Committee on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and their families considers the report of Bolivia

Committee on Rights of Migrant Workers

17 April 2013

The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families today completed its consideration of the second periodic report of Bolivia on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Protection of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.

Presenting the report Nelson Marcelo Cox Mayorga, Director General of Indigenous, Native and Farmer Justice, said that a new bill, currently under review by Parliament, would set out protections for all migrants, be they migrant workers, climate migrants or Bolivians living abroad.  The Government was developing regularization policies, guarantees for the rights of migrant workers and refugees and supportive facilities for Bolivians living abroad.  Work to improve data gathering systems continued, including the 2012 census.  Bolivia categorically condemned any violation of the rights of migrant workers, as seen in the deportation policies of several European countries.  The capitalist financial crisis in Europe was generating the return of many citizens and voluntary return policies were in place for them. 

Committee Experts asked the delegation about Bolivia’s bilateral agreements on migration with neighbouring countries, about consular services for Bolivian migrants living abroad, actions to tackle trafficking in persons including sexual exploitation and forced labour, and expulsion measures and programmes to prevent discrimination and xenophobia. 

In concluding remarks Angelica Navarro Llanos, Permanent Representative of Bolivia to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that efforts to incorporate the Convention since Bolivia’s last presentation to the Committee had increased, especially the new law on migration, although much remained to be done.  Bolivia worked continuously to establish bridges between all social and political sectors in the country, although it was difficult to fight for the rights of Bolivian nationals living abroad as there were other countries that resisted a positive approach to migration. 

Abdelhami El Jamri, Committee Chairperson, concluded the dialogue by expressing appreciation for the progress, additional resources and holistic approach taken by Bolivia towards migrants as well as the regional approach which all States were encouraged to take out, as it was impossible to address migration on a national level without involving other countries. 

The delegation of Bolivia included representatives from the Directorate of Indigenous, Native and Farmer Justice and the Permanent Mission of Bolivia to the United Nations in Geneva.

The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 3 p.m. this afternoon when it will begin consideration of the second periodic report of Azerbaijan (CMW/C/AZE/2).



The second periodic report of Bolivia can be read via the following link: C/CMW/BOL/2. 

Presentation of the Report

ANGELICA NAVARRO LLANOS, Permanent Representative of Bolivia to United Nations Office at Geneva, made a short statement to regret that the most senior Government members could not join the delegation due to reasons beyond their control, and to explain that the delegation was small because Bolivia had already presented reports to three treaty bodies this year, and there were budgetary limitations on the number of delegates it was possible to send to Europe.

NELSON MARCELO COX MAYORGA, Director General of Indigenous, Native and Farmer Justice, began his presentation by explaining that the report was the outcome of a transparent and inclusive policy involving many sectors of society.  For its drafting, training workshops were held in the main cities of Bolivia for State officials, civil society, academics and other people who worked in the field of migration, in order to include their input. 

The Bolivian State, through internationally-approved democratic elections, in 2005 elected the first indigenous president in South America.  President Evo Morales introduced several inclusive policies to defend the rights of vulnerable populations.  One of the most significant changes was the introduction of a New Political Constitution of the State, which was adopted by national referendum with more than a 60 per cent share of the vote, and which extensively catalogued all human rights instruments to which Bolivia was party.  The new Constitution, adopted on 7 February 2009, prohibited all forms of discrimination and set out many more progressive rights, not only human rights but also environmental.  In Bolivia the environment was known as ‘Mother Earth’ because dignified human life depended upon living in harmony with the land, whether you were Bolivian or a foreigner.  The Convention on Migrant Workers was applied over and above the domestic laws of Bolivia. 

In 2011 democratic elections were held to get rid of old, bureaucratic, corrupt and colonial practices used by former Governments and replace them with new practices in which people living in Bolivia had access to a fair and progressive justice system.  So far, since 2010, some 340 laws had been enacted, including laws against racism, on the protection of refugees, against trafficking in persons and on the protection of women from violence.  A new draft bill, currently under review by Parliament, would set out protections for all migrants, be they migrant workers, climate migrants, Bolivians living abroad and so on.  A national development plan called Dignified Bolivia 2006 to 2011 established regularization policies, while its successor, Dignified Bolivia 2009 to 2013, went further in seeking to establish the rights of migrant workers and refugees living in Bolivia, including the provision of identification cards.  The Unity for the Care of Bolivians Living Abroad sought to support the diaspora in many ways.  Legal and technical support was provided to foreign workers, most of whom were Peruvian, to regularize them; and further resources were available through the official website  Training was provided to police and district authorities who worked with migrants, especially on the problem of trafficking. 

