Swears in New Members of the Committee, Holds Informal Meeting with Civil Society
9 April 2018
The Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers this morning opened its twenty-eighth session, hearing an address by Adam Abdelmoula, Director of the Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, swearing in new members of the Committee, adopting its agenda and programme of work, and holding an informal meeting with civil society.
In his opening statement, Mr. Abdelmoula welcomed the new members of the Committee and reminded of the rising discrimination and xenophobia around the world, which negatively affected the Committee’s work. He updated the Committee on the recent initiatives at the Human Rights Council and of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights with respect to migrants’ rights. Mr. Abdelmoula noted that the Office had played an active role in the consultation phase for the Global Compact on Migration, hosting five side events, which had provided space for civil society, human rights defenders and migrants themselves to contribute to the process. Turning to the decision of the General Assembly during its seventy-second session to cut financial resources for the Office and the treaty bodies, Mr. Abdelmoula said the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights would address that situation in the forthcoming second report that the Secretary-General would present to the General Assembly under the resolution 68/268.
In the following discussion with Mr. Abdelmoula, Committee Experts inquired about his assessment of the increasing challenges for the Committee, notably the sharp drop in resources. They noted that the Global Compact on Migration should invite all countries to ratify the International Labour Organization’s Convention on Migrant Workers. Furthermore, Experts stressed that the Committee should not only analyse the current situation but focus on future trends, reminding that European Union countries, which were countries of destination, sent a clear signal that they were not ready to ratify the Convention, which left transit countries in limbo.
The Committee then swore in seven newly elected members, adopted the agenda and programme of work of the session, and heard statements by civil society on the situation of migrant workers in Algeria, Argentina and Chile. The report of Algeria will be reviewed by the Committee on Tuesday, 10 April and Wednesday, 11 April, while the reports of Argentina and Chile will be reviewed in future sessions.
The new members of the Committee are: Mr. Alvaro Botero Navarro (Colombia), Mr. Ermal Frasheri (Albania), Mr. Shaihidul Haque (Bangladesh), Mr. Prasad Kariyawasam (Sri Lanka), Mr. Mammane Oumaria (Niger), Mr. Azad Taghi-Zada (Azerbaijan), and Mr. Ahmadou Tall (Senegal).
In the discussion, non-governmental organizations highlighted an upsurge in the detention of migrants, their collective expulsion and legally precarious status, the lack of laws that properly protected their right to information and due process, and stigmatization of migrants in the media and by State officials.
Speaking were the following civil society organizations: EuroMed Rights and Syndicat National Autonome du Personnel de l’Administration Publique, Association des Marocains Victimes d’Expulsion Arbitraire d’Algérie from Algeria, Dirección de Cooperación y Asuntos Internacionales Procuración Penitenciaria de la Nación de Argentina, and Servicio Jesuita a Migrantes de Chile.
The Committee will next meet in public on Tuesday, 10 April, at 3 p.m. to consider the second periodic report of Algeria (CMW/C/DZA/2).
ADAM ABDELMOULA, Director of the Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, welcomed and congratulated new members elected to the Committee at the eighth meeting of States parties held in June 2017. Recalling the seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, and the twentieth anniversary of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, Mr. Abdelmoula reminded of the rising discrimination and xenophobia, and of the rapid growth of extremist movements, which affected the Committee’s work, both in terms of dialogues with States, which may become less receptive to criticism, and in terms of impact on the Committee’s primary constituency, migrant workers and members of their families. He noted that States had an obligation to ensure a safer and more conducive environment for defenders to be able to carry out their work. Where State action was absent, the international community had the duty to provide support and protection in order to ensure the exercise of the fundamental public freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly and the right to participate in public affairs. Mr. Abdelmoula encouraged the Committee to continue recognizing, in its recommendations to States parties, the crucial role of the defenders of the rights of migrants in the implementation of the Convention.
