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Protection central to the OAS and ILO agendas

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Protection central to the OAS and ILO agendas

It is laudable that protection of migrant workers and their families is now as central to the agenda of the OAS as it has long been for the ILO. Indeed, the record shows that many States in the Americas have established their commitment to the principles and international standards upholding the rights and dignity of migrants.

Three international instruments provide a comprehensive and complementary “values-based” definition of the human rights of all migrant workers and their family members. They provide a more than adequate legal basis for national policy and practice regarding non-national migrant workers and their family members.
Today, no less than 23 States of the Americas have ratified one or more of these instruments77; another two have signed the 1990 Convention and are expected to ratify it soon78.
Notably, the content of these instruments is broader than defining human and labour rights; numerous provisions in each add up to a comprehensive agenda for national policy and for consultation and cooperation among States on labour migration policy formulation, exchange of information, providing information to migrants, orderly return and reintegration, etc.
Indeed, three fundamental notions characterize the protections in international law for migrant workers and members of their families.

  1. Equality of treatment between regular migrant/immigrant workers and nationals in the realm of employment and work.

  2. Core universal human rights apply to all migrants, regardless of status. This was established implicitly and unrestrictedly in ILO Convention 143 of 1975 and later delineated explicitly in the 1990 Convention.

  3. The broad array of international standards providing protection in treatment and conditions at work –safety, health, maximum hours, minimum remuneration, non-discrimination, freedom of association, maternity, etc.—apply to all workers.

As highlighted in the OAS Resolution referred to above, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued an important opinion on 17 September 2003 that clearly reinforced the application of international labour standards to non-national workers, including those in irregular status.79

The Court found that non-discrimination and the right to equality are jus cogens applicable to all residents regardless of immigration status. Non-discrimination and the right to equality, the Court said, dictate that States cannot use immigration status to restrict the employment or labor rights of unauthorized workers, giving unauthorized workers inter alia equal rights to social security (see paragraph 157). The Court acknowledged that governments have the right (within the bounds of other applicable human rights norms) to deport individuals and to refuse to offer jobs to people without employment documents. However, the Court said, once the employment relationship is initiated, unauthorized workers become rights holders entitled to the full panoply of labor and employment rights available to authorized workers.80
In its conclusions, "The Court decides unanimously, that…

8. The migrant quality of a person cannot constitute justification to deprive him of the enjoyment and exercise of his human rights, among them those of labor character. A migrant, by taking up a work relation, acquires rights by being a worker, that must be recognized and guaranteed, independent of his regular or irregular situation en the State of employment. These rights are a consequence of the labor relationship."

Renewed ILO commitment and activity

Over the last three years, the ILO has renewed its commitment to address migrant workers, and has considerably expanded its activity, notably in the Americas.

The 2004 International Labour Conference in Geneva adopted a Plan of Action on migrant workers for ILO and its tripartite constituents. This plan outlines a comprehensive approach to regulating labour migration from a rights based approach in the context of labour market and employment considerations. Especially significant was the adoption of the resolution by consensus by ministerial level government representatives and leadership of trade union and employer federations from then 177 ILO member States.

Following this Plan of Action, the ILO subsequently drafted and published in 2006 a comprehensive Mulilateral Framework for Labour Migration. This non-binding framework provides detailed guidelines and models for putting into practice the basic principles of sound, rights-based migration policy. Its recommendations are based on proven “good practices”, a considerable number of which are outlined in the published Framework (available on-line in English, French and Spanish81. Of note is that several countries of the Americas contributed substantially to its elaboration, including a number represented by experts at the ILO Expert Meeting that reviewed and ultimately agreed to the final text82.

ILO’s Hemispheric Agenda to Promote Decent Work

The Sixteenth American Regional Meeting of the ILO held during 2-5 May 2006 in Brasilia adopted a Hemispheric Agenda to Promote Decent Work that includes specific attention to improving the protection and conditions of migrant workers. The objective of the component addressing labour migration is to improve the level of protection of migrant workers through better regulation and management of migrations.