Great progress had been made in counting the number of foreigners living on Bolivian territory since Bolivia’s last presentation to the Committee and reliable figures were now available.  Statistical date relating to migration was gathered in order to help formulate policy.  Work to update data gathering systems continued, alongside further studies and ongoing research.  A census to count the number of migrants living outside and inside the country had been carried out, the results of which would be available later this year. 

The Bolivian authorities categorically condemned any violation of the rights of migrant workers, as seen in the deportation policies of several European countries.  In 2008 President Evo Morales issued an open letter against the European Union’s Return Directive.  Currently the capitalist financial crisis in Europe was generating the return of many citizens and the Government was affecting voluntary return policies for Bolivians living abroad, by lowering their costs and supporting them in their return.  In terms of multi-lateral cooperation, Bolivia had bilateral agreements with Brazil, Argentina and Spain to regularize migrants.  It organized regional meetings such as the Tenth South American Regional Conference on Migration, and worked in many areas of regional cooperation including the Andean Community of Nations and MERCOSUR. 

Questions from the Delegation

MARCO NUNEZ-MELGAR MAGUNA, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur, welcomed the delegation and thanked them for the report.  He asked whether Bolivia recognized the Committee’s right to receive communications.  Efforts were still lacking to domesticate International Labour Organization Conventions 97 and 143 and the Rapporteur asked what intentions there were to bed them down. 

The topic of discrimination was a broad issue as it seemed the required efforts had not been made for some migrant groups, particularly Peruvian citizens, who, it was reported to the Committee, were the victims of stigmatization and discrimination in Bolivia, including by the police and regional authorities.  He also asked whether there were any planned bilateral agreements with Peru, given the huge number of short-term migrant workers coming into the country from Peru? 

Regarding the provision of consular services, the Rapporteur asked how fast and effective the processes were, such as providing travel documents to Bolivians, including returnees.  What resources were shared with Bolivian migrants on the reparations they may have the right to? 

A large number of female migrant workers worked outside Bolivia, especially in neighbouring countries and in Spain, and they particularly worked in domestic household situations, an Expert said.  They were a vulnerable category, but the report lacked information on how the Government sought to protect those migrant domestic workers, particularly when they ran into trouble in the countries in which they worked.  How did undocumented migrants benefit from the pension system?  What about the system of family reunification? 

An Expert congratulated the State party on the quality of their report, which gave a large amount of information neatly separated under different headings.  However, she had some questions, such as what sort of coordination mechanism existed to ensure that migrant coordination policies were implemented.  Turning to the Bolivian diaspora, she asked for more information about support mechanisms to help Bolivians return, and whether there was any encouragement for returnees, such as financial incentives? 

What about migrants coming into Bolivia, who were they and why did they come, an Expert asked?  It seemed it was relatively easy for migrants to gain Bolivian citizenship, which was commendable.  Could migrants join a trade union? 

An Expert asked about the right to life, including the right to freedom from torture, and noted that in 2010 an enquiry into the extent of torture in Bolivia was carried out by the Ministry of Justice, as referred to in the report.  He asked what the outcome was – did the enquiry look into whether migrant workers had been the victims of torture? 

Argentina was the most popular destination for migrants from Bolivia, as 60 per cent went there, either to emigrate permanently or as seasonal workers bound for tobacco or sugarcane plantations.  What agreements for the protection of those migrants and to ensure safeguards for them existed between the two countries? 

Response by the Delegation

A delegate explained that with regard to the International Labour Organization conventions, Bolivia was still analysing its options.  The legislature was still focused on concluding its work on the new migration law, which had been the priority.  The delegate said that the draft law would provide migration policies to guarantee the rights of Bolivians and foreigners, in line with the relevant international instruments.  She was pleased to announce to the Committee that on 7 March 2013 the law was approved wholesale by the Senate.  The next step would be the final Cabinet deliberation before its promulgation. 

Everyone in Bolivia had the right to join a recognized trade union.  The only limit imposed was that trade unions, federations and confederations of any type were governed by a leader or director who was at least 21 years old, Bolivian, literate, able to write, did not have a criminal record and had fulfilled the compulsory military service or was legally exempted from that.  Otherwise there were no conditions to be a member of a trade union.

Bolivia provided healthcare coverage for the entire population.  The priority groups were children under five years, pregnant women and women of childbearing age.  Another programme provided especially for senior citizens.  Anyone who had lived in Bolivia for over five years could access those free services.  In addition, any person of any gender who worked in Bolivia, whether for the public or private sector, for themselves, or in an apprenticeship, could access a healthcare scheme. 

All persons of a working age who were working, no matter what their nationality was, were covered by social welfare payments as provided for by law.  Persons who were not working could opt to join the voluntary social welfare scheme.  All children who completed a full school year were given a remuneration voucher – a scheme which had dramatically improved drop-out rates - whether they were children of migrants or not. 