Updating the Committee on the recent initiatives at the Human Rights Council, Mr. Abdelmoula reminded that at its thirty-sixth session held in September 2017, the High Commissioner for Human Rights had reflected on a number of important issues, such as States’ lack of consistency regarding human rights commitments, reprisals against human rights defenders, the selectivity of the Council when dealing with human rights issues in some countries while ignoring others, and officials that indulged in attacks against human rights mechanisms. The High Commissioner’s statement had covered the situation of migrants in a number of countries, such as the United States, Hungary and other parts of Europe. Appalled by the horrific abuses that migrants faced after being intercepted and returned to Libya, the High Commissioner had reminded all Governments that no human being could ever, under any circumstances, be deported to a place where he or she faced the likelihood of torture and human rights violations. The Human Rights Council had considered a compendium of principles, good practices and policies on safe, orderly and regular migration in line with international human rights law, which had been presented in support of developing a human rights-based Global Compact on Migration. The Council had also adopted a resolution on unaccompanied migrant children and adolescents. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights remained very active on migration issues: raising awareness, building capacity, and engaging in standard setting and advocacy. The Office had continued to lead the development of a set of principles and guidelines on the human rights protection of migrants in vulnerable situations. It had also established a joint programme with the World Health Organization for the promotion of human rights regarding health and women, adolescents and children. To take that initiative forward, a meeting of treaty body experts would take place in June to consider strategies for acting on the recommendations contained in the report of the High-Level Working Group on the Health and Human Rights of Women, Children and Adolescents.
Several mechanisms of the Human Rights Council had focused their work on issues related to migration. In October 2017, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions had issued a strongly worded critique of the international community’s failure to protect the lives of migrants and refugees. The Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children and the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons had urged States to protect all migrant children from sale, trafficking and other forms of exploitation. Several United Nations experts, including the Committee, had issued statements urging Libya to take urgent action to end the country’s trade in enslaved African migrants. The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants and several other Special Procedure mandate holders had issued a joint statement urging States to ensure a human rights-centred approach when developing the Global Compact on Migration in advance of the meeting in Mexico, Mr. Abdelmoula reminded.
As for the Global Compact on Migration, Mr. Abdelmoula said that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had provided support to the intergovernmental process and that it continued to support the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on International Migration. It had played an active role in the consultation phase and had also hosted five side events, which had provided space for civil society, human rights defenders and migrants themselves to contribute to the process. In February 2018, the High Commissioner had issued an open letter to all Permanent Missions in New York and Geneva on promoting and protecting the human rights of all migrants within the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. He had urged States to develop a compact that explicitly recognized and fully conformed to the existing human rights framework as the authoritative protection agenda for all migrants.
Turning to the challenges in the work of the Committee, Mr. Abdelmoula reminded that the General Assembly during its seventy-second session had taken financial decisions, which had serious implications for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the treaty bodies. Among those decisions, the following had direct negative implications on the resources allocated to the treaty bodies: reduction in resources for travel of experts by 25 per cent, reduction of resources for the travel of staff by 10 per cent, and a net gain of only two temporary posts instead of the 11 positions requested by the Secretary-General. It had been found that some additional meeting time could only be implemented during 2018 for the work of the Human Rights Committee and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to address backlogs in reporting and individual complaints. From a practical point of view, non-core activities may not be supported to the extent that they had been previously. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights would address that situation in the forthcoming second report that the Secretary-General would present to the General Assembly under the resolution 68/268.
Committee Experts welcomed Mr. Abdelmoula’s address and inquired about his assessment of the increasing challenges for the Committee, notably the sharp drop in resources. Given that the international community was paying less and less attention to the rights of migrants and migrant workers, and bearing the situation of migrants in Libya, it was clear that work was yet to be done in the field of human rights. How did the High Commissioner and his Office plan to give the necessary tools to those handling the issue of migrants and migrant workers, especially bearing in mind the upcoming Global Compact on Migration? The Global Compact on Migration should invite all countries to ratify the International Labour Organization’s Convention on Migrant Workers, Experts noted.