Three operational goals were set for ILO member states in the region:

  • By 2010 to have a statistical information system on migrant workers to sustain the formulation of policies in this field.

  • To make progress in using the ILO MultiLateral Framework on Labour Migration and in ratifications of ILO Conventions Nos. 97 and 143 in order to bring about better regulation and management of the migratory process.

  • By 2010 all the migrant source and host countries must have a strategy and a plan of action for an orderly management of migration.

The ILO has been working in the Americas on this agenda over the last few years. In particular, ILO has supported the Andean Pact, and Caricom, and Mercosur regional integration initiatives to enhance or develop legal regimes of free circulation of labour, ensuring that the rights of migrant workers are adequately protected in these.

Efforts now being substantially expanded.

A new technical cooperation project is being launched with support of the government of Spain to improve coordination of migratory flows and training opportunities in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. It is designed to give practical effect to the promotion of Decent Work through expanding legal avenues for migration, skill development, and labour market absorption of returnees including through SME development, aspects which will de facto contribute to improving conditions of and protection for migrants. It will also support social and labour integration of immigrants in Spain, contributing to non-discrimination and protection there. Additional cooperation and capacity building programmes addressing labour migration in the Southern Cone and Andean countries await final approval of donor partners.

ILO would like to strengthen the implementation of the OAS resolution on human rights of all migrant workers and their families. Regarding Article 5, ILO has focused on anti-discrimination and integration issues for migrant workers in countries of employment over the last 15 years. We have developed extensive motivational and training materials for social partners and have compiled a unique and large collection of practice example profiles available on the internet. These materials are adaptable to the experience of countries in the Americas, and there are practice models from this region worthy of sharing more globally.

While article 7 of the resolution highlights consideration of the 1990 Convention, the ILO encourages ratification and/or adoption of the principles in ILO Conventions 97 and 143 on migration for employment. Inspired by the convergence in existing ratifications, advantages can certainly be gained from cooperative promotion and support for implementation of the three instruments together.

The ILO certainly hopes that the Permanent Council will take into account the work of the ILO in this field in its continued support of the work of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). And the ILO can certainly continue assisting its member States in the design, execution, and evaluation of their migration policies, including particularly activities recommended in the Inter-American Program for the Promotion and Protection of the Human Rights of Migrants. We welcome the encouragement to cooperate with the Inter-American Agency for Cooperation and Development (IACD) in implementing the Strategic Plan for Partnership for Development 2002-2005 regarding the situation of migrant workers and their families.
The ILO welcomes several recommendations emanating from the recent Workshop of the Inter-American Network for Labor Administration (RIAL) in Ottawa.83 Pursuant to a recommendation, ILO stands ready to initiate preparations together with the OAS of a workshop with COSATE and CEATAL to obtain membership input on guidelines for migration management and policies.
ILO is most ready the to assist the IACML in following-up mandates regarding labor rights of migrant workers and migratory processes contained in the Declaration and Plan of Action of Mar del Plata, approved in the IV Summit of the Americas in November, 2005, and in the Hemispheric Agenda for Decent Work of the ILO, approved in the XVI Regional American Meeting in Brasilia in May, 2006. ILO could also assist in organizing the next RIAL/IACML workshop on Social Security which might include a section exploring bilateral and multilateral conventions to coordinate social security systems.

