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Seventy-first Session,
27th & 28th Meetings (AM & PM)

Migration ‘Defining Human Rights Issue of Our Time’, Experts Tell Third Committee, Urging More Ratifications, Greater Compliance with Conventions

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) continued its discussion on the promotion of human rights today, with special mandate holders and others presenting updates on issues ranging from digital privacy to enforced disappearances, as well as the rights of migrants and internally displaced persons.

An overarching theme across the diverse array of topics under discussion was the need to respect the universality of human rights, even in the face of economic, social or security challenges.

In their presentations, the experts called for greater cooperation and commitment by States in meeting their human rights obligations.  Four of the six underlined the need for more ratifications and greater compliance with the conventions and instruments relating to their respective mandates.  The quarter-century-old International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families had been ratified by a mere 48 States, one expert said, while the 10-year-old Convention for the Protection of All Persons against Enforced Disappearances had been ratified by 53.  Those concerns were shared by a number of States, whose delegations sought advice on how to increase compliance.

High on the agenda was the predicament of the 244 million migrants throughout the world, with François Crépeau, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, underscoring the need to govern migration, rather than restrict it.  States were spending too much on border control and not enough on integration policies, he said.  Without regular mobility channels, prohibition policies entrenched smuggling operations and underground labour markets, in effect “subsidising” smuggling rings.

While States had legitimate interests in securing their borders and exercising immigration controls, such concerns should not override their obligations to respect internationally guaranteed human rights of all persons, said José Brillantes, Chair of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.  He found it “incomprehensible” that at a time when the world was witnessing the largest migratory flows in history, there was a lack of political will to protect the human rights of migrants.

By the end of 2015, 40.8 million persons had been internally displaced by conflict, reported Chaloka Beyani, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons.  Halving internal displacement in a dignified and safe manner by 2030 would require a new model of action that was predictive, rather than reactive, focusing on early warning, preparedness, mitigation and adaptation.  New approaches would need to engage internally displaced persons as partners and not simply as beneficiaries.

Also speaking today were Joseph Cannataci, Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, Houria Es-Slami, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and Santiago Corcuera Cabezut, Chair of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances.

The Third Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 25 October, to continue its discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights.


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/SCH/4172.

Introductory Remarks and Interactive Dialogues

JOSEPH CANNATACI, Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, in presenting his first report (document A/71/368) to the Committee, outlined a number of taskforces he had initiated to investigate various aspects of privacy:  big data and open data; security and surveillance; health data; personal data processed by corporations and a better understanding of privacy.  Of those priorities, he focused on the implications of security and surveillance on the right to privacy, noting that his first major initiative in that area was the International Intelligence Oversight Forum, held for the first time this year in Bucharest, Romania.  He expressed hope that it would set in motion a process whereby stakeholders could collectively identify best practices, safeguards and remedies. 

In addition, he said, he was building engagement with the private sector to examine the impact of the growing use of personal data by the corporate sector.  He expressed concern about the right to remain silent in the digital age and recent developments in the area of data retention and mass surveillance.  A recent case in the United States, Apple v. FBI, raised the question of whether access to a defendant’s mobile device could be considered an infringement on his right to privacy.  He also expressed concern about recent legislation in Germany, which legalized security practices that were disproportionate and discriminatory.  He criticized provisions in national laws that discriminated against non-citizens, reminding Member States that the right to privacy was not exclusive to the citizens of one’s own State.

When the floor was opened, several delegates asked about the future of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, with the United States’ representative wondering what would happen with the task forces he had set up beyond his current mandate.  Germany’s representative asked for his assessment of where to draw the line between freedom of expression and illegal hate speech in connection with the right to privacy.  Terrorist groups now controlled a lot of social media and were recruiting children, said Iraq’s representative, asking how the international community could balance defence of the right to privacy with the need to safeguard citizens and ward off Web sites set up to recruit people.

Mr. CANNATACI, on the freedom of expression, said Articles 12 and 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights covered privacy, as well as the right of everyone to their reputation.  It was important that the United Kingdom, France, Germany and the United States set the best examples, as they were influential, had experience in surveillance, and conducted their debates in a democratic manner.  They therefore should be standard-setters.  In response to Iraq’s representative, he said the question was also a freedom of expression issue, and referred to a Dutch intelligence paper on jihadism, which had suggested that, rather than clamping down unnecessarily in a manner that resembled censorship, the international community should instead devote more resources to infiltration.  To comments by Brazil’s delegate that the current legal framework was inadequate, he noted that many stakeholders, including civil society, had expressed the same view. 

