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NHRIs agree to strengthen cooperation for migrant workers

Graphic: Migrant worker on a building site

A conference in Nepal has discussed the urgent need for NHRIs to bolster access to justice for migrant workers who have been exploited and abused.

Improving access to justice for migrant workers who have been abused, exploited or enslaved is an urgent priority for national human rights institutions in the Asia Pacific region.

The issue was a key topic of discussion at an international conference organised by the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal.

Representatives from NHRIs, government ministries, civil society organisations, UN agencies, diplomatic missions and universities shared a wide range of perspectives during the three-day gathering, held in Kathmandu from 12-14 November 2019.

Speakers highlighted the many different human rights violations people can face when they cross borders to seek work, including: labour exploitation; substandard health and safety conditions; having