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Committee on the Protection of rights of migrant workers opens twenty-seventh session

GENEVA (4 September 2017) - The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families this morning opened its twenty-seventh session, hearing statements by a representative of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, members of the Committee, and civil society on the situation of migrant workers in Ecuador, Indonesia and Mexico, whose reports will be reviewed this week.

Opening the meeting, Adam Abdelmoula, Director of the Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, recalled the problem of the reporting gap of Member States, and noted that increased compliance with treaty reporting obligations could perhaps be an item for consideration at the Committee’s regular meetings with States parties.  Mr. Abdelmoula also encouraged Committee Experts to further explore ways and means to partner with Special Procedure mandate holders.  Mr. Abdelmoula updated the Committee on recent initiatives at the Human Rights Council, namely that the Council had held a panel discussion on unaccompanied migrant children and adolescents at its last session in June 2017, as well as on the consultative process for the Global Compact, noting that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was very much engaged in the process to ensure that the human rights of migrants were at the forefront of that State-led process. 

Committee Members expressed concern that the Committee had not been invited to take part in the thematic consultations leading to the adoption of the Global Compact in an official capacity.  That had to be remedied as the Committee had made important observations on issues related to migration.  Another concern raised was the lack of reference to the Convention by the High Commissioner for Human Rights during the discussions about the Global Compact, which should reinforce the implementation of the Convention.  Some Experts emphasised that the Committee had to continue its efforts to cooperate with Member States to ensure that the positions of the Committee would be covered in the final outcome document of the Global Compact.

The Committee then heard statements by non-governmental organizations from Ecuador, Indonesia and Mexico.  Civil society representatives from Ecuador emphasised the security aspect of migration in the country, the economic sanctions and deportations that were imposed on irregular migrants, a shift from a judicial to administrative nature of deportation, and the difficult situation of migrants from Colombia, Cuba and Haiti. 

Non-governmental organizations from Indonesia drew attention to the lack of compliance of the Government of Indonesia with the Convention provisions, namely the failure of the Government to provide adequate standards of placement of Indonesian migrant workers, and to protect Indonesian female domestic workers from abuse and exploitation in destination countries.  They urged the Government of Indonesia to take an active stance in promoting human rights defenders and creating an enabling environment for civil society organizations working in the area of migrants’ rights, both at home and abroad. 

Civil society representatives from Mexico emphasized that institutions in that country were very weak, leading to serious human rights abuses.  The criminalization and prosecution of migrants restricted their access to justice, healthcare and other basic services, whereas human rights defenders of migrants were often threatened, harassed and even criminalized. It appeared that the Mexican Government was more focused on migratory control than ensuring the protection of rights.

Speaking were the Coalition for Migrants and Refugees, Red International for Human Rights, Migrants Care, Pathfinders, International Service for Human Rights / Migrant Forum Asia, Fray Matias de Cordova Human Rights Centre, Platforma Internacional Contra La Impunidad, Institute for Migration Research and Outreach, Mexican Commission for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights, National Human Rights Institution of Mexico, and the International Mission of Verification on the Human Rights Situation of Migrants in Central America.

The Committee will next meet in public this afternoon at 3 p.m. to start its consideration of the initial report of Ecuador (CMW/C/ECU/3).

Opening Statement

ADAM ABDELMOULA, Director of the Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, recalled the problem of the reporting gap that had been raised during the annual meeting of the Treaty Body Chairs, namely that 34 per cent of reports were overdue overall.  As for the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, 21 per cent of initial and periodic reports were overdue.  Mr. Abdelmoula noted that the Committee was the first one to use the simplified reporting procedure for both initial and periodic reports, and that it was reviewing the implementation of the Convention by States parties in the absence of a report.  That could result in increased cooperation by the concerned States parties.  Increased compliance with treaty reporting obligations could perhaps be an item for consideration at the Committee’s regular meetings with States parties.  Mr. Abdelmoula also encouraged Committee Experts to further explore ways and means to partner with Special Procedure mandate holders.  The extent to which States implemented recommendations from treaty bodies, as well as other human rights mechanisms, such as the Universal Periodic Review and Special Procedures, was an area warranting greater attention. 

