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GA/SHC/4142
23 October 2015
Seventieth Session, 25th & 26th Meetings (AM & PM)

Restrictive State Policies Trigger Greater Risks for Migrants, Special Rapporteur Cautions Third Committee as Human Rights Debate Continues

The overall effect of restrictive State law enforcement policies had put migrants at a greater risk, rendering them more vulnerable to human rights abuses and violations, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) heard today as six United Nations human rights experts presented reports on issues spanning from the right to food to trafficking.

“Migrants must understand their rights and be empowered to make decisions,” François Crépeau, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, told delegates.  Drawing attention to abuse and exploitation of migrant workers by recruitment agents, he said it was mostly seen in sectors such as agriculture, construction, tourism, textile and domestic work.  Unethical recruitment practices, he noted, thrived in an environment where the prices of goods and services depended on cheap labour.

While destination States had become complicit in the exploitation of migrant workers, countries of origin could not negotiate adequate protections for their nationals, he continued.  Building an ethical system, however, was possible with international and regional cooperation based on the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Ethical recruiters did exist, but they faced unfair competition against unethical ones, he told delegates in the interactive dialogue following his presentation.  To voice concerns and facilitate solutions, unionization would be an option for migrants working in the areas of construction and domestic work, he highlighted.

Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, expressed grave concern about the linkage between trafficking, migration and conflicts, as it was often overlooked by States.  Human trafficking, she stressed, had continued to affect all States as source, transit or destination countries.  A consistent and long-term commitment sustained by persistent political will was required to address such practice.

Turning to the principle of due diligence, Ms. Giammarinaro highlighted that putting that into practice had led to a long-term, holistic and proactive approach to anti-trafficking action.  Further, she said, it had contributed to the social inclusion of trafficked and exploited persons and reform of immigration and labour market policies.

Francisco Carrion Mena, Chair of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, recognized migration as an important economic and social phenomenon, one that involved more than 232 million people worldwide.  Describing such workers as potential victims of exploitation and abuse due to lack of reasonable avenues for regular migration, he underlined the need for a comprehensive strategy to ensure the full protection of their human rights.

Also addressing the Committee today were the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights and the Chair of the Working Group on the Right to Development.

The Third Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 26 October, to continue its discussion on the protection and promotion of human rights.

Background

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to continue its debate on the promotion and protection of human rights.  For further information, see Press Release GA/SHC/4139.

Interactive Dialogues

FRANCISCO CARRION MENA, Chair of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, said a comprehensive strategy was needed to ensure the full protection of the human rights of migrants.  As 2015 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, there were more than 232 million migrants throughout the world.

Lack of reasonable avenues for regular migration had led migrants to sacrifice their dignity, safety and lives to reach their destination.  Further, increased border surveillance and securitization had forced migrants to seek more perilous routes, often relying on smugglers or falling prey to traffickers.  The overall effect of restrictive State law enforcement policies had put migrants at greater risk and rendered them more vulnerable to human rights abuses and violations.

Reports showed that migrants in detention faced violence and deplorable conditions, including overcrowding, inhumane sanitary facilities and inadequate medical care.  Drawing attention to children, he said they should never be detained based on their migration status or that of their parents.  To date, there were only 48 States parties to the Convention.  Accordingly, he called upon States to ratify or accede to the Convention, which provided a comprehensive normative framework for defining national and international migration policy.

The Committee had been very supportive of the treaty body strengthening process and continued to harmonize and strengthen its working methods in that regard.  During the twenty-first and twenty-second sessions, the Committee had decided to strengthen the role of the country rapporteur, endorsed the guidance note on the alignment of methodologies for the constructive dialogues with States parties and discussed the issue of reprisals.  On partners, he noted that the Committee continued to support the role of civil society organizations, national human rights institutions, parliamentarians and United Nations programmes, funds and specialized agencies.  Committee members had also been active in promoting the Convention and the human rights of migrant workers through speaking engagements at the United Nations and other fora, advising States parties on treaty implementation and the reporting process.

In the ensuing dialogue, delegates asked about the universal ratification of the Convention, nature of trans-border population movements and national human rights laws to protect migrant workers.

Mr. MENA, stressing that Mexico had been suffering from issues related to migration, acknowledged the country’s contribution to drafting the Convention.  On the question related to trans-border migration, he stressed that an international meeting had been held recently to discuss the issue.