Also participating in the interactive dialogue were representatives of the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Iran, Morocco, and Brazil, as well as of the European Union.

Enforced Disappearances

SANTIAGO CORCUERA CABEZUT, Chairperson of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, presented the Committee’s fifth report (document A/71/56), covering its ninth and tenth sessions.  He welcomed that five States had ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and that seven States Parties had submitted their reports during the reporting period.  However, with the slowly increasing ratification of the Convention, there was a backlog of reports which required additional resources.  In that context, he said 20 of 53 State parties had agreed to receive individual communications and he encouraged more to do so.

More broadly, he said he continued to cooperate with the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, and made efforts to engage with other parts of the international human rights system.  Concerning the election of new Committee members, he encouraged States to nominate experts of high moral standing and recognized competence and experience.  At its ninth session, the Committee had adopted the San José Guidelines against Intimidation or Reprisals of individuals and groups who contributed to the work of the treaty bodies.  The Convention addressed one of the most abominable crimes, as many enforced disappearances ended with the arbitrary execution of the victim, and he therefore appealed to States that had not done so yet to ratify it. 

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, representatives of Japan, European Union, Mexico, Iraq, Argentina, France and Morocco asked the Chairperson about the obstacles to greater ratification of the Convention and for suggestions on how States could both encourage ratification and increase awareness about the Convention.

MR. CABEZUT replied that he was most concerned by the low level of ratification in Asia, where there was no regional protection system for human rights.  Such arrangements existed in the Americas, Europe and Africa.  While some countries that did not have a problem of enforced disappearance may have considered it unnecessary to sign the Convention, he made the case that joining was still important because it sent a message to other States and it enshrined preventive measures in law.

To a question by Iraq’s representative regarding enforced disappearance perpetrated by non-State actors, he clarified that the Convention did encompass disappearances perpetrated by non-State actors, along with obligations on States to investigate and punish offenders.

HOURIA ES-SLAMI, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, said that since its creation, the Working Group had supported thousands of powerless families living in the anguish of not knowing what had happened to their loved ones.  Faced with 44,159 cases before it, concerning 91 States, it was very concerned over the number of new cases reported, which amounted to more than one disappearance per day, adding that cases reported to the Working Group represented just “the tip of the iceberg”.  The situation in some countries was of particular concern, with Syria being one example where there were thousands of disappearances, but the Working Group had seen less than 200 cases.  It had asked the Security Council to bring the issue of disappearances in Syria to the International Criminal Court, she said, noting that a similar step had been taken for those in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

She expressed alarm about threats of reprisals against victims of enforced disappearances, such as families, calling on Member States to take steps to protect people working on such cases.  Changes in practice had led to disappearances becoming more systematic, and often linked to combating terrorism.  In the context of migration, the Working Group’s goal was to examine disappearances while holding expert meetings with countries concerned.  She underlined the importance for States to fully cooperate with the Working Group.  Its visits to countries were not an end, but rather, a starting point to provide a road map for achieving progress in combating forced disappearances, she said, singling out Peru, Sri Lanka and Turkey for their cooperation.  The Working Group continued to cooperate closely with the Committee on Enforced Disappearances.

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, representatives asked what could be done to support the Working Group and encourage more States to cooperate.

Ms. ES-SLAMI said that while the high number of cases presented a major challenge, the Working Group had established a plan for dealing with the backlog of complaints and anticipated that by 2017 it would be back on track.  She was working to increase responsiveness by holding preliminary meetings with States to inform them of the Working Group’s activities and the kind of support it could offer.

In response to a query by the European Union’s delegate on engagement with civil society, she explained that the Group had received reports from non-Governmental organizations from various countries, and on that basis, sent general allegations to those Governments.

Finally, to comments about the Group’s impartiality by China’s delegate, Ms. ES-SLAMI underscored the Group’s independence.  All five of its experts were independent and acted within context of the United Nations Charter and the specific criteria governing the Group’s methods.

Also speaking were representatives of Morocco, United States, France and Argentina.

