Opening Address by Ms. Flavia Pansieri, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights at the 19th Session of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families

9 September 2013

Mr Chairperson,
Distinguished members of the Committee
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to be with you here today at the opening of the nineteenth session of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. This session take places just after the 10th anniversary of the entry into force of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families in 2003. To commemorate this event, the Kingdom of Morocco and IOM organized on 5 July 2013 in Rabat a regional seminar on migration policy and human rights, which was attended by the members of the Committee from Africa, officials from OHCHR as well as other experts on human rights and migration. Over a decade, the Convention, with expert elucidation by this Committee, has strengthened the protection of millions of regular and irregular migrants around the world. While there is certainly much more work to do, this anniversary is an opportunity to reflect on achievements to date, as well as challenges, including the need for broader application of the treaty through wider ratification by Member States.

Your session also takes place prior to the opening of the 68th session of the General Assembly in New York, a session that is of particular significance for the Committee for two reasons. The first is the Assembly’s focus on the connection between international migration and development which will culminate in the High Level Dialogue on Migration and Development taking place from 3 to 4 October 2013, and which is also linked to its efforts to finalise the post-2015 development agenda.

The second is the treaty body strengthening process that could hopefully reach a meaningful outcome within the General Assembly before the end of the year.

Migration and development

Treaty Body Strengthening Process

The upcoming session of the General Assembly will also witness accelerated action within the intergovernmental process on the strengthening of the treaty body system. Negotiations among States are reaching a decisive phase in New York; Treaty body experts have been closely associated to this process. In April, the co-facilitators of the intergovernmental process, the Ambassadors of Iceland and Indonesia in New York, visited Geneva for two days, where they met with the Committees in session at that time, including this Committee.

At the request of the co-facilitators, the 25th Annual Meeting of Chairpersons was moved to New York in order to allow for maximum synergy between the Chairpersons and the inter-governmental process. During the meeting from 20 to 24 May 2013, the Chairpersons held informal consultations with Member States and groups of States. The ten Chairs called on Member States to respect five key principles for a successful outcome of the treaty body strengthening process, namely strengthened human rights protection; respecting the independence of the treaty body system; reinvestment of any cost savings in the treaty body system; use of modern technologies to enhance the accessibility of treaty bodies, including for persons with disabilities; and, in line with the statement that this Committee adopted at your 17th session on the High Commissioner’s report, a comprehensive and sustainable response to the challenges faced by the treaty body system.

It is reassuring to see that the intergovernmental negotiations are based on the proposals in the High Commissioner’s report which is largely inspired by the views of treaty body experts. There is agreement among States for reinvesting cost savings in the treaty body system and for enhancing the accessibility of treaty bodies, especially for persons with disabilities through webcasting and captioning. In addition, the co-facilitators have called for increased resources for capacity building to enable States parties to comply with their reporting obligations. Although diverging views still exist on a number of points, they can be reconciled during the final phase of the process.

There is also a general understanding steadily emerging that addressing the challenges of the treaty body system is not a cost reduction or cost-neutral exercise and that additional regular budget resources will need to be invested and that this investment should seek to address the problems structurally and not just seek to eliminate the backlog.

The intergovernmental process has entered its decisive stage. A draft resolution is being negotiated and will serve as a basis for the final negotiations. The intention of the co-facilitators is to wrap up the process by the end of September. However, some States argue that more time is needed and propose a procedural resolution to extend the negotiations until next year. The Committee will be briefed in detail by the Secretariat on developments in the treaty body strengthening process during this session.
I would like to acknowledge in this vein the leadership of this Committee in particular. You are the first Committee to adopt all of the recommendations made by the High Commissioner addressed to the treaty bodies in her report on strengthening of the treaty body system. You have also adopted the guidelines on the independence and impartiality of treaty body members stemming from last year’s meeting of Chairpersons in Addis Ababa. The Addis Ababa Guidelines have now been endorsed by eight treaty bodies.

I also congratulate you on implementing the simplified reporting procedure which is a key recommendation in the view of the High Commissioner, as well as being the only committee to adopt a master reporting calendar for States parties. For one the newest treaty bodies, this Committee has certainly shown itself ready to lead the way on reform.