Mr. Abdelmoula also updated the Committee on recent initiatives at the Human Rights Council, namely that the Council had held a panel discussion on unaccompanied migrant children and adolescents at its last session in June 2017.  In light of the proposed Global Compact for safe, orderly and regular migration, the Special Rapporteur had proposed the development of an agenda within the framework of the United Nations, in parallel to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  That agenda would encompass eight human mobility goals, together with targets and indicators, aimed at facilitating human mobility in the next 15 years, while ensuring respect for the human rights of all migrants.  The Council had also adopted resolution 35/17 on the Global Compact for safe, orderly and regular migration, in which it called upon States to reaffirm the fundamental importance of respecting, protecting and fulfilling the human rights of migrants regardless of their status, and to consider signing and ratifying the Convention as a matter of priority.  It also encouraged Special Procedure mandate holders and treaty bodies to provide input and to support the State-led preparatory process for the Global Compact. 

Continuing to speak about the Global Compact on migration, Mr. Abdelmoula reminded that the events that were part of the consultative process included thematic sessions, meetings organized by the United Nations Regional Economic Commissions, regional consultative processes, multi-stakeholder consultations, the Global Forum on Migration and Development, and the IOM International Dialogue on Migration.  So far four thematic sessions had taken place: the human rights of all migrants, social inclusion, cohesion and all forms of discrimination; addressing drivers of migration; international cooperation and governance of migration; and contributions of migrants to all dimensions of sustainable development.  The fifth thematic session would start in Vienna today and it would address smuggling of migrants, trafficking in persons and contemporary forms of slavery.  The sixth thematic session, which was scheduled for October in Geneva, would cover irregular migration and regular pathways.  The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was very much engaged in the process to ensure that the human rights of migrants were at the forefront of that State-led process. 

Speaking of treaty body strengthening, Mr. Abdelmoula explained that the aim of the consultation on the political strategy ahead of the 2020 review of treaty bodies - held in Geneva in May 2017 - was to develop a strategy to ensure that the 2020 review led to a system that was more accessible, inclusive, efficient, effective and rights-oriented.  Turning to the joint General Comment on the human rights of children in the context of international migration, Mr. Abdelmoula said that it would undoubtedly provide guidance to States to ensure the protection of the human rights of children involved in international migration. 

Questions by Committee Experts

ABDELHAMID EL JAMRI, Committee Member, expressed satisfaction that only 21 per cent of the reports to the Committee were overdue, which was lower than in other committees.  As for the interaction with Special Procedures, the Committee was working very seriously with them, as well as with national human rights institutions.   Mr. El Jamri welcomed the fact that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had raised concerns about unaccompanied children and adolescents.  However, why was it necessary to set up a new programme to protect them?  As for the Global Compact, Mr. El Jamri expressed concern that the Committee had not been invited to take part in the thematic consultations in an official capacity.  That had to be remedied as the Committee had made important observations on issues related to migration.  Another concern Mr. El Jamri raised was the lack of reference to the Convention by the High Commissioner for Human Rights during the discussions about the Global Compact, which should reinforce the implementation of the Convention. 

JOSE BRILLANTES, Committee Chairperson, said that the opening statement by Mr. Abdelmoula would be helpful to the Committee in completing its report to the Third Committee of the General Assembly by the end of 2017.  Indeed, there was a lot of mention of the Convention in New York in many instances and in the outcome documents.  The Committee had to continue its efforts to cooperate with Member States to ensure that the positions of the Committee would be covered in the final outcome document of the Global Compact. 

ADAM ABDELMOULA, Director of the Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted the concerns raised and underlined that the High Commissioner always emphasised the importance of ratification by Member States.  The High Commissioner dedicated his entire speech in June to the issue of ratification.  The Global Compact was a State-led process and the OHCHR could only lobby.  The Compact was meant to address the issue of the recent massive population movements and would be a non-binding instrument, unlike the Convention.   The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights would continue to work to secure the meaningful participation of the Committee in the negotiations on the Global Compact. 

Adoption of the Agenda

The Committee then adopted the provisional agenda and organization of work for the twenty-seventh session. 

Statements by Non-Governmental Organizations from Ecuador

Coalition for Migrants and Refugees reminded that Ecuador was a country of origin, transit and destination for migrants and refugees.  Ecuador’s current law on human mobility emphasized security when making a decision to admit refugees and migrants and recognize their status in the country.  As for irregular migration, economic sanctions and deportation were imposed on irregular migrants.  Visas were now requested in order to visit family members in Ecuador.   There was a shift from a judicial to administrative nature of deportation and there were no challenging measures in front of courts.  The Government had not investigated its identity operation plan, in spite of the request of the Committee.  Another concern was the collective detention of 151 Cuban citizens, including children, women and elderly.  In August 2016, the Government had revoked a judicial decision to cease their detention.  The organization also underlined the situation of Haitian, Cuban and Venezuelan migrants and refugees.