Committee Experts reminded that irregular migration was something experienced on a daily basis. Out of some 50 global conferences, 30 were on migration and 20 on terrorism and transnational organized crime. Young people living in despair were recruited by terrorist organizations. Thus, the Committee should promote its Convention through country visits, including countries of origin, transit and destination. The Committee should be involved in the Global Compact on Migration, and it should be able to fulfil its mandate. The Committee should not only analyse the current situation, but also look at future trends, which demonstrated that the situation of migrants would become very complicated. Why were there only 51 ratifications of the Convention? That situation demonstrated that countries had a problem with migrants and their families, especially developed countries, namely countries of destination. Committee Experts also welcomed new members of the Committee.
JASMINKA DZUMHUR, Committee Vice-Chair, reminded that European Union countries, which were countries of destination, sent a clear signal that they were not ready to ratify the Convention, which left transit countries in limbo. How could the Committee and relevant stakeholders change that environment and thus improve the human rights situations of migrants? Ms. Dzumhur noted that other committees should recommend to countries to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.
ADAM ABDELMOULA, Director of the Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, confirmed that the migration crisis was intensifying and it looked like it would increase in its intensity and numbers. It coincided with the global pushback against human rights, and decreasing resources and moral support for the United Nations. At times like that, the United Nations should prioritize. The work on migrants and members of their families was vast and complex, but there were key strategic issues to focus on – the Committee could play a key role in prioritizing issues and working with all relevant stakeholders, such as the International Organization for Migration and non-governmental organizations. The work on the Global Compact was States driven, not United Nations driven. The Committee should use all available fora to intensify the advocacy on migration, and to promote the ratification of the Convention. As for irregular migration, it created problems not only for receiving countries, but allowed for migrants to become subject to horrendous human rights violations. Irregular migration remained at the centre of the Office’s concerns. The Office needed to be strategic and not seek to do everything at the same time. It should strengthen key strategic partnership, Mr. Abdelmoula underlined.
Informal Meeting with Civil Society from Algeria, Argentina and Chile
EuroMed Rights and Syndicat National Autonome du Personnel de l’Administration Publique drew attention to the fact that the collective expulsion of migrants had just begun in the city of Oran in Algeria. Migrants were invisible and thus victims of abuses by the State and criminal organizations. The organization called attention to the lack of respect for the Convention, and reminded that Algeria was responsible for protecting the rights of migrants. Algerian regulations required that migrant workers had to rent flats on a short-term basis because they could not obtain residence permits. Therefore, migrant workers had to move to the informal sector to obtain services. Criminal organizations had understood that migrants were easy prey. The Algerian authorities continued to practice collective expulsions of migrant workers, which meant that migrants could not collect what was owed to them. Very often, they could not open bank accounts. They could affiliate with trade unions and could not create associations; their children could not attend schools; marriage laws were very restrictive, including on the basis of religion of spouses; migrants had no access to healthcare, and they faced brutal behaviour of Algerian police forces when detained. Finally, State officials had waged a hateful campaign against migrant workers.
Association des Marocains Victimes d’Expulsion Arbitraire d’Algérie highlighted the ordeal of some 500,000 Moroccans arbitrarily expelled from Algeria in 1975, even though they had lived in Algeria legally. Hundreds of mixed Moroccan-Algerian families had been broken up and torn apart. The organization stressed that Algeria should inform the Committee about the measures it had taken to implement the Committee’s recommendations of 30 April 2010, and about the authority that had been in charge of the collective expulsion of the Moroccan diaspora in 1975. What were the legal justifications for the expulsion and could the Algerian Government supply statistics about real numbers of expelled Moroccan workers? Had the Algerian Government foreseen compensation for victims, and what measures had it taken to return the confiscated property of the expelled Moroccans? Could they receive reimbursement for their pension rights and social benefits? The organization noted that the Moroccan workers and their families expelled in 1975 placed great hope in the Committee to repair the harm done to them.