Luis Monzón – Conferencia Regional Sobre Migración (CRM)

Actividades de la Conferencia Regional sobre Migración llevadas a cabo en cumplimiento de su Plan de Acción

La Conferencia Regional sobre Migración (CRM), también conocida como Proceso Puebla, constituye una oportunidad de diálogo y consulta regionales en temas migratorios. La CRM que comprende a todos los países de América del Norte, Centro América y la República Dominicana ha servido como un mecanismo de diálogo fructífero, concertación y cooperación para enfrentar problemas regionales entre países con realidades migratorias diferentes. La CRM reconoce que a cada país le corresponde ejercer el derecho soberano sobre sus fronteras, la gestión de sus programas de migración, y la necesidad de respetar los derechos humanos de los migrantes, por lo tanto valora el diálogo como una oportunidad de intercambiar mejores prácticas dentro de la región. Desde su creación en 1996, la CRM cuenta con una trayectoria de logros y resultados tangibles. De hecho, la experiencia de la CRM continúa demostrando el valor de enfrentar problemas regionales sobre migración desde una perspectiva regional.

Una de las principales ventajas del dialogo regional en la CRM, es que la búsqueda de consensos se caracteriza por propiciar un ambiente de franqueza y camaradería, denominado por participantes de larga data como el “Espíritu de Puebla”. Una reunión a puertas cerradas de Viceministros crea un ambiente que favorece los contactos informales e intercambios con confianza entre todos los Viceministros. Estas sesiones sin duda contribuyen a que funcionarios de alto rango establezcan un diálogo franco sobre una amplia variedad de temas.
La CRM ha demostrado que una gestión migratoria exitosa requiere el apoyo y cooperación entre países y cuentar con la asistencia de las organizaciones internacionales y la sociedad civil.
La CRM se ha beneficiado de la participación de organizaciones observadoras tales como la Comisión Económica de las Naciones Unidas para América Latina y el Caribe/Centro Latinoamericano de Demografía (CEPAL-CELADE), el Alto Comisionado de la Naciones Unidas para los Refugiados (ACNUR) y la Organización Internacional para las Migraciones (OIM). Esta última ha desempeñado en la CRM un papel significativo, apoyando su desarrollo en general, cooperando en la ejecución de su Plan de Acción y en la elaboración de propuestas e ideas para consideración de los Países Miembros de la CRM. El proceso de la CRM incluye un diálogo franco a viarios niveles con la Red Regional de Organizaciones Civiles para las Migraciones (RROCM).
La CRM fundamenta sus discusiones y accionar en tres ejes fundamentales: la protección y respeto de los derechos humanos de los migrantes, la promoción de una migración ordenada y segura, y la cooperación entre los países con participación de la sociedad civil. El Plan de Acción de la CRM es actualizado cada año y ayuda a guiar y coordinar las actividades enfocado en tres grandes temas: Políticas y Gestión Migratoria; Derechos Humanos; y Migración y Desarrollo. Aunque las decisiones de la CRM no son vinculantes, las mismas proveen un marco para continua cooperación regional.
Para resaltar sus prioridades, la Presidencia de la CRM en ejercicio selecciona un tema a destacarse durante las reuniones plenarias. Para la X CRM celebrada en Vancouver en marzo de 2005, Canadá seleccionó el tema “Integración y Ciudadanía” dirigido a subrayar el impacto, las necesidades y contribuciones de los migrantes a la sociedad. En la XI CRM, celebrada en mayo de 2006 en San Salvador, El Salvador escogió el tema “Entrelazando Comunidades” a manera de destacar los lazos que los migrantes forjan entre las comunidades de origen y destino y sus contribuciones particulares a la cultura, economía y desarrollo. Para la XII CRM (Nueva Orleáns, abril 2007), los Estados Unidos seleccionó el tema “Efectiva Cooperación en el Combate a la Trata de Personas”
Entre los logros más significativos y contribuciones de la CRM se pueden resaltar los siguientes:

  • Lineamientos para el retorno voluntario de migrantes irregulares por tierra y aire en México y Centro América;

  • Campañas de información sobre los riesgos y consecuencias de la trata de personas y el tráfico ilícito de migrantes;

  • Varios proyectos dirigidos a la reinserción y albergues a las víctimas de la trata de personas;

  • Creación de un fondo para el retorno y asistencia a migrantes regionales en situaciones de alta vulnerabilidad a sus comunidades de origen.

