Who is afraid of International Accountability on Migrants Rights?

By Eve Geddie,
PICUM Program Officer (from Flyktingbloggen).

What do Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Sweden, have in common? They each have monarchies, low population densities and high GDPs; but only one has a reputation as world leader in equality, democracy and human development.

Yet all share a common concern about rights of migrant workers. That is, the rights of all migrant workers and their families. Specifically, when these rights are codified in a core United Nations Human Rights Treaty.

In the past year, the governments of Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Sweden all requested that reference to the “International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families” be removed from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) draft labour standards for domestic workers.
Eighty eight other governments had no such problems, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) actually suggested further reference to the text, citing its protections concerning the unlawful confiscation of migrants’ documents.

The facts are laid bare in the International Labour Organisation’s publication of amendments and comments (See “ILO: Decent Work  for Domestic Workers, Report IV(1), International Labour Conference, 99th Session, 16th June 2010). I found the governmental responses particularly interesting.

Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, United Arab Emirates. The reference to the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families should be removed”

Sweden? Really? Standing alongside despotic regimes that got rich on the back of migrant workers to contain the document which marks the most comprehensive affirmation of their rights. What many may consider a peculiar grouping is in fact a rather telling one.

The Migrant Workers Convention is one of nine core UN human rights treaties. It is the only UN convention to specifically mention the fundamental rights of undocumented migrants and address the needs of migrants as part of a family unit. Since entering into force in 2003, none of the EU member states, nor the United States, Canada and Australia has been among the 43 countries to ratify it.

Leading the campaign for EU ratification of the Migrant Workers Convention, René Plaetevoet of December 18 noted this hypocrisy “The European Union and its member states frequently declare that fundamental rights and the rule of law are core values. If respect for human rights is a fundamental value, then why are states afraid to be held accountable in front of an international forum?”

As aging Europe worries about its impending manual labour shortage, it is surely tempting for leaders to favour migration regimes which enable us to fulfil our labour requirements without providing these workers with rights, family life, permanent residence or citizenship.

Europe needs an urgent reaffirmation of its core values. Values such as those contained in the International Convention on Migrant Workers. It is very dangerous to assume ourselves above the need for international standard setting and accountability; not only for the example we set for other regions but also, for our own false esteem.

“…Another, supposing himself above others, will have a license to do what he wishes, and challenges respect and honor as due to him before others — which is an argument of a fiery spirit. This man’s will to hurt arises from vainglory and the false esteem he has of his own strength.”
—Thomas Hobbes, Philosophical Rudiments Concerning Government and Society

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