Turning to the universal ratification of the Convention, the Committee did not have in its mandate to seek further ratification of the instrument, but it continued to call upon States to do so.  States also needed to understand that developing countries were not just destination, transit and origin countries, but also “return” countries.  To make progress on the issue, migration and development needed to be considered within the context of human rights, he concluded.

Participating in the discussion were representatives of Mexico, Morocco, Qatar and Indonesia.

FRANÇOIS CRÉPEAU, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, discussed low-wage workers travelling from the global South and unethical recruitment practices.  Recruitment agents all too often exploited and abused the precarious situation of migrants and frequently played an ongoing role in their lives, acting as landlords, renewing work permits or collecting fees or debt.  Such exploitation was seen in all regions of the world and was most problematic in a number of sectors including agriculture, construction, tourism, textile and garment manufacturing and domestic work.

Unethical recruitment practices focused on profit maximization and facilitated such abuses as human trafficking, sexual violence, harassment, restrictions on freedom of movement, racism and xenophobia, he said.  Housing could be used to control and exploit migrants and access to health care could be problematic.  Such practices thrived in an environment in which the prices of goods and services depended on cheap labour.

Desiring to remain competitive, destination States had become complicit in the exploitation of migrant workers, while countries of origin had been unable to negotiate adequate protections for their nationals, he said.  A transition to an ethical system, integrating the views of the private sector, civil society and migrants themselves, was vital.  The transition should be based on the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, human rights instruments, labour standards and soft law norms.  Recruitment fees would be banned and recruiters subjected to effective regulation and licensing.  International and regional cooperation was essential, as no one country could end abuses independently.

Migrants had to understand their rights and be empowered to make decisions, he continued.  Failure to recognize the value of migrant workers legitimized abuse and exploitation.  An alliance of migrants, businesses and political will should result in egregious recruitment practices becoming a thing of the past.

Following the presentation, delegates asked about the scrutiny of recruitment agents, the private sector’s role vis-à-vis ethical recruitment and access to justice for migrants.

Mr. CRÉPEAU said it took many migrant workers two to three years to repay recruitment fees.  Passports and identity papers would be confiscated upon employment, and contracts that had been signed in the country of origin were not honoured in the country of destination.  Wages were often paid late, in cash, with no record of payment.  Domestic workers, denied mobile telephones or Internet access, were unable to communication outside their workplaces.  Labour inspection mechanisms everywhere lacked teeth and, due to language barriers, inspectors did not speak to migrant workers.

The number of recruitment agencies in a country of origin could be reduced to a level that would permit effective regulation.  Enabling migrants to open bank accounts would create a paper trail so as to ascertain that they were paid and it would also facilitate remittances.  The recruitment chain could be subjected to regular independent auditing, as often the problem rested with “sub-sub-sub-contractors” rather than the initial employer.

Ethical recruiters did exist, but they faced unfair competition against unethical ones.  The status of migrants in countries of destination was very problematic, as authorization to stay often hinged upon working for a single employer.  If a migrant worker was fired, he or she would have to go home.  Such a situation created precariousness and the ability to expose abuses, but it could be replaced with a system of sector-based work permits.  For example, a domestic worker hired by a family that violated his or her human rights could leave for a more respectful one.  For migrants at the bottom of the economic scale, such as those in construction and domestic work, unionization would provide a voice and facilitate the negotiation of solutions.

Participating in the dialogue were delegates from the United States, Mexico, Switzerland, Nigeria, Brazil, Qatar, Turkey, Costa Rica, Colombia, as well as the European Union and the International Organization for Migration.

MARIA GRAZIA GIAMMARINARO, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, presented her report on States’ due diligence obligations, expressing grave concern that trafficking in persons was not as high on their political agenda as it had been a few years ago.  That was a real paradox, she said, as human trafficking had continued to affect all States as source, transit or destination countries.

Furthermore, human trafficking was deeply intertwined with conflicts, poverty, human rights violations and resulting migration.  Thousands of men, women and children had lost their lives in the Mediterranean Sea, Southeast Asia and across many borders in the world, she said.  Migrants were subjected or vulnerable to trafficking or exploitation.  Regretting that the linkage between trafficking, migration and conflicts was often overlooked by States, she called for a new phase of anti-trafficking commitment by the international community and innovative approaches for the implementation of existing States’ obligations.

The due diligence principle was key to reinterpreting and implementing in an innovative way the existing obligations enshrined in international law instruments.  Indeed, due diligence had led to a long-term, holistic and proactive approach to anti-trafficking action, aimed at the social inclusion of trafficked and exploited persons.  Due diligence also contributed to coherent anti‑trafficking, immigration and labour market policies, as well as measures relating to the prevention of trafficking.