A delegate said that over $ 1 million from the treasury and $ 15 million from the World Bank had been invested in improving the gathering of statistical data.  Some of those funds were spent on a census, which was conducted in November 2012, and asked questions about migration, including details about short-term migrant workers.  A database was under development which would analyse and display the new statistical data, which should be up and running later this year.

Turning to bilateral cooperation with Peru and other bordering countries on the migrant population, the Bolivian delegation explained that under the Mercosur Residency Agreement an identification card was recognized as a travel document, which established a circular conception of migration.  The Mercosur Residency Agreement, which had been signed by 10 Mercosur countries – Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela – held that nationals of States parties were entitled to the same rights in all of the States parties to the agreement.  Mercosur nationals’ party to the Residency Agreement could thus move between countries using just their identification cards. 

The Residency Agreement established that nationals of one State party could reside in another State party simply by presenting the following information: a valid passport, identification card or nationality certificate from their country of origin; a marriage certificate or birth certificate; a certificate establishing the absence of a criminal record for the last five years; a sworn statement testifying to the absence of a criminal or police record; and a medical certificate. Consular offices could provide that documentation.  In order to obtain a 10 Year Residency Agreement individuals had to provide proof of their country of origin, and also be able to prove he or she had sufficient income to support their livelihood and the needs of any accompanying family, although it was not necessary to have an employment contract.

Work had begun with fellow Governments on the ‘Andean Migratory Agreement’ which would increase the trans-migration possibility and consolidate bilateral agreements between regional countries.  That Agreement would be solidified at the Fourth Migration Forum, which would be held in Bogota, Colombia, later in 2013.

Regarding the speed with which documents could be processed by consulates worldwide, great improvements had been made, a delegate said.  Graphs showing consular work load before and after 2006 would demonstrate to the Committee what progress had been made in the processing speed.  For example, before 2006 it could take a year for a passport to be issued.  Today, the maximum wait would be 10 days.  Before 2006 it could take up to seven months for a certificate, driving licence or similar document to be issued, and then those documents were only available (outside of Bolivia) from consulates in Spain.  Today those documents could be processed in a week, and all Bolivian consulates around the world could do so.  Additionally consulates in Argentina and Brazil could now issue identification cards. 

There were some consular services for vulnerable residents living abroad but unfortunately there was no budget with which to provide accommodation, employment or other possibilities for Bolivia’s most vulnerable migrant population, a delegate regretted. 

Turning to Family Reunification Visas, investment had been put into institutional agreements and technology to help Bolivians access social security, reunification services and more while living abroad.  Services for reunification would be provided for in the new migration law.  Repatriation was only paid for by the Government in cases of lone or abandoned children.

Foreign workers made up 15 per cent of the total of workers in Bolivia.  However, domestic regulations did prioritize the recruitment of Bolivians.  There had been several advances in the help available to young migrant workers, especially those working in farming, particularly in providing training on new agricultural methods.  However, much work still needed to be done to fight slavery among that group. 

The Vice Ministry for Decolonisation, which came under the Ministry of Culture, was tasked with eradicating racism and cultural intolerance in Bolivia.  The Vice Ministry was tasked with implementing Law 045 on Anti-Racism, and it launched the Plan of Action to Eradicate Racist and Discriminatory Attitudes and Practices 2012 to 2015.  To achieve that the Vice Ministry worked with populations whose rights had been violated, such as indigenous peoples and farmers, Afro-Americans, children, adolescents, women involved in prostitution, women heads of households, women migrant workers, people living with HIV/AIDS, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons groups and more.  The Policy implemented was a broad one and covered many xenophobic acts, establishing that migrants could be victims.  To date the General Directorate Against Racism had not received any complaint from a member of the migrant population.  However, the Government saw there was a need for specialized research to be carried out into vulnerable sectors of the population whose rights may be violated, and that of course included migrant workers.

Dissemination policies on laws and regulations governing migrant workers in Bolivia  were in place, a delegate said, adding that on 20 December 2012 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs carried out a round-table on ‘Territorial Spaces: Migration and the Indigenous Experience’ which several non-governmental organizations and civil society organizations took part in.  The round-table discussion was fruitful and covered topics including regularization, consular services, anti-discrimination measures and more.  Copies of the new law on migration were widely disseminated across the country in offices which worked with migrants, shops, public institutions and on the internet.  The law and other regulations were translated into local languages and reproduced as an easy-to-read information booklet.  The new law would also be disseminated on television and radio. 

Programmes for Bolivians who wanted to return home were split into two main types: the first was the Productive Return Plan, aimed at nationals who had emigrated abroad but wanted to return for financial, social or other reasons.  The second was aimed at nationals who had left Bolivia without their consent, for example those who had been trafficked from their home.  There was also a programme to help return human remains of former nationals back to the country.  For the first group, financial grants to help people set up a new household were available, as well as support to find new employment.  For emigrants who had set up businesses abroad, for example in the phenomenon of exporting surplus rice, there was a plan to help them bring their businesses back to Bolivia.  For the second group, the International Organization of Migration and Bolivia jointly ran a ‘voluntary return programme’ which sought to protect the returnee, their confidentiality and dignity upon return. 

