Press Conference on Human Rights of Migrant Workers, Human Rights Situation in Myanmar

25 October 2013

Press Conference on Human Rights of Migrant Workers, Human Rights Situation in Myanmar

25 October 2013
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Human Rights of Migrant Workers,


Human Rights Situation in Myanmar


The foremost United Nations expert on the human rights of migrants called today for improvements to global migration governance, citing the need for an institutional framework within the United Nations system to drive policy.

“There is no migration organization within the United Nations and no coherent institutional framework governing migration,” said François Crépeau, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, at a Headquarters press conference.  “States retreat from binding United Nations-based frameworks, with preference for informal processes.”

Mr. Crépeau noted that the International Organization for Migration (IOM) existed outside the system and that its constitution did not cover the human rights of migrants.  He stated that his report proposed IOM become a United Nations body with a refined constitution, which would, in turn, help expand the human rights work it was already doing.  Such an entity could facilitate the establishment of a true global framework to address migration, leading to an end to the fragmented unilateral and bilateral approaches currently taken by Governments.  “Migrants should always be seen first and foremost as human beings with human rights rather than agents for development,” he emphasized.

Outlining other recommendations in his report, he said they included proposed changes to repressive border policies, which were ineffective in stopping migration.  Rather, such policies empowered and entrenched smuggling rings, which tightened their hold on migrants and reduced the capacities of States to control their borders and defend their territorial sovereignty.  Among other proposals, better channels for regular migration, the recognition of labour needs and the sanctioning of unscrupulous, exploitative employers “would lead to less irregular border crossings, less smuggling of migrants, less loss of life at borders and less migrants’ rights violations,” he said.

Accompanying Mr. Crépeau were Abdelhamid El Jamri, Chair of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families and Tomas Ojea Quintana, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

Mr. Jamri then spoke about the United Nations Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, which was celebrating the tenth anniversary of its entry into force.  The Convention, which included reporting by State parties, had been followed by a campaign to promote its ratification worldwide and by discussions on interpretations of its provisions. 

Recent incidents that had demonstrated the dangers faced by migrants, justified efforts to promote further ratifications, he said.  The Convention had helped guide national policies on migration and had enabled both Governments and migrants to see benefits.  He underscored the Convention’s importance, especially in light of new migration patterns, such as South-South migration and North-South migration, and persistent challenges, including trafficking, which had been identified in the 1990s and which remained a major issue.

Turning to human rights in Myanmar, Mr. Quintana urged the international community to remain engaged with that country, stressing that “being a friend of Myanmar and a supporter of the current reform process involves raising human rights concerns and working with the Government to find solutions.”  Although shortcomings on human rights needed addressing, important steps had been taken towards democratic reform and national reconciliation.  In addition, despite continued fighting, particularly in border areas, he was confident a national ceasefire was possible.

However, notwithstanding the release of political prisoners, new arrests, resulting from peaceful demonstrations, as well as disputes over land confiscation, had been made.  The Government was trying to address the still serious human rights situation in Rakhine State where a policy of segregation and an underlying pattern of discrimination against Muslim and Rohingya populations still existed.  The Government had to investigate rights violations and hold perpetrators to account, he said, pointing out the stress such issues placed on the overall reform process.

He stated his belief that the increasingly open society and the political sphere would help put an end to recent spates of violence and incitement, and he urged the Government to continue its good work to achieve that.  Constitutional reform was vital to maintaining the momentum of the transition to democracy and national reconciliation.

Responding to a question about ethnic divisions between Muslims and Buddhists and whether he believed ethnic cleansing was taking place, Mr. Quintana said that all aspects of Rohingya people’s lives were affected by discrimination and that the central Government had a responsibility to do more.  The situation was complex and the local media needed to report on it responsibly.  He then expanded on his previous comments about segregation, saying it was a new element, with many Rohingyas living in internally displaced persons camps. 

When questioned about whether a two-child policy was in place in Rakhine, he said that there was no such policy, though such a practice, which he advocated against, had existed.   Asked to go into more depth on land appropriation, he conceded that it had increasingly become an issue during the transition because of the absence of a rule-of-law framework.  The Government had invoked the Constitution to take land away from people, and there was no judicial avenue for redress.

Mr. Crépeau, answering a question about the results of the recent High-level Dialogue on Migration, said that the meeting had recognized the link between reduced irregular migration and push-and-pull factors being addressed.  In the case of Mexico, emigration would be reduced if push factors like violence, poverty and development were addressed, while in the United States labour markets needed reform to counter the pull factors.

He said he was surprised by the European Union’s response to the tragedy off Lampedusa, Italy.  Rather than addressing push–and-pull factors, they emphasised border security.  That would incentivize creative mafias to use more evasion tactics, empowering them to violate migrants’ human rights, while reducing control over the border.

Replying to a question about what responsibilities migrants had in addition to all the rights they possessed, he said the “flipside” of human rights was not the responsibility of migrants but the responsibility of Governments to ensure those rights were met.  Migrants could not act criminally, but aside from that, there was no reason to assume anything they did was offensive.  Personal choice was to be respected.  Equal treatment was vital.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.