  • Bajos sus auspicios, se suscribió en San Salvador, El Salvador, mayo de 2006 un “Memorando de Entendimiento entre los Gobiernos de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos, de la República de El Salvador, de la República de Guatemala, de la República de Honduras y de la República de Nicaragua, para la repatriación ordenada, ágil y segura de nacionales migrantes centroamericanos vía terrestre”.

Entre otras contribuciones de la CRM al continuo análisis de temas sobre la migración y en cumplimiento de su Plan de Acción, se encuentran:

  • En febrero del 2006 tuvo lugar en San Salvador, El Salvador, el Foro - Taller sobre el Sector Privado y Migración co-patrocinado por El Salvador y México, el cual reunió a representantes de gobiernos, empresa privada y sociedad civil y de comunidades salvadoreñas en el exterior.

  • En diciembre del 2005, en Managua, el Taller de Estándares Internacionales para Documentos de Viaje y Sistemas de Emisión patrocinado por Nicaragua y la OIM enfocado en conocer nuevas tecnologías y promover la adopción de estándares internacionales sobre documentos de viaje.

  • En junio del 2005 se realizó en San José, Costa Rica, un Taller sobre Integración de Migrantes en Países Receptores, co-patrocinado por Canadá y Costa Rica, el cual analizó las tendencias, las necesidades y las mejores prácticas para programas de integración.

La RCM realizará en Ciudad de Guatemala el 15 y 16 de febrero del año en curso el “Seminario sobre Legislación Migratoria” patrocinado por Guatemala, ACNUR y OIM, el cual se enfocará en el análisis de los principios de la legislación migratoria, incluyendo la protección a refugiados, y las experiencias actuales sobre el tema de los Países Miembros.

En conclusión, la CRM ha demostrado ser un foro exitoso en el cual los países comparten sus mejores prácticas y discuten desafíos migratorios de preocupación regional. Su informalidad y franqueza permite a los Países Miembros lograr cooperación concreta y efectiva sobre migración.

Luis Monzón – Regional Conference on Migration

Activities of the Regional Conference on Migration

Carried Out under its Plan of Action

The Regional Conference on Migration (RCM), also known as the Puebla Process, is an opportunity for regional dialogue and consultation on migration issues. Comprised of Central and North America countries, and the Dominican Republic, the RCM has served as a successful and enduring mechanism for fruitful dialogue, consensus and cooperation to address regional issues among countries with different migration realities. The RCM recognizes that each country has the sovereign right to control its borders and manage its migration programs, recognizing the need to respect the human rights of migrants, and sees the dialogue as an opportunity to share best practices within the region. Since its creation in 1996, the RCM has a record of tangible results and achievements. In fact, the RCM continues to demonstrate the value of addressing migration issues at the regional level.

One of the main advantages of the RCM process is that consensus is reached in an atmosphere of frankness and collegiality, referred to by long-time participants as "The Spirit of Puebla." A closed-door session for Vice-Ministers creates an atmosphere which fosters informal and trusting contacts and exchanges among Vice-Ministers. These private sessions facilitate frank senior-level dialogue on a wide range of issues.
The RCM shows that effective migration management is enhanced by partnership and cooperation between countries, as well as the support of international organizations and civil society.
The RCM benefits from the participation of organizations, such as the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America/the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC-CELADE), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migrations (IOM). IOM has played a significant role in the RCM by supporting its development, assisting in the implementation of the RCM Plan of Action. The RCM process includes frank dialogue at different levels with the Regional Network of Civil Organizations on Migration (RNCOM).
The RCM bases its discussions and actions on three fundamental ideas: the protection and respect for the human rights of migrants, the promotion of orderly and secure migration, and dialogue and cooperation among countries with participation of civil society. The RCM Plan of Action is updated each year and helps guide and coordinate activities, and is structured along three broad themes: Migration Policies and Management; Human Rights; and Migration and Development. Although the RCM decisions are non-binding, they provide a framework for continued regional cooperation.
To highlight its priorities, the rotating presidency of the RCM selects a theme to be emphasized during the plenary sessions. For the Tenth RCM (Vancouver, March 2005) Canada selected “Integration and Citizenship,” aimed at addressing the impact, needs, and contributions of migrants to society. El Salvador (San Salvador, May 2006), chose the theme “Linking Communities” for the Eleventh RCM to highlight the links migrants establish with their communities of origin and their particular contributions to culture, economy and development, and for the Twelfth RCM (New Orleans, April 2007), the United States has chosen the theme “Effective Cooperation in Combating Trafficking in Persons”. The theme serves as a Conference catalyst for member countries’ exchanges on the subject.
Some of the most relevant and significant achievements and contributions of the RCM include:

