United Nations Convention on Migrant Workers' Rights enters into forceParis – On July 1, 2003, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families* will enter into force. Its primary objective is to protect migrant workers, a particularly vulnerable population, from exploitation and the violation of their human rights. The first 22 nations to ratify the convention are essentially emigration countries, with none of the major immigration countries yet listed.
The Convention breaks new ground on several fronts. For one, it represents a significant advance for the defense of the fundamental rights of migrant workers, legal or illegal, as well as their families, covering all aspects and dimensions of the migration process from country of origin to country of destination. Furthermore, it was promoted through the combined efforts of three United Nations agencies (the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Labour Organization and UNESCO), the International Organization for Migration and ten NGOs concerned with protecting the rights of migrant workers.
Today, one person out of 35 is a migrant. The number of people who are living and working in a country other than their own is estimated at 175 million, which represents 3% of the world’s population, according to the United Nations International Migration Report 2002 (these figures include refugees, estimated at 16 million, i.e. 9% of the total). Nearly all countries are concerned, whether as sending, receiving or transit countries, or sometimes all three.
The Convention will be applicable beginning July 1 in the 22 countries that have ratified (in order of ratification): Egypt, Morocco, Seychelles, Colombia, Philippines, Uganda, Sri Lanka, Senegal, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cape Verde, Azerbaijan, Mexico, Ghana, Guinea, Bolivia, Uruguay, Belize, Tajikistan, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mali.
At present, the impact of the Convention remains limited, given that it has not been ratified by countries in either Europe or North America, where nearly 60% of the world’s migrants live (56 and 41 million respectively), nor by other major receiving countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Jordan, Israel, Japan or Australia.
There is no sign of reversal in migration flows, according to the data provided by the United Nations’ 2002 Report: from 1990 to 2000, it is the developed countries that have experienced the greatest increase in migrants (+ 13 million in North America, representing an increase of 48%, and + 8 million in Europe, a 16% increase). Today, nearly one out of ten inhabitants in the developed countries is an immigrant, compared to one out of 70 in developing countries. (See tables at end of Press Release).
The Convention reinforces rights included in existing instruments in this domain, such as Convention 97 (1949) and Convention 143 (1975) of the International Labour Organization (ILO). It is innovative in that it stipulates that the fundamental rights of undocumented migrants, like those of legal migrants, should be protected. It recognizes the rights of migrants’ families and recommends that measures be taken to facilitate family reunification. The primary aim of the Convention is to guarantee equality of rights for migrant and national workers. This implies, notably:
- preventing inhumane work and living conditions, physical and sexual abuse and degrading treatment,
- guaranteeing migrants’ rights to freedom of thought, expression and religion,
- guaranteeing to all migrant workers effective protection against violence, physical injury, threats and intimidation, whether by public officials or by private individuals, groups or institutions,
- guaranteeing migrants’ access to information on their rights,
- ensuring that migrants have the right to participate in trade union activities.
Several articles of the Convention uphold migrants’ right to keep in touch with their country of origin, to return to that country, permanently or occasionally, to participate politically, and to transfer funds to their home country.
The Convention affirms the indivisibility and universality of fundamental human rights. Gabriela Rodriguez Pizarro, named in 1999 UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants by the Commission on Human Rights, expresses satisfaction about the entry into force of an instrument that “recognizes the human rights of illegal migrants”, because, she points out, “every day since my first day on the job, I have been hearing about cases of migrants who were victims of trans-national organized crime networks, victims of human trafficking and slave trading, of arbitrary detention, abuse or exploitation in their work, to mention only a few. Because of their irregular legal status, these migrants are afraid to denounce abuses, for fear of being discovered, detained and deported.”
In order to combat more effectively the exploitation of undocumented workers, the Convention recommends measures to eradicate clandestine movements of migrants, including action against the dissemination of misleading information and sanctions against smugglers and employers of undocumented migrants.
According to the Convention, no migrant worker shall be held in slavery or servitude, nor be required to perform forced or compulsory labour. For female migrant workers, emphasizes Gabriela Rodriguez Pizzaro, “these provisions are of primary importance. I am concerned by the number of reports on the trafficking of female domestic workers, who become their employers’ slaves and have no protection against sexual, physical and psychological abuse inflicted in private. In many countries, women, including minors, are reduced to slavery by the sex industry.”
International migration has become an increasingly important issue in recent years. It is linked to the political, social, economic and cultural contexts of the sending and receiving countries, and to such factors as ageing populations, unemployment, the brain drain, the remittances of migrant workers’ wages to their home countries, human rights, social integration, xenophobia, human trafficking, national security, etc.
The economic importance of international migration also plays a determining role. For some countries, the funds sent back home by migrants represent a significant source of foreign exchange earnings. In 2001, this amounted to US$10 billion in India and Mexico, 6.4 in the Philippines, 3.3 in Morocco, 2.9 in Egypt, 2.8 in Turkey, 2.3 in Lebanon, and 2.1 in Bangladesh. These remittances can also represent a large proportion of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Also in 2001, this proportion came to 22.8% of the GDP in Jordan, 13.8% in El Salvador and Lebanon, 9.7% in Morocco, 9.3% in the Dominican Republic, 8.9% in the Philippines, and 7% in Sri Lanka. (Source, World Bank, Global Development Finance, 2003).
The entry into force of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families is the outcome of a long process at the international level. Drawn up by a working group created in 1980 and chaired by Mexico, the Convention was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 18, 1990 – date on which International Migrants Day is now celebrated. In 1998, an alliance of four intergovernmental agencies and ten NGOs launched the global Campaign for the Ratification of the Convention **. The threshold of 20 ratifications was reached in March 2003, and, in keeping with its Article 87, it is entering into force three months after that date.
The application of the Convention will be monitored by ten experts who will form the “Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families”. The experts, elected by the countries that have ratified the text will be recognized as impartial authorities in the field covered by the Convention.
As of today, another ten countries have signed the Convention, the first step towards ratification. They are: Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Chile, Comoros, Guinea-Bissau, Paraguay, Sao Tome and Principe, Sierra Leone, Togo and Turkey.
A Panel Presentation at the Palais des Nations in Geneva will mark the entry into force of the Convention (July 1, 11.30 a.m. – 1 p.m.). Taking part will be Bertrand Ramcharan, acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; Gabriela Rodriguez Pizarro UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights of Migrants; Brunson McKinley, Director General of the International Organization for Migration; Gustavo Albin, Mexico’s Ambassador to the United Nations at Geneva; Kari Tapiola, Executive Director of Standards and Fundamental Rights at Work, ILO; Georges Malempré, Director of UNESCO’s Geneva Office; Mamounata Cisse, Assistant General Secretary of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. Mariette Grange of the International Catholic Migration Commission will be the moderator of the event.
*Text in English: http://www.migrantsrights.org/Int_Conv_Prot_Rights_MigWorkers_Fam_1999_En.htm
The Convention is also translated into Arabic, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.
This site gives detailed information on the Convention, including its full text, and on migration: basic statistics, glossary, case studies and useful links.
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
International Labour Organization (ILO)
International Organization for Migration (IOM)