Protection of Migrant Workers’ Rights

JOSÉ BRILLANTES, Chair of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, said that it was critical to mobilize collectively and quickly to address migration, as it was the defining human rights issue of the time.  There were more than 244 million migrants throughout the world and workers were often subject to injury, death, sickness, fraud, excessive working hours and sub‑par wages, as well as illegal confinement, sexual harassment, threats and intimidation.  The Convention on the issue provided a human rights‑based framework to address all such ills, including those that accompanied irregular migration, and yet, after a quarter century there were only 48 ratifications —— none from major destination countries.  Gaining new ratifications was therefore a priority.  The Convention did not lay down new categories of rights; rather, it set out how international human rights were to be applied to migrant workers and their families.  He expressed hope that implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development would address root causes that forced people to leave their homes, stressing that migration should be a choice.

Reporting on activities of his Committee, he said it had considered eight reports of State Parties, while initial or periodic reports had not yet been received from as many as 16 others.  He urged those parties to submit their overdue reports or avail themselves of other procedures.  He also described the treaty‑body strengthening process and growing partnerships with civil society organizations, national institutions, trade unions and United Nations country teams, which provided valuable reporting to the Committee.  Such partnerships, despite the lack of ratifications in destination countries, had also led to important changes in laws, policies and programmes that had improved the lives of migrant workers and their families.  Given the historic level of migratory flows, he found it regrettable that the Committee had not been invited to be in the centre of discussions of the problem in international forums.  He reiterated his plea for States to address the plight of migrant workers through engagement with the Committee, along with ratification of the Convention.

In the ensuing dialogue, delegates inquired about best practices in different areas, including ratification of the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, international cooperation and the integration of migrants into society.  Several asked about the Committee’s role outside of Geneva and what it could do to combat xenophobia and exploitation.  Recognizing the important role of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, delegates asked how it could be used to advance the rights of migrant workers.

In response, Mr. BRILLANTES outlined ways to increase and facilitate ratification at the national level, stressing the need for information-sharing and targeted efforts around States’ interests and geographical representation.  The New York Declaration was often cited as a good practice.  Mainstreaming migrant workers’ rights at the international level helped to advance and protect their rights. 

The Committee took a gender-based approach to addressing women’s vulnerability, he said, acknowledging the positive effects of Iraqi labour laws in that context.  Ratifying the Convention was the best way to protect migrant workers and their families and he encouraged States receiving large numbers of migrants to ratify that accord.  He stressed the importance of taking a strong stance against detaining children, commending Mexico on its achievements in that area and recommending alternative caretaking arrangements for unaccompanied children.  An evidence-based approach was needed to combat xenophobia and related misperceptions, he added.

Participating in the interactive dialogue were representatives of Morocco, Iraq, Mexico, Colombia, Bangladesh and Turkey, as well as the European Union.

FRANÇOIS CRÉPEAU, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, presented his report (document A/71/285), describing proposals on the mainstreaming of human rights in the 2018 Global Compacts on migration and refugees.  States’ responses to large movements of people had been mostly ad‑hoc and short‑sighted, creating an atmosphere of chaos that had instilled fear in destination country citizens and fed stereotypes and myths that had been exploited by nationalist populist politicians.  Unregulated migration in host countries had led to a rising anti‑migration sentiment, discrimination and violence.  Migrants comprised only 3.3 per cent of the global population in 2015, compared with 2.8 per cent in 2000.  It was thus not accurate to portray migration as “in crisis”.

Describing the negative stereotypes associated with migration, he said that, in contrast, immigration had a positive overall impact on employment generation, investment and economic growth.  Appropriate language and precise data were needed, as were policies that favoured diversity and facilitated mobility.  Border restrictions would always have undesirable effects, such as smuggling and exploitation, as long as exploitative employers continued such practices.  Offering official mobility channels and fostering fluidity at borders would be much a smarter approach.  Regulating those flows required a more sophisticated view of why and how people moved.  States therefore must develop a strategic vision for what their policies would look like in 20 or 30 years, with timelines, benchmarks and accountability mechanisms.

When the floor was opened, several delegates asked about the new Global Compact, with the United States’ representative suggesting it should focus on labour rights, the Russian Federation’s representative noting that the necessary global legal framework to address migration problems already existed, and Canada’s representative asking about the obstacles to negotiations on it.  The European Union’s delegate asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on measures that could contribute to promoting positive narratives on migration, with Mexico’s representative requesting recommendations for a campaign to combat xenophobia and foster inclusion of migrants.