The Human Rights Council

Distinguished members,

I would also like to take this opportunity to brief you on some developments at the 23rd session of the Human Rights Council that are related to your work.

  1. The Council adopted resolution 23/20 on the human rights of migrants, which, inter alia, calls upon States that have not yet done so to consider signing and ratifying or acceding to the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families as a matter of priority, and requests the Secretary-General to continue his efforts to promote and raise awareness of the Convention; and calls upon States and relevant regional and international organizations to effectively promote and protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all migrants, regardless of immigration status. It also notes with appreciation the actions taken by several special procedures of the Human Rights Council and the treaty bodies for the effective prevention of violations of the human rights of migrants.
  1. The Council considered the report by the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Mr. Crépeau, looking at the management of the external borders of the European Union and its impact on the human rights of migrants (A/HRC/23/46). The Special Rapporteur addresses the issue of systematic detention of irregular migrants as an accepted means of migration management, and notes with regret that within the European Union policy context, irregular migration was largely viewed as a security concern rather than a human rights issue. I understand that you will be meeting Mr. Crépeau at this session to exchange information on your respective activities and future cooperation.
  1. The Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, Mr. Ruteere, in his report to the Council at its 23rd session highlighted that migrant workers and members of their families, especially those in an irregular situation, are often victims of racism and xenophobia (A/HRC/23/56). Previously, the Council addressed the issue of education as a tool to prevent racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. In its resolution 22/34, the Council recognized that quality education can contribute to more inclusive societies, harmonious relations among nations, peoples, groups and individuals, and underlines the essential role of education in the prevention and eradication of all forms of intolerance and discrimination.
  1. In her opening address to the 23rd session of the Council, the High Commissioner in addition to may pressing issues, including the situation in Syria and growing violence in several regions, also focused on the global recession and its impact on marginalized groups, including migrants stating that “…health care, education, housing and fair administration of justice are not commodities for sale to a few, but rather rights to which all are entitled without discrimination.” The High Commissioner also underscored the ripple effects of the economic crisis including increased vulnerability to extremist and xenophobic discourse, which aims to identify scapegoats for economic pain, demonizing minorities and migrants.

Mr Chairperson,

OHCHR continues to work to support the Committee and the application of the norms and standards set down in the Convention. In addition to the substantive and technical support provided by the Human Rights Treaties Division, the Office also works to encourage ratification of the Convention, principally through the High Commissioner’s bilateral engagements. In May of this year, OHCHR convened a meeting of the Steering Committee for the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, which is made up of various United Nations agencies, the International Organization for Migration as well as a number of non-governmental organizations. Members of the Steering Committee have been involved in numerous promotional activities regarding the Convention including actively engaging with signatory States to encourage and facilitate ratifications of the Convention. I would also note that Secretary-General has extended an invitation to all States to make use of the 2013 Treaty Event to sign and ratify or accede to treaties for which he acts as depositary. The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families is one of the eight human rights treaties being highlighted this year.
I would like to share with you one example of the work OHCHR does with Member States to protect and promote the human rights of migrant workers. At the regional level, our Office in Beirut, in cooperation with the ILO, assisted the Lebanese Government in establishing a non-binding code of conduct providing guidance to recruiting agencies on promoting and protecting the rights of migrant workers in Lebanon – estimated at more than 200,000 and mainly women working as domestic workers. Under the code of conduct, all recruitment agencies are obligated to protect their workers from all forms of discrimination, physical and sexual abuse and other forms of exploitation. Agencies that violate the code of conduct will be banned. Some of the principles upheld in the code of conduct include, among others, transparency in business operations, the provision of full information to the worker about conditions of employment, the verification of the worker’s qualification and no placement of underage workers. The Office is also encouraging the Government to enact legislation for the further protection of migrant workers in Lebanon as well as consider become party to the Convention.

The Office pledges its continued support to the promotion and protection of the human rights of migrant workers and also to the important work of this Committee. I would now like to introduce Mr. James Heenan, who is the new Chief of the Groups in Focus Section. Mr. Heenan, who formerly was the head of our Office in Cambodia has replaced Ms. Wan-Hea Lee. I would also like to introduce your new Assistant, Ms. Isabelle Fleche.

Without further ado, I wish you a very successful and productive 19th session and open the floor for any questions or comments from the Members.