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WYR 2013 Chapter One

Migrants’ Rights

The decision as to who may enter and reside in national territories is the sovereign right of States. However, all those living within a country’s borders, including migrants, are entitled to the same respect, protection and fulfillment of their human rights, regardless of their origin, nationality or immigration status.

Respecting the rights and fundamental freedoms of non-native residents or international migrants is essential if migration is to benefit the migrants themselves and the societies in which they live. Those whose legal rights are protected often make significant contributions to social and economic development in destination societies. However, there are many migrants--particularly those in irregular situations—who are particularly vulnerable to human rights violations ranging from unacceptable work and housing conditions and a lack of access to health care or education to abuse, exploitation and trafficking in persons. As a group, migrants often experience exclusion, racial discrimination and even violence.

The Rights of Migrant Workers
Three key instruments have been adopted to address the treatment of migrant workers (see the box beside). Although the conventions have been in place for several decades, relatively few States have ratified them. Developed countries and countries of destination make up a very small proportion of the total, accounting for 10 of the 49 parties to the 1949 Convention, only 3 of the 23 parties to the 1975 Convention, and none of the 47 countries that have ratified the 1990 Convention.
In 2011, the General Conference of the International Labour Organization (ILO) adopted the Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers, which recognizes the economic and social value of domestic work and establishes standards for the protection of domestic workers (see box 4.3 in chapter 4). Eight countries had ratified the Convention by the time it entered into force on 5 September 2013.*

The Rights of Refugees

The 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol establishes the principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits States parties from returning refugees to areas where their lives or freedom “would be threatened on account of … race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”.**

Legal Instruments for Migrant Workers


Addressing the discriminatory and abusive treatment of migrant workers has long been on the international agenda. Three key instruments adopted to answer this concern include the following:*


- The 1949 International Labour Convention (No. 97) concerning Migration for Employment

-The 1975 Migrant Workers (Supplementary Provisions) Convention (No. 143) [Convention concerning Migrations in Abusive Conditions and the Promotion of Equality of Opportunity and Treatment of Migrant Workers]

-The 1990 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families



As of August 2013, the Convention and Protocol had been ratified by 145 and 146 countries respectively. Most of the countries that have not ratified the Convention are in the Middle East and Gulf regions and in South and South-East Asia.

Combating Trafficking in Persons

There are two important protocols supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. The 2000 Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (annex II to the Convention) is the first legally binding global instrument with an agreed definition on trafficking in persons. It is aimed at facilitating convergence in national approaches to investigating and prosecuting trafficking in persons as well protecting and assisting the victims of trafficking. As of August 2013, 157 States had ratified this Protocol. The 2004 Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air (annex III to the Convention) is aimed at preventing and combating the smuggling of migrants by organized criminal groups, protecting the rights of smuggled migrants, and preventing their exploitation. As of August 2013, 137 States had ratified the Protocol.*


* International Labour Organization, NORMLEX, “C097 – Migration for Employment Convention (Revised), 1949 (No. 97)” and “C143 – Migrant Workers (Supplementary Provisions) Convention (No. 143)”, available from http://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=1000:12000:0::NO:::; and United Nations, General Assembly resolution 45/158 of 18 December 1990 (A/RES/45/158), available from http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/45/a45r158.htm (accessed 7 September 2013).

*International Labour Organization, NORMLEX, “C189 - Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189)”. Link to the full text of the Convention available from http://www.ilo.org/global/topics/domestic-workers/lang--en/index.htm.

**Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, “Text of the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol”, article 33, para. 1. Available from http://www.unhcr.org/3b66c2aa10.html.

* United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the Protocols Thereto (General Assembly resolution 55/25 of 15 November 2000), annexes II and III (Vienna, 2004). Available from http://www.unodc.org/documents/treaties/UNTOC/Publications/TOC%20Convention/TOCebook-e.pdf.

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