  • Guidelines for the voluntary return of irregular migrants by land and air in Mexico and Central America;

  • Information campaigns on the risks and consequences of trafficking in persons and migrant smuggling;

  • A number of projects on reintegration and shelters for victims of trafficking in persons.

  • The creation of a fund for the assistance and return of highly vulnerable migrants within the region to their communities of origin; and

  • Under its auspices, the signing in San Salvador, El Salvador, May 2006 of a “Memorandum of Understanding between the Governments of the United States of Mexico, the Republic of El Salvador, the Republic of Guatemala, the Republic of Honduras and the Republic of Nicaragua, for an orderly, prompt, and safe repatriation by land of Central American national migrants

Other recent contributions of the RCM to the ongoing analysis of issues on migration in fulfillment of its Plan of Action include:

  • A February 2006 workshop, sponsored by El Salvador and Mexico and held in San Salvador, El Salvador, entitled “Forum-Workshop on Migration and the Private Sector” that gathered member governments, international organizations, private enterprises, civil society and representatives of Salvadorians living abroad to discuss ways in which the private sector can play a role in maximizing the benefits of migration.

  • A December 2005 workshop, co-sponsored by Nicaragua and IOM, entitled “Workshop on International Standards on Travel Documents and Issuance Systems” held in Managua, Nicaragua, which familiarized member states with new technologies and promoted the adoption of international standards regarding travel documents.

  • A June 2005 workshop, co-hosted by Canada and Costa Rica, entitled “Workshop on Migrant Integration in Receiving Countries” held in San Jose, Costa Rica, which analyzed the trends, needs and best practices in regards to immigrants’ integration programs.

The RCM will hold the “Seminar on Migration Legislation” sponsored by Guatemala, UNHCR and IOM to be held in Guatemala City February 15-16, 2007, which will cover the principles of migration legislation, including refugee protection, and the current experiences in this regard by member countries.

In conclusion, the RCM has proven itself a successful forum in which states can share best practices and discuss migration challenges of regional concern. Its informality and frankness allows member states achieve concrete and effective cooperation in this regard.

1 The Legal Status and Rights of Undocumented Migrants, September 17, 2003, available at

2. In the case of migrant workers, there are certain rights that assume a fundamental importance and yet are frequently violated, such as: the prohibition of obligatory or forced labor; the prohibition and abolition of child labor; special care for women workers, and the rights corresponding to: freedom of association and to organize and join a trade union, collective negotiation, fair wages for work performed, social security, judicial and administrative guarantees, a working day of reasonable length with adequate working conditions (safety and health), rest and compensation. The safeguard of these rights for migrants has great importance based on the principle of the inalienable nature of such rights, which all workers possess, irrespective of their migratory status, and also the fundamental principle of human dignity embodied in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration, according to which “[a]ll human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

