Statement by the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants at the High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development

4 September 2013

It is my great pleasure, in my capacity as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, to be able to address this high-level meeting organized by OHCHR to prepare for the 2013 High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development.

I wish to remind everyone that all migrants, by virtue of their human dignity and without discrimination, and with two narrowly defined exceptions (right to vote and be elected, and right to enter and stay in the country), are protected by international human rights law, on the same footing as citizens. This applies regardless of their administrative status or situation. The two human rights Covenants (ICCPR and ICESCR) explicitly refer to “national origin” as a prohibited ground of discrimination in the enjoyment of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights: Human rights are not only citizens’ rights. The protection against discrimination thus has to be fully applied to migrants, just like any other marginalized group in society.

However, despite the legal framework in place, migrants continue to suffer abuse, exploitation and violence. Ensuring the prohibition of discrimination in law and practice has been identified as a key challenge in ensuring protection of the human rights of migrants at the national level. The lack of understanding about the human rights of migrants, and particularly the fact that irregular migrants also have rights, makes them an increasingly vulnerable group, easily targeted. As a result of this lack of information and understanding, migrants are increasingly subject to xenophobia, anti-migrant sentiment, hate speech and hate crimes, which in and of themselves are human rights violations, and can lead to further serious human rights abuses.

For this reason, I note the important need for human rights to be a core component of the High Level Dialogue on Migration and Development. And while I do note with appreciation that the High Level Dialogue will have a roundtable specifically dedicated to measures to ensure respect for and protection of the human rights of all migrants, human rights should not be restricted to a single panel discussion. Migrants are human beings with human rights, not simply agents for economic development through, inter alia, the sending of remittances or contributions to economic outputs. Thus human rights lie at the heart of all discussions about migrants, and must do so at the High Level Dialogue.

I am pleased to note that the General Assembly has recognized the importance of a human rights perspective in its resolution A/RES/67/172. In that resolution it called upon Member States, the United Nations system, international organizations, civil society and all relevant stakeholders, especially the High Commissioner for Human Rights, myself and the Global Migration Group, to ensure that the High-level Dialogue analyses the linkage between migration and development in a balanced and comprehensive manner that includes, among others, a human rights perspective.

I thus note the need for a human rights based approach to all discussions at the High Level Dialogue: Human rights, as indivisible and interdependent, must be fully and meaningfully integrated into all discussions about migrants at the HLD. In particular they are relevant for the other roundtables, namely in relation to sustainable development and the post-2015 development framework; partnerships and cooperation on international migration; and labour mobility.

In this context, I would like to make note of my 2013 report to the General Assembly, which I will present to the Third Committee on 24 October. This report, which was drafted with a view to being a useful advocacy document in the lead up to the High Level Dialogue, looks at global migration governance and its impact on the human rights of migrants. In my report I recommend that human rights must be a cross-cutting issue that informs all discussions at the High Level Dialogue. In the report, I also recommend that States should consider discussing the following issues at the HLD:

  • The decriminalization of irregular entry and stay, which should never be considered criminal offences;
  • The move away from detention as a tool in addressing irregular migration, and the development of alternatives to detention;
  • How to ensure awareness-raising on the human rights of migrants;
  • How to combat xenophobia and xenophobic violence against migrants;
  • How to ensure effective protection of the human rights of children in States of transit and destination;
  • How to ensure the enjoyment of all economic, social and cultural rights, including the rights to education, health, social security, adequate housing and labour rights, for all migrants, including irregular migrants;
  • How to ensure the human rights of migrants at borders, both at entry and during expulsion procedures;
  • How to guarantee that migrants have effective access to recourse to independent institutions on all the human rights violations they face.

In order to properly deal with all these issues, I believe there is a need for greater involvement of the UN in the global debate on migration. My GA report thus examines the framework for migration both inside and outside the UN, and looks at both the global, regional, bilateral and national levels of governance. One recommendation which I am presenting in the report is to hold regular High-level Dialogues, every three years, which should be interactive and action-oriented, each with a rights-based negotiated outcome document. I believe this would contribute to better protection of the human rights of migrants.

My report is already available online, on my mandate’s webpage, and I hope that the report and its recommendations will contribute to the discussions at the HLD on the future of global migration governance, particularly how it can be improved in order to enhance the respect, protection and fulfilment of the human rights of migrants.

Finally, while I realize that the High-level Dialogue’s Roundtable 2 will be the topic of the second panel here today, allow me briefly to remind everyone of the need to be vigilant not to encourage blurring of categories such as migration, smuggling and trafficking in human beings. The topic for Roundtable 2 thus clearly distinguishes between firstly, a focus on promoting human rights of migrants, whilst secondly, combatting smuggling and trafficking. It is important that these two issues are sufficiently delinked, otherwise, the conflation of the topics may falsely give the impression that irregular migration is a criminal offence, in line with trafficking or smuggling, and this conflation may contribute to the undue criminalization of irregular migration. Furthermore, it is important to distinguish between smuggling and trafficking; while trafficking by definition includes exploitation and entails a number of serious human rights violations, smuggling is essentially the service of moving people from point A to point B, and does not necessarily involve any human rights violation. I hope these distinctions will be taken into consideration during the discussions at the HLD.

I look forward to discussing all these issues more in detail at the HLD.

Thank you