As such, restrictive or discriminatory legislations or practices or unfair labour conditions that fuelled exploitation must be reviewed.  Due diligence had led to corporations respecting human rights, for example, through rules on how States conducted commercial transactions with business enterprises, including in their public procurement activities.  In addition, it suggested that non-State actors, including armed groups, be held accountable for human rights violations and helped to address challenges relating to access to remedies for trafficked and exploited persons.

In conclusion, she said that the principle of due diligence suggested an innovative approach based on a cultural and political switch: trafficking in persons was not only a law enforcement issue, but rather a social and economic issue requiring a consistent and long-term commitment, sustained by persistent political will.

In the ensuing dialogue, delegates raised questions and concerns about strengthening legal instruments, preventive measures, the role of States and civil society organizations, linkages between migration and human trafficking, witness protection, exercise of due diligences and good practices. 

Ms. GIAMMARINARO said the due diligence approach required a holistic and innovative interpretation of existing mechanisms.  Priorities were policy coherence, addressing the exploitation and access to remedies.  Unfortunately, she said, increased border surveillance and securitization had forced migrants to seek more dangerous routes to facilitate their journeys.  Preventive measures, to that end, needed to be undertaken by the international community to put an end to sexual exploitation and human trafficking.

Recent reports had proven that there was a direct link between conflicts and trafficking.  Conflicts increased the flow of migration and the possibility of exploitation, kidnapping and trafficking.  On the partnership, she said, private companies must develop and monitor policies and identify cases of forced labour.  In conclusion, children fleeing conflict zones were the victims of trafficking and their protection needed to be a high priority for States.

Participating in the dialogue were representatives of Morocco, Belarus, Fiji, Switzerland, Nigeria, Mongolia, United Kingdom, South Africa, Qatar, Russian Federation, Venezuela, Cuba, United States and Maldives, as well as the European Union and the International Organization for Migration.

ZAMIR AKRAM, Chair of the Working Group on the Right to Development, presented an overview of activities that had taken place during its sixteenth session.  The group had focus on considering, revising and refining the right to development criteria and operational subcriteria.  The second reading had not helped to bridge differences, he noted, but had actually widened the gap in positions.  Consequently, he had proposed that the group agreed on a different course of action on the basis of agreed language and decisions and would elaborate a set of standards for the implementation of the right to development, in accordance with Human Rights Council recommendations.

To prepare that set of standards, the process had already begun in consulting with Member States, relevant international and regional organizations, civil society and other stakeholders.  The group would convene a formal meeting at the end of its next session to discuss the proposed standards.  The working group had also agreed to take appropriate steps to ensure respect for and practical application of the set of standards, which could take various forms, including guidelines on the implementation of the right to development, and evolve into a basis for consideration of an international legal standard of a binding nature.  The working group had also decided to discuss the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in the context of the right to development, he said, encouraging all stakeholders to contribute to those deliberations.

When the floor opened, delegates expressed support for the work and mandate of the working group, and underlined the importance of the right to development in the context of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.  Delegates also referred to the thirtieth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Right to Development, in 2016.  Questions were raised with regard to the ethics of development and initiatives to commemorate the anniversary at the United Nations level.

Mr. AKRAM said that the working group had recommended that the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights sought the views of Member States to prepare a report on the realization and implementation of the right to development.  It also recommended that the General Assembly considered holding a high-level segment on the right to development during the general debate of its seventy-first session and that the Human Rights Council dedicated its 2016 high-level panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming to the same theme.  The working group also recommended that Member States convened, individually and collectively, events through their own resources for the anniversary.  It was the responsibility of developing countries to make every effort to ensure that the thirtieth anniversary of the Declaration be celebrated appropriately.  To convene a panel discussion on the issue was not enough, he said, and the event would require far-reaching initiatives to raise awareness on the issue.

With regard to the 2030 Agenda, he said that sustainable development and the right to development were two sides of the same coin and that their realization was interconnected.  Moving to the issue of ethics, he underlined that the recognition of the right to development was crucial for ensuring ethical development.  The rights to food, water, sanitation, housing and employment were all ethical issues and were connected to the realization of the right to development.

Participating in the discussion were representatives of Iran (for the Non-Aligned Movement), Nigeria, Cuba, Morocco, Panama, China, South Africa and Pakistan.