Regarding expulsion and detention of foreigners, a delegate confirmed that no foreigner could be detained simply for being an undocumented migrant, or could have their documentation removed.  However if the person had violated rules, such as forged identification papers or falsifying documents, then they could be prosecuted.  Migration crime was personal in nature, and a foreigner could be expelled if found guilty of committing a crime, following the established process.  Obligatory expulsion required that a person left the country within 15 days of being notified.  The timeframe for their return to Bolivian territory would be established by a court.  No migrants were detained in an irregular situation in Bolivia and so far no decision for expulsion had been appealed. 

Regarding trafficking in persons, a delegate said that the Ministry of Labour did not have a register of smuggling of people or trafficking.  On 31 July 2012 a new law, number 263, was enacted called the ‘Law Against Trafficking in Persons’, which followed the guidelines of the Palermo Protocols and the Convention On the Rights of the Child.  That law was based on three pillars, prevention, protection and prosecution.  It sought to protect especially children and women,

A budget of $ 440,000, provided by the United Arab Emirates, funded a project to tackle human trafficking on the south-west Bolivian – Argentine border, in an area surrounding the southern city of Yacuiba.  Last year the project rescued 41 people who had been taken to Argentina to be exploited as forced labour.  The project also targeted young women and girls who had been taken for sexual exploitation, and the people involved had received special training in identifying those crimes.  The delegation also spoke about various programmes to support and rehabilitate victims of trafficking.

Cooperation with the Peruvian authorities in the fight against trafficking fell under the Bilateral Andean Agenda between the two countries.  Work on a preliminary agreement with Brazil centred on a meeting to be held in San Matias, Caceres on 25 April this year which would hopefully result in another bilateral agreement.  A similar agreement with Argentina was also in the pipeline. 

Follow-Up Questions from the Experts

An Expert said he was very happy that the rights of migrants had been constitutionalized, and with legal advances.  He made some observations, saying that the delegation spoke about ‘circular migration’, asking what the relationship between that and migrant rights was.  Could the delegation expand on the ‘human right to mobility’? 

What about the detention of irregular migrants – were they detained during the 15 day period prior to their expulsion, an Expert asked.  The Convention requested that detention be a last resort for migrants, and if they must be detained it should be in specific facilities, not just a regular place of detention. 

Could the delegation speak more about incentives for Bolivian nationals to return to the country, and what support was available to help them find employment once they had relocated? 

Response from the Delegation

As a pluri-national State, which Bolivia had been since the adoption of the new Constitution in 2009, Bolivia’s plans were also pluri-national.  In that context the fight against discrimination centred upon a conceptual framework of identifying what discrimination was, forming the core of the Plan of Action to Eradicate Racist and Discriminatory Attitudes and Practices 2012 to 2015.  At the centre of that framework was xenophobia, defined as ‘the hatred or rejection of foreigners’.  Xenophobia could be directed at individuals or groups, it could be manifested as simply as a lack of empathy towards a foreigner, or as much as assault or even murder. 

Concluding Remarks

ANGELICA NAVARRO LLANOS, Permanent Representative of Bolivia to United Nations Office at Geneva, thanked the Committee, particularly for its comments on Bolivia’s progress in its treatment of its migrant populations.  Efforts to incorporate the Convention since Bolivia’s last presentation to the Committee had increased, especially the new law on migration, although much remained to be done.  The majority of the Committee’s recommendations from last time had been implemented.  Bolivia worked continuously to establish bridges between all social and political sectors in the country, although it was difficult to fight for the rights of Bolivian nationals living abroad as there were other countries that resisted a positive approach to migration.  Bolivia was open to all of the Committee’s valuable recommendations, and additionally looked forward to learning from the best practice of other States. 

ABDELHAMI EL JAMRI, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation and especially the official who had travelled here from the capital, which was always much appreciated by the Committee.  He appreciated the progress, additional resources and holistic approach taken towards migrants as well as the regional approach which all States were encouraged to take out, as it was impossible to address migration on a national level without involving other countries. 

The Chairperson noted that the delegation would be providing more answers in writing over the next two to three days.  He reminded the delegation of new working methods which would affect the submission of their next periodic report, which would be presented upon the basis of a list of issues the Committee would send to them beforehand.  He noted that the Committee would hold a general day-long discussion about the place of statistics within migratory policies, and a high level debate about migration and development policies, to be held during the General Assembly in New York, which would be of interest to the State party. 

For use of the information media; not an official record