Global Human Rights Defence

International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (Convention)
"A migrant worker" by tsemdo.thar is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Author: Alicia Haripershad 
GHRD Intern – International Justice and Human Rights Team 
LLM Candidate International Law and Global Governance (Tilburg University)

Title: International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (Convention)

Adopted by: United Nations General Assembly (by resolution 45/158) 

When: 18 December 1990

Into Force: 1 July 2003 (after a minimum of 20 states had ratified)

Status: Legally binding on states who have ratified

Bearing in mind that the human problems involved in migration are even more serious in the case of irregular migration and convinced therefore that appropriate action should be encouraged in order to prevent and eliminate clandestine movements and trafficking in migrant workers, while at the same time assuring the protection of their fundamental human rights

"Cambodia immigration" by shankar s. is licensed under CC BY 2.0

What is the significance of the Convention?

Migration processes are determined by countries or regions and can usually vary significantly. Therefore, this Convention promotes values and rights that are important to keep in mind when considering factors that impact migrant workers. The Convention further establishes the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (hereafter Committee), which oversees the implementation of the Convention. 

The migration of people and workers will arguably increase with time and the growing impact of globalization. Other factors such as climate change, conflicts and the need to relocate for work due to unfarmable areas, for example, further exacerbate migration. It is therefore imperative to have clear structures in place to deal with the rights of this group, which is often found in a vulnerable situation.  

The scope of the protection of the Convention is of migrant workers, as briefly highlighted, and not migrants as a whole. The families of migrant workers have been included within the Convention too, on the basis that their rights have “not been sufficiently recognized everywhere and therefore require appropriate international protection.” The scope of this Convention is further justified on the basis that migrant workers could be more vulnerable to exploitation by employers, for example when they are undocumented. This Convention aims to be “comprehensive” in recognizing the need to protect the rights of not only migrant workers but also their families, to the extent that the whole family relocates and requires additional protection.

What is the role of the Committee?

As with most conventions, the established Committee in terms of the Convention oversees the implementation of the Convention by the states that have ratified it. The Committee is made up of independent experts who serve on the Committee for a maximum of 4 years. These Committee members are elected by states. 

State parties are required to submit reports to the Committee on progress made in terms of realizing the rights of the Convention. The Committee will then evaluate the report and provide any observations or recommendations of how the state could potentially improve their situation. In theory, Article 77 of the Convention entitles the Committee to receive individual complaints. However, this mechanism requires a declaration from at least 10 signatory states, which has not yet been released. 

Furthermore, as of December 2019, only 55 states had ratified the Convention. This limits how many states this Convention applies to, and therefore, the power of the Committee only extends to the ratifying states. 

What are the other applicable international instruments protecting migrant workers?

There are several other human rights treaties that make mention of rights applying to non-citizens, thereby covering migrant workers. More authoritative is the work of the International Labour Organization (ILO), whose primary mandate relates to maintaining labour standards by bringing together workers, employers and states. They have further developed international labour standards that pertain to the protection of migrant workers, namely the following:

  • Migration for Employment Convention (revised), 1949 (No. 97)
  • Migration for Employment Recommendation (revised), 1949 (No. 86)
  • Migrant Workers (Supplementary Provisions) Convention, 1975 (No. 143)
  • Migrant Workers Recommendation, 1975 (No. 151)

Given the way in which the ILO operates, bringing together these three different groups as opposed to only states (as the Convention does), it is arguable that sometimes the solutions from the ILO – in considering more perspectives – are better suited than the Convention. 

What are some of the enshrined rights for migrant workers?

  • Article 8: freedom of movement
  • Article 9: the right to life
  • Article 10: protection from torture
  • Article 11: not being held in slavery or servitude
  • Article 12: freedom of thought
  • Article 25: equality in treatment

Where can I find a copy of the Convention to read? 

A copy can be accessed from the following link: 

https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/cmw.aspx

"Migration" by Lars Plougmann is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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