Red International for Human Rights drew attention to Ecuador’s policy vis-à-vis foreign populations.  Many Colombians, Cubans and Haitians had fled to Ecuador, searching for refuge and better opportunities.  There was latent violation of domestic jurisdiction with respect to the deportation of Cubans, as well as their detention in poor conditions, namely in the Hotel Carrion.  Colombian citizens faced discrimination and lack of access to work, education, accommodation and health.  Racism and stereotypes should not be established in Ecuador because of the State’s negligence.  Efforts had to be undertaken to integrate those people in the society.  As for Haitians, they were directly and indirectly mistreated due to erroneous stigma.  Many of them worked in deplorable conditions, without access to labour protection.  The organisation highlighted the case of Manuela Picq, a professor of the University of San Francisco in Quito. 

Statements by Non-Governmental Organizations from Indonesia

Migrants Care noted that the direct impact of the Convention was very significant to amend the Law on the Protection of Indonesian Migrant Workers.  The Memorandum of Understanding between Indonesia and several destination countries of placement did not reflect the principles of the Convention.  To date, Indonesia only had 13 Memoranda of Understanding, whereas the number of destination countries of placement had reached 180.  The placement of Indonesian migrant workers took place without standards and protection guarantees, which left women migrant workers vulnerable to human trafficking.  The Government tended to provide legal aid to high-profile cases.  In some cases, children of migrant workers who were born in destination countries, such as Malaysia, Saudi Arabia or other Middle Eastern countries, found it difficult to obtain birth certificates and other basic services.  There were currently seven million Indonesian migrant workers in 180 destination countries and 80 per cent of them were women in the domestic sector, who were vulnerable to physical violence, sexual abuse, murder, trafficking and the death penalty. 

Pathfinders noted that Hong Kong had over 370,000 foreign domestic workers, out of which more than 153,000 were Indonesian nationals.  Too often pregnant foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong were unlawfully dismissed.  Within two weeks of dismissal, they and their unborn children became ineligible for the social welfare and health care protection.  The children born to those women were typically undocumented and unsupported by the State.  Pathfinders thus recommended to the Committee and the Indonesian Government to intensify their compliance and focus on the Convention with respect to the regulation of employment agencies, registration and documentation of children born to migrant workers overseas, education of departing and newly arrived foreign domestic workers, and integration into the country of origin. 

International Service for Human Rights / Migrant Forum Asia reminded that Indonesia was a major country of origin for migrant workers throughout the region and globally.  It called on the Committee to press the Government of Indonesia to recognise publicly the important role of migrants’ rights defenders, and to step up efforts to consult with civil society in the development, monitoring and implementation of policies relevant to migrant workers.  The Government should be encouraged to improve respect for fundamental freedoms, both in Indonesia and in major sites of destination for Indonesian migrants.  It should remove bureaucratic barriers to accessing funding, especially from international sources.  Finally, the organization urged the Government to take an active stance in promoting human rights defenders and creating an enabling environment for the work of civil society organizations working in the area of migrants’ rights, both home and abroad.
 
Statements by Non-Governmental Organizations from Mexico

Fray Matias de Cordova Human Rights Center emphasised that institutions in Mexico were very weak, leading to serious human rights abuses.  The criminalization and prosecution of migrants restricted their access to justice.  Border police, in particular, detained migrants.  The creation of local legal offices was a good step, but they lacked adequate resources.  The detention of undocumented migrants was generally applied, thus violating the principles of necessity, proportionality and exceptionality.  There were no legal means to repeal detention and to independently revise the decision leading to detention.  Detention centres were often overcrowded and many migrants were victims of crime.  

Platforma Internacional Contra La Impunidad noted that human rights defenders of migrants were often victims of threats, harassment and in some cases of criminalisation.  The Mexican Government had failed to provide an adequate response to that situation and it had failed to guarantee the work of human rights defenders, to protect them when they were at risk, and to investigate, prosecute and sanction those responsible for those crimes.  The high rate of impunity in Mexico, and especially impunity for crimes against migrants, aggravated the situation of risk and insecurity faced by human rights defenders. 