3 CCPR General Comment No. 15: The Position of Aliens Under the Covenant provides guidance on the application specifically of Article 2 of the ICCPR, stating “Aliens shall be equal before the courts and tribunals, and shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing in the determination of … rights and obligations in a suit of law…. Aliens are entitled to equal protection by the law. There shall be no discrimination between aliens and citizens in the application of these rights.” Para. 2, General Comment No. 15. Similarly, the UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights has enumerated on the rights of non-citizens under the CERD, in its General Recommendation No. 30: Discrimination Against Non-Citizens. The Recommendation calls upon States to “Ensure that legislative guarantees against racial discrimination apply to non-citizens regardless of their immigration status, and that the implementation legislation does not have a discriminatory effect on non-citizens.” Para. 7. The OHCHR further calls upon States to “Remove obstacles that prevent the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights by non-citizens, notably in the areas of education, housing, employment and health,” Para. 29, and with regard to employment more specifically, “Take measures to eliminate discrimination against non-citizens in relation to working conditions and work requirements, including employment rules and practices with discriminatory purposes or effects; Take effective measures to prevent and redress the serious problems commonly faced by non-citizen workers, in particular by non-citizen domestic workers, including debt bondage, passport retention, illegal confinement, rape and physical assault; Recognize that, while States parties may refuse to offer jobs to non-citizens without a work permit, all individuals are entitled to the enjoyment of labour and employment rights, including the freedom of assembly and association, once an employment relationship has been initialed until it is terminated.” Paras. 33-35.

4. OAS General Assembly, OBSERVATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS ON THE ANNUAL REPORT OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS (June 8, 2004), AG/RES. 2043 (XXXIV-O/04), These rights mirror those enumerated in the UN Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and their Families.

5. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations, Human Rights of Migrants, April 19 2005,

6 Specifically, we urge the Delegation from the United States to remove the following language added in its January 2007 Draft Resolution: “CONSIDERING:…the necessary efforts made by some transit and receiving countries to balance both the needs of migrants and those of the receiving or local community, including the needs of persons already residing in countries who may be vulnerable to the impacts of migration, such as low-income families and individuals, and persons living in regions, or working in economic sectors with high proportions of migrants; … CONCERNED … that immigration not be permitted to undermine opportunities for member States’ poor, young and vulnerable residents to improve their working conditions and wages; … RECOGNIZING that undocumented migrants live in the shadows of society. Many use forged documents to get jobs, and that makes it difficult for employers to verify that the workers they hire are documented. Undocumented migration puts pressure on public schools and hospitals, it strains state and local budgets, and brings crime to communities. These are real problems.” (Emphasis added).

7 More Harm than Good: Responding to States’ Misguided Efforts to Regulate Immigration, National Employment Law Project (Feb. 2007), pp. 5-8, available at

8 R. Cholewinski, Migrant Workers in International Human Rights Law: Their Protection in Countries of Employment, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997, pp. 199-200.

9 Government of the Netherlands, “The UN International Convention on the Protection of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families of 1991,” prepared for the Global Commission on International Migration, January 2005, p. 3.

10 Linda S. Bosniak, State Sovereignty, Human Rights and the New U.N. Migrant Workers Convention, 86 American Society for International Law, Proc. 623 (1992)

11 Government of the Netherlands, 2005

12 Ibid.

13 In conformity with Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, asylum seekers, in particular, should not be detained unless they pose a threat to the country of entry. Detention should be used as a last resort generally and member states should look at alternatives to the detention of migrants, including supervised release whenever possible.

14 See Report on Asylum Seekers in Expedited Removal, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, February 8, 2005; Expedited Removal Study Report Card: 2 Years Later, February 8, 2007.

15 Corte IDH. El Derecho a la Información sobre la Asistencia Consular en el Marco de las Garantías del Debido Proceso Legal. Opinión Consultiva OC-16/99 del 1 de octubre de 1999. Serie A. No. 16; y Corte IDH. Condición Jurídica y Derechos de los Migrantes Indocumentados. Opinión Consultiva OC-18/03 del 17 de septiembre de 2003. Serie A. No. 18.

16 Resolución de la Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos del 18 de agosto de 2000. Medidas provisionales solicitadas por la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos respecto de la República Dominicana. Voto Concurrente del juez A.A. Cançado Trindade, n.3.


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