Dirección de Cooperación y Asuntos Internacionales Procuración Penitenciaria de la Nación de Argentina drew attention to the situation of foreign persons deprived of liberty in federal prisons in Argentina. The construction of an image of migrants as delinquents was part of the strategy to justify excessive measures to control migration. There was a lack of public data on expulsion practices by the State, and of migration oversight tools. The Committee should ask Argentina how it had handled expulsions and detentions of migrants. Turning to family reunification, the organization stressed that family reunification was a human right. Argentina did not respect that right, even when minors were expelled. Finally, the organization highlighted the lack of due process during the expulsion process, reminding that the Law on Migration No. 25.871 empowered the National Migration Directorate to detain foreigners in certain situations in order to expel them. The Committee should therefore ask Argentina about the measures it had adopted to guarantee migrants’ access to information and to respect their right to due process.
Servicio Jesuita a Migrantes de Chile, via videoconference, emphasized priority issues in which Chile needed to progress urgently: the legislative and administrative situation in the sphere of migration, which had not changed since 1975. There was still no appropriate institutional support for migration, in line with the Convention. There were one million migrants in Chile, representing 5.8 per cent of the population. It had been estimated that some 300,000 persons were in irregular situation. Since 2010, when Chile had presented its previous report, the migrant population had increased by more than 200 per cent. Interpretation and free legal assistance were not available to migrants, as well as lack of access to healthcare and social security. The organization reminded that Chile had not regulated the granting of Chilean nationality to children of migrants in line with national and international judicial decisions, and that the draft law on migration and foreigners presented in 2013 had not guaranteed due process in the revocation of visas, residence permits and expulsions. Chile should urgently improve migrants’ access to social rights, effective protection of labour and pension rights and adequate oversight, prevent crimes of trafficking and smuggling of persons, improve the provision of Spanish language courses, particularly to Haitian migrants, and protect adolescent migrants.
Questions by Committee Experts
Starting with Chile, Committee Experts inquired whether since 2010 Chile had made additional efforts to protect the rights of migrants and members of their families. What measures had Chile taken to counter violence and discrimination against migrants from Haiti and the Dominican Republic?
On Algeria, Committee Experts asked about the drafting of the State party’s report and inquired whether civil society had been involved in that process. They asked about the reasons for the upsurge in migration detention, especially of sub-Saharan migrants, in preparation for their expulsion. What had Algeria done to give effect to the Committee’s previous recommendations? Were the authorities keen to implement them, or were they completely ignoring them? How had public institutions received those recommendations?
Turning to Argentina, Committee Experts inquired about the reality of migrants convicted of petty crimes. Did the reality in prisons match the negative media portrayal of migrants? What was the rate of convictions? How many people had been detained on migration charges since new laws had been passed?
Answers by Civil Society
Servicio Jesuita a Migrantes de Chile clarified that there had been some progress in administrative terms and coordination among Government bodies in Chile. Nevertheless, those changes were happening under the old laws. The level of discrimination against the Dominican and Haitian population was high. Cases of violence had appeared before national courts.
EuroMed Rights and Syndicat National Autonome du Personnel de l’Administration Publique noted that the climate in Algeria was very bitter and that no civil society organization had been consulted about drafting the State report. There was no cooperation with non-governmental organizations. As for the new upsurge in migration detention, it was not entirely true. Algeria had become a country of transit and migrants had become more visible. The country was going through an economic crisis and somebody had to be blamed for it. Migrants were an easy target in that sense. It was an official position that migrants were to be blamed for all the ills in society. State officials were also trying to please the European Union, which had called on Algeria to be more aggressive toward sub-Saharan migrants in an attempt to shift its borders southward. Accordingly, the authorities were not giving effect to the Committee’s recommendations.
Dirección de Cooperación y Asuntos Internacionales Procuración Penitenciaria de la Nación de Argentina explained that the foreign population in prisons had been systematically rising in Argentina. There were some 19 per cent of foreigners in the country. As for the impact of the Emergency Decree of January 2017, it was difficult to say because there were no public figures on the number of detained and expelled foreigners. The legal status of the Emergency Decree was still unknown.
JASMINKA DZUMHUR, Committee Vice-Chair, thanked representatives of civil society organizations for having presented information from their respective countries.
For use of the information media; not an official record