Institute for Migration Research and Outreach underlined the lack of access to medical care for migrants.  That was particularly true in the case of migrant women and their children.  Young girls were often sexually exploited and kidnapped.  The Mexican Government did not undertake enough efforts to provide legal assistance to Mexican migrant workers deported from the United States, notably access to Mexican nationality.  Indigenous migrant workers were even more vulnerable because local governments in Mexico did not have programmes for their social reintegration, so they were forced to migrate once again.  Local policy and coordination at the federal level was scattered.  A lot of local legislation was not harmonised with international and federal laws. 

Mexican Commission for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights pointed to the alarming policy of the Mexican Government to administratively detain migrants, particularly asylum seekers, and to the conditions in which they lived while in detention.  Only one per cent of the detained population benefited from alternatives to detention.  Detention could be prolonged indefinitely.  Asylum seekers could not work during the duration of their process and the interviews with them were not conducted in appropriate circumstances.  There were patterns of discrimination against female asylum seekers. 

National Human Rights Institution of Mexico stressed the migratory flows of unaccompanied children and adolescents in Mexico.  Mexican authorities only granted protection to a small percentage of that population, and they continued to detain children and adolescents contrary to the minimum standards of protection.  It appeared that there was more focus on migratory control than ensuring the protection of rights.  There were conditions of overcrowding in detention centres.  As for Mexican agricultural migrant workers in the United States, the National Human Rights Institution had noted the discriminatory nature of the Law SB4 of Texas.  Breaking down visible and invisible walls should be the objective of sustainable human mobility.  

International Mission of Verification on the Human Rights Situation of Migrants in Central America, in a video message, emphasized the common task of all to ensure that hospitality, respect, promotion and inclusion of the rights of migrant workers and their families became a custom at the United Nations.  Countries of the region had responded to the humanitarian crisis declared by the United States with security policies, closure of borders, militarisation, prosecution of migrant workers and their families, detention and immediate deportation.  President Trump’s Border Security Immigration Enforcement Improvements of January 2017 had had another negative impact on migrant workers and their families.  In light of that severe reality, the organization called on the Committee to bring special attention to the compliance of Mexico, Guatemala and the United States with the principle of non-discrimination.

Statements by Committee Members

PABLO CERIANI CERNADAS, Committee Member, asked whether the new Law on Human Mobility provided for mechanisms and tools for its effective implementation.  What were challenges for its implementation?  Were there any statistics on the number of detained migrants in Indonesia?  As for Mexico, was there any action plan that would end the administrative detention of migrant children and family members? 

MARIA LANDAZURI DE MORA, Committee Member, asked about the experience and witnessing of massive deportation of Cubans from Ecuador, and ways to stop the trafficking of migrants in Mexico. 

ABDELHAMID EL JAMRI, Committee Member, inquired about the condition of children detained in Ecuador, as well as about Ecuadorians living abroad.  As for Mexico, who perpetrated crimes against migrants in Mexico and what kinds of crimes?  With respect to Mexican migrant workers in Canada and the United States, what more could the Government do to protect their rights?  Was the detention of asylum seekers systematic?

JASMINKA DZUMHUR, Committee Member, asked about remittances of migrant workers from Ecuador, Indonesia and Mexico.  Was information available about the bilateral agreement between Hong Kong and Indonesia? As for Mexico, what was the division of different categories of migrant workers? 

Responses by Non-Governmental Organizations from Ecuador

Coalition for Migrants and Refugees explained that Ecuadorians abroad were not a priority for the organization.  However, there were problems for those returning from the United States and Europe.  The institutional response had been weaker and weaker with respect to that issue.  As for remittances, there were fewer of them due to the global economic crisis and as migrants were coming back to Ecuador. 

Red International for Human Rights said that the new Human Mobility Law did have good mechanisms.  However, some gaps included equality councils and the very authoritarian approach to the granting of visas.  A new crisis was taking place in Ecuador, with levels of debt reaching historic heights, leading to more Ecuadorians leaving the country.  Nevertheless, Ecuadorian passports did not grant them many opportunities abroad.             

The Committee said it would hear the responses from other non-governmental organizations who had spoken earlier in private during the lunch break.

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