco, and also lists of issues following the submission of the reports of Belize, Ghana, Sri Lanka and Uganda. The annual report for 2012, which would be the basis of the Committee’s presentation to the General Assembly this September, and General Comment Number Two would be adopted, while the Addis Ababa guidelines on the impartiality of Experts would be discussed. There would also be a general debate on statistics, which were so important in the presentation of periodic reports and in migration policies. In all reports considered so far there had been a lack of statistics, due to a lack of methodology internationally to better handle migration statistics. The Committee would also meet with 17 signatories to see how quickly they could get them to move from signing to ratifying the Convention.
Discussion with Committee Members
During the meeting a general discussion was held in which members spoke about their activities since the last session in promoting the Convention in their respective regions, and about topical issues, such as migration policies in the United States and promotion of the Convention there, and the isolation suffered by many migrant workers in Gulf countries, particularly when sentenced to death. Mr. Walker assured Committee Members of the High Commissioner’s strong support and prioritization of the Committee and Convention, not only in public statements but also in ‘quiet diplomacy’ with Member States in private meetings.
Statements by a Non-Governmental Organization on Colombia and the Office of the Ombudsman of Azerbaijan
AIMEE MAYER AND DANIEL GONZALEZ, Student Attorneys at the Immigration Justice Clinic at the American University Washington College of Law, presented a report to the Committee that the Immigration Justice Clinic had produced following a series of interviews with Colombian migrants both in the United States and after they had returned to Colombia. The report had been co-authored with law students from Pontificia Universidad Janeriana in Cali, California and the non-governmental organization AESCO. In their statement the Student Attorneys highlighted several issues, including the obligations that States parties had towards workers abroad, repatriation, specific measures that Colombia had adopted to aid its returning citizens and its failure to implement those measures. Three recommendations were made including the allocation of additional resources, increased transparency of the programmes to help returning Colombian migrants and increased dissemination of information about those programmes to Colombians living abroad.
TURAN JAHANGIROVA, Office of the Ombudsman of Azerbaijan, said the Office was established in 2001 and focused on dissemination of information for migrants. The Office also had bilateral cooperation and had signed agreements of mutual assistance with similar institutions in neighbouring countries, such as Russia and Georgia, to ensure the rights of migrants from those countries in Azerbaijan and Azerbaijani migrants in those countries. The speaker recalled a 2011 conference held in Baku which focused on the cultural rights of minorities.
For use of the information media; not an official record