HILAL ELVER, Special Rapporteur on the right to food, said climate change represented one of the most significant challenges today.  It threatened global food security and had consequences on resource depletion and environmental degradation.  It was also undermining the right to food, with disproportionate effects on those who had contributed the least to global warming and who were most vulnerable to its harmful effects.

Extreme weather, rising temperatures and sea levels, less available fresh water, loss of biodiversity, floods and droughts had significant effects on food security, she said.  Failing to enact appropriate policies would lead to consequences that would pose a threat to global peace and security and “as we are all living ever more interconnected lives, climate change should not be considered as only affecting those living in remote places.”

Urgent action on climate change and the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions should respect the right to food as well as other human rights, Ms. ELVER said.  Shifting to clean energy should not compete with peoples’ food security.

Continuing, she said that feeding the world in a time of climate change had resulted in a push for large-scale agricultural production, but more food production did not necessarily result in less hunger and malnutrition.  As the world had long produced enough food, it was economic and social inaccessibility that had resulted in hunger and malnutrition.  Reform of agriculture and food systems was needed to ensure increased response to climate change and environmental degradation and the right to adequate food through appropriate levels of production, equitable access and just distribution.

In many situations, reducing vulnerability to climate change could also increase food security, she said.  Climate change policies should be designed to minimize, if not overcome, fundamental injustices.  Climate change was currently the biggest human rights and justice problem, and solving it should be obligatory, not voluntary.  It was uncertain, however, whether the political will existed to implement a shift in agricultural policy.  A new climate agreement should include a reference to ensuring food security.  As such, human rights defenders and civil society should make every effort to ensure that a human rights-based approach to climate change was adopted.

Following the presentation, delegates asked about the 2030 Agenda, agricultural land use and “land grabbing”.  They also questioned the role of the business and science sectors, the impact of climate change on fisheries and the forthcoming Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris.

Ms. ELVER said that, during climate change negotiations, there had not been much talk about human rights or the right to food.  That should change.  The goal of eradicating hunger by 2030 was very ambitious and hopefully it could be done, but the human rights approach was not completely there.  She said that many delegates had asked about what had to be done to include the right to food in the Paris climate agreement.  A recent draft Paris agreement had excluded food security, but the co-chairs had returned with a new draft that would include it.  It would be seen in Paris how Governments would make decisions.

Land grabbing was an issue that required special attention and a report.  It was mainly connected with corporations and the production of biofuels, which was dangerous for local food production, she said.

Participating in the dialogue were delegates from Cuba, Mexico, Switzerland, Indonesia, Qatar, Norway, South Africa, Colombia, Iran, Costa Rica and Morocco, as well as the European Union and the Food and Agriculture Organization.

PHILIP ALSTON, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said his report on the World Bank and human rights highlighted some key issues.  The existing approach taken by the World Bank to human rights was incoherent, counterproductive and unsustainable, he argued, referring to it as a human rights‑free zone.

The main obstacle to moving towards an appropriate approach was the anachronistic and inconsistent interpretation of the “political prohibition” contained its Articles of Agreement, he said.  The position that human rights were quintessentially matters of politics and had no significant economic dimensions had left the Bank unable to engage meaningfully with the international human rights framework or to assist its member countries in complying with international human rights law.

That approach had inhibited its ability to take adequate accounts of the social and political economy aspects of its work and contradicted the recognition by the international community of the relationship between human rights and development.  There were strong arguments, based largely on effectiveness and sustainability, for the Bank to be able to take a more systematic account of human rights factors in designing and implementing its projects and its overall assistance programmes.  The Bank needed to engage with those who had argued that it should have a strong human rights policy, he said, rather than labelling prominent civil society groups as extremists.

When the floor opened, delegates raised concerns and questions on how to measure and take into account the human rights impact of World Bank projects.  They also asked how to enhance the participation of beneficiaries of development projects and highlighted the role that treaty bodies and United Nations human rights mechanisms and development agencies could play in that regard.

Responding, Mr. ALSTON regretted the lack of coordination between human rights and economic government experts at international and national levels.  He was concerned that the World Bank referred to human rights as an “aspiration” rather than as international legal obligations for States.

Continuing, he said the World Bank’s Executive Board had never had a debate on human rights policies.  The Bank should make a statement that it would not only commit to respecting human rights, but also that it would assist countries in fulfilling their human rights obligations.  With regard to participation of beneficiaries of development projects, he said that the ability to participate and share ideas and views were essential for the realization of the 2030 Agenda.

Participating in the dialogue were delegates from Colombia, Norway, Mexico, Brazil and Costa Rica, as well as the European Union.

For information media. Not an official record.