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Opening address by Ms. Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Committee on Migrant Workers, 16th session, Geneva, 16-27 April 2012

Palais Wilson, First Floor


Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Distinguished members of the Committee,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to the sixteenth session of the Committee on Migrant Workers. Allow me first of all to reiterate my congratulations to the seven members who were elected to the Committee at the fifth meeting of States parties held on 8 December 2011 in New York, and to welcome the two new members of the Committee, Ms. Khedida Ladjel [Algeria] and Mr. Marco Núñez-Melgar Maguiña [Peru]. I have no doubt that their experience and expertise in the area of migrants’ rights will benefit the work of the Committee.

Status of ratification of the Convention
Despite our concerted efforts to promote the Convention, the number of ratifications shows little movement. Since the Committee’s last session, two more States have signed the Convention: Venezuela on 4 October 2011 and Mozambique on 15 March 2012. That brings the number of States which have signed but not yet ratified the Convention to 17, while the number of States parties remains at 45. However, I trust that the Committee’s continued efforts to define the scope of the rights of migrant workers in an irregular situation in its draft General Comment No. 2, will have a positive impact and ultimately encourage more States to ratify the Convention. My Office will continue to dedicate its attention to achieve this goal.

Recent developments related to migration
Human rights in the context of migration is one of OHCHR’s six thematic priorities for 2010-2011 and will stay at the top of my Office agenda in the future. We specifically envisage strategic interventions for promoting ratification and implementation of the Convention.

To this effect, we must respond to the requests for guidance from interested and potentially interested States on the concrete implications of adhering to the Convention. For instance, one specific setting where violations are commonplace is at international borders. To address this context, on 22-23 March 2012, my Office organised an expert consultation on "Human Rights at International Borders: Exploring Gaps in Policy and Practice". The meeting recognized that migrants are increasingly subject to violence, discrimination and other human rights violations at international borders and concluded that migration and border management policies worldwide are forcing many migrants into dangerous modes of travel. The meeting called on OHCHR to develop guidance tools on protecting human rights at borders.

We are also active in advocating for the protection of migrants’ rights through the regional systems. I submitted an amicus brief in the case of Hirsi Jamaa and Others v. Italy before the European Court of Human Rights. The case concerned 13 Eritrean and 11 Somali migrants who were intercepted in 2009 by Italian customs and coastguard vessels on the high sea and taken back to Tripoli, where they were handed over to the Libyan authorities. I argued that there is a prohibition of collective expulsion in international law and that this applies when a State intercepts migrants outside of its own territorial waters. The European Court confirmed this position in its ruling of 23 February 2012 that the transfer of the applicants to Libya violated both the prohibition of torture and the collective expulsion of foreign nationals.

Treaty body strengthening process

Mr. Chairperson,
At previous sessions, the Committee was briefed about the series of consultations held with different actors (including treaty body experts, States parties, national human rights institutions, civil society, and United Nations entities) since 2009, when I called upon all stakeholders to reflect on ways to strengthen the treaty body system. Last November, a meeting was organised in Dublin where the convenors of all the consultations reviewed all the recommendations made to date in order to bring them together into a coherent whole. The contributions of your Chairperson were highly valued. At this stage, the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Human Rights Committee have endorsed the Outcome Document at that consultation, often referred to as “Dublin II,” as Committees, and many more members have endorsed it in their individual capacity. I understand that the outcome document is in your files and that my colleagues in the Treaties Division will enlighten you further for a determination of whether this Committee would also wish to support it.

I am pleased to note that you have anticipated some of the recommendations addressed to treaty bodies in the Outcome Document. I particularly welcome the decision that, starting from 2014, the Committee will examine reports according to a comprehensive reporting calendar, under which all States parties to the Convention will be considered in a five-year reporting cycle. I also note that you will start adopting lists of issues prior to reporting (LOIPR) at your current session. To ensure strict adherence to the calendar, you will discuss the possibility of becoming the ninth Committee to enable itself to consider States parties in the absence of a report, scheduled for this session.

While Dublin II was intended to capture the results of the treaty bodies strengthening process, it was felt that since States have the authority to act on some of the recommendations, further consultations with States were needed Thus, in February and April 2012, consultations were held with States in Geneva and New York, respectively. These are the last briefings for States parties before the release in June of my compilation report, in which I will incorporate recommendations to all stakeholders on how I believe the treaty body system can be bolstered.

At the New York briefing to Members States, I reiterated that the treaty body system has reached its limits both in terms of coherence and sustainable functioning. At the heart of the matter is its rapid expansion. Since your last session, the tenth human rights treaty body, the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, held its first session in November 2011. The General Assembly adopted the third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child which established a communications procedure. At the signing ceremony on 28 February, 20 States signed the Optional Protocol. The funding for the treaty body system lags behind the expansion and increasing workload of treaty bodies. This shortfall has a direct impact on their meeting time, documentation and staffing needs. Resources for the treaty bodies must be adequate to the task they have been mandated to fulfil.

The increased engagement of States is further reflected by the General Assembly resolution A/RES/66/254 of 23 February 2012, launching an open-ended intergovernmental process on strengthening and enhancing the effective functioning of the human rights treaty body system. I believe that a forum for States parties to reflect on concrete solutions to resolve the challenges faced by the treaty bodies is necessary, particularly regarding the financial requirements of a fully functional system. I believe that this process can fulfil such a role constructively, if it respects the independence of the treaty bodies and their powers to decide on their own working methods and rules of procedure. The treaty body strengthening process is thus shifting from one of reflection to one of action.

The current 16th session of the Committee

Mr. Chairperson,
Allow me to express my appreciation for the efforts of your Committee to implement the UN greening policy, which consists in gradually reducing the reproduction and distribution of hard copy documents. I am convinced that the forward-looking example set by your Committee in conducting its second paperless session will encourage other treaty bodies which have not yet done so to embark on the same eco-friendly path.

Turning to the work at hand, I note that your agenda for this session is busier than ever reflecting your determination to maximize the available meeting time. In only two weeks, you will consider the initial reports of Paraguay and Tajikistan, adopt traditional lists of issues for five States parties and lists of issues prior to reporting for three States parties, adopt your annual report, and discuss your much awaited draft general comment No. 2 on the rights of migrant workers in an irregular situation. In addition, you will elect a new Bureau, meet with international organizations, UN entities and civil society to discuss country-specific information and strengthened cooperation, review your working methods, and discuss the treaty body strengthening process, as well as your next informal meeting with the States parties to the Convention.

In sum you have a very busy agenda before you. I wish you a very successful and productive session.