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31st Session of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families

Statement by Ms. Kate Gilmore, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights

Geneva, 2 September 2019
Palais Wilson,
First Floor Conference Room

Distinguished Chair and Committee members,
Excellencies, Friends and Colleagues,

It is an honor to join you for the opening of the thirty-first session of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. I bring you warmest greetings from the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, who would have regrets very much that she cannot meet with you during this session and asks that I convey to you how much she values and appreciates your work and that of the treaty body system at large.

In accordance with article 72, paragraphs 1 to 5, of the Convention, the 9th Meeting of the States Parties held in New York, in June 2019, elected seven new members for your Committee to replace those whose terms expire on 31 December 2019. 

On behalf of the High Commissioner, and with the kind concurrence of all, we very much commend your outgoing members for their commitment, dedication and contribution throughout their tenure. 

I must further raise note with concern that when the mandates of Ms. Maria Landazuri (Ecuador) and Ms. Jasminka Dzumhur (Bosnia-Herzegovina) end, the CMW will be the least gendered balanced of all Committees with only one newly elected female member, Ms. Myriam Poussi from Burkina Faso. This is not your fault!  That being said, the High Commissioner’s strong call is on the States Parties to meet their commitments to gender parity by, at least, nominating more female candidates for membership of the treaty body committees.  This – like geo diversity - is a question of fairness, equality of opportunity and of credibility of the treaty body system. 

Distinguished Experts, ladies and gentlemen,

The situation of women in the context of the work with which you have been charged could not be more strategically important.  More than half of the world’s 258 million migrants are women and children. The populations of the majority of the countries of origin are the youngest in the world. This is a crisis of families, of parents, of primary carers and of the young and younger. 

You know far better than I, the significance of today’s migration for the future of justice, sustainability, peace and prosperity in our world.  As old as human history, nonetheless, it is our era that is distinguished by unprecedented movement within and across borders.

That same migration is a phenomenon from which so many of us here have benefited directly.  Yet, for the vast majority of those who never will enjoy the privilege of sitting in such rooms, migration involves a flight from fear; not a choice to explore new frontiers nor an achievement to celebrate. 

Precarious migration within and across borders, is invariably more than a humanitarian concern alone; the many indignities of flight, reception and destination without choice combine to place irregular migrants – as individuals and as families - in comprehensive human rights crises. Refugees fleeing conflict, persecution. People compelled to flee extreme poverty, environmental degradation, the impacts of climate change; the absolute absence of decent work.  Families responding to gang violence, to lack of education and healthcare for their children, to the consequences of long-term separation from family members. 

There is among the grave consequences embedded in so many contemporary public policy responses to today’s irregular migratory flows, an awful, ultimately unconscionable, but more often unacknowledged, irony.  That the best of human impulses - and the most responsible – which is to take personal initiative at great personal risk in the interests of those whom you love – is now treated even as if somehow a criminal act: the exercise of personal responsibility for the protection, hope and opportunity for one’s own children, for one’s own aging parents, for oneself; the compassion and initiative of humanitarian action at sea even criminalised.   

Rhetorically, operationally, legislatively, programmatically – this is warped and warping disrespect for that which is more honorable in the human condition – our urge to do all that we can for those whom we love. 

What is it that authors of xenophobic policies would have those who are on the move do? That as parents they not act to protect their children; that as adult children they turn their backs on their aged parents’ suffering; that no matter their happenstance of their birth place, no matter how savage its conflicts or extreme its poverty, that a young man simply take it as his unavoidable fate?   That a young woman simply do nothing in the face of forced marriage, unwanted pregnancy, sexual violence.

You do not embark on perilous journeys as a choice from among viable options but because you have no options.

Distinguished Experts, ladies and gentlemen,

Dehumanising responses to the 30,000 migrants who have drowned in the Mediterranean over the past three decades exemplify the worst of the world’s response to people on the move.  Substandard detention facilities; the closing of the member states’ land and sea borders; the series of refusals to allow the docking of ships that - in compliance with the law of the sea -  rescued hundreds provides no sustainable answer to perilous migration and, in their application – in violation of international human rights standards - frankly, they shame us all.

The dehumanizing instruction of such policies is encouragement to more than appalling case management – it has fostered uncontrolled coast guards and unchecked criminal militia, expanding human trafficking, forced labour, slavery and sexual and gender-based violence. Such is their scale and gravity, that these human rights violations may amount to crimes against humanity.  

The High Commissioner certainly welcomes recent developments in the European Union for more sound migration policies. But she continues to call “on the EU and its member states to prioritize the lives and safety of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, strengthen search and rescue measures, permit NGO rescues, and coordinate swift and safe disembarkation of these human beings, while at the same time tackling the root causes of this migration.”

Distinguished Experts, ladies and gentlemen

The Global Compact on Migration (GMC) is built on the terms and values of human rights and demonstrates that we have moved from a discussion of whether or not human rights apply to migrants to one of how the human rights of migrants are to be upheld.  That means a commitment to gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, recognizing their independence, agency and leadership. 

It means that under the Global Compact, we can and we must work to ensure: that the human rights of migrant women and girls are respected at all stages of migration, that their specific needs are met, and that they are empowered as agents of change.  That the specificities of migrant men and boys such as their heightened risk of arbitrary detention and ill treatment at international borders are addressed. Critically, States should end the criminalisation of irregular migration. 

As the international community moves towards implementation of the Global Compact there is now a unique opportunity for this Committee and its partners to increase the number of States parties to the Convention. With a view to fostering this goal, we encourage your efforts for active engagement with the UN Network on Migration established to support the implementation, follow-up and review of the Global Compact.

As part of our own contribution to the Global Compact process, OHCHR and UN Women have developed a tool to help guide State actions in this regard. The Principles and Guidelines, supported by practical guidance, on the human rights protection of migrants in vulnerable situations are designed to help States translate their legal obligations into concrete migration policies and actions. Among other things, provide specific guidance on gender-responsive migration policies through a dedicated principle on migrant women and girls.

We have also issued Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights at International Borders, to support States in the implementation of human rights-based and gender responsive border measures. These Guidelines include recommendations for supporting migrant women and girls who have experienced trauma, including sexual and gender-based violence; for providing access to sexual and reproductive health services; and for providing gender-responsive services such as trauma counselling and legal service at international borders.

Our Team will brief you in more detail on this work and you will also have the opportunity to exchange with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants.

Distinguished Members,

The General Assembly’s 2020 review of the treaty body system is just around the corner. In this regard, I note the very problematic budgetary situation. As you are aware all Committees have been directed to implement the General Assembly’s 25 per cent budget cut to travel of their members, while the current cash flow problems affecting the UN as a whole brings additional restrictions.

Any weakening of the treaty body system risks undermining the whole human rights architecture and the larger global context with its roll back on multilateralism and universal norms only deepens our concerns.

The 2020 Treaty Body review – on which you will be further briefed - is an opportunity to stand up for the treaty body system. Your substantive engagement in this process is critical.

Distinguished Experts,

We very much welcome the invitation extended by the Government of Azerbaijan to the Committee to generously host an informal follow up meeting in Baku from 12-14 September just after the completion of the 31st session.  The Baku meeting will be a good opportunity to engage the Government, civil society organisations and national human right institutions in Azerbaijan and the region on how to advance human rights in migration.

With this I shall close and wish you a most successful session. I thank you for your attention.