Mr. CRÉPEAU, addressing questions on the Global Compact, emphasized that except for the rights to stay in a country and to vote in elections, all human rights applied to everyone everywhere, including migrants.  But the instruments guaranteeing those rights were badly implemented, he said, underlining that migrant rights were human rights.  On labour rights, he said migrants were in the same situation today as industrial workers were in the nineteenth century; their lives had been improved through unionization and collective bargaining.  But migrants in precarious situations did not want to “stick their necks out”.  The international community must reduce the precariousness of migrants’ situations so they could start unionizing and bargaining.  The social and political space must be afforded to migrants so they could speak up. 

Regarding challenges to the Global Compact, Mr. CRÉPEAU singled out States’ interpretation of sovereignty as a strict limit to mobility as one major barrier.  Another hurdle was identity.  Countries needed to accept a cultural shift which embraced migration.  A silver lining to that particular situation was that journalists today were much better trained, and there were now immigration correspondents who had developed an expertise.  Another positive development was that youth in many countries were much more open to diversity and mobility, and that faith‑based organizations as well as individual citizens were doing a lot for migrants. 

He singled out the citizens of Samos, Greece, who were giving clothes, toys, and food to migrants, even though their numbers had exceeded the number of residents on the island.  Private sponsorship of refugees was a great answer to nationalist populists, he said, and such initiatives should be emulated.  Migration was a complex phenomenon and a generational issue, and it would take time for the international community to integrate changes.  The two years in which States could negotiate a Global Compact should provide an avenue for reaching goals such as visa facilitation agreements and increased student visas.

Also participating in the interactive dialogue were representatives of Morocco, Eritrea, Brazil, Greece, Russian Federation, Canada, United States, Cuba, Colombia, Indonesia, Angola, Switzerland, and Germany, as well of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the European Union.

On Internally Displaced Persons

CHALOKA BEYANI, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, said that by the end of 2015, 40.8 million persons had been internally displaced by conflict, with countless more due to disasters, violence and development projects.  The World Humanitarian Summit had recognized the importance of meeting the humanitarian and longer‑term needs of internally displaced persons.  Halving internal displacement in a dignified and safe manner by 2030 would require a new model of action that was predictive, rather than reactive, focusing on early warning, preparedness, mitigation and adaptation.  New approaches would need to engage internally displaced persons as partners and not simply as beneficiaries.

He said internal displacement must be understood as a global issue with national, regional and international implications that should engage all in new prevention strategies and finding durable solutions for the displaced.  Addressing and reducing internal displacement was also essential for reducing the growing flows of refugees and asylum seekers across borders.  The African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa —— or Kampala Convention —— was a model of good practice for other regions, he said, encouraging regional organizations to strengthen work to prevent and reduce displacement, including through the elaboration of new regional standards.  He then reported on his recent visits to Nigeria, Ukraine and Afghanistan.

In the ensuing dialogue, several delegates asked the Special Rapporteur for his suggestions on how to better integrate development and humanitarian work and improve cooperation within the international community.  Many asked for his advice on the next steps to achieve the goal set out at the World Humanitarian Summit of reducing the number of internally displaced persons by half by 2030.  The representative of Morocco asked for recommendations on ensuring precise and reliable data on internally displaced people, which, she said, was a crucial component of protection.

Mr. BEYANI responded that some progress had been made in providing durable housing for internally displaced persons.  However, the integration of humanitarian assistance with development efforts was still lacking, as development actors had found it challenging to engage in that arena.  The Human Rights Up Front Initiative was important at the country level as a way to gather and share information, he said, stressing the need for risk assessments in order to predict violence and displacement.

On the re‑establishment of a Special Representative of the Secretary-General on internally displaced persons, he said that indeed more full‑time engagement and authority were needed to address that issue, and that the international architecture for internally displaced persons must be reconsidered.  Better coordination across mandates was required in order to prevent protracted displacement, as were greater investments in long‑term development policies.  Internally displaced persons must be more effectively integrated into the human rights‑based approach and some good practices could be found in different countries.

Also speaking were representatives of Georgia, Austria, United States, Japan, Liechtenstein, Turkey, Iraq, United Kingdom, Norway, Colombia, European Union, Switzerland, Azerbaijan and Nigeria.

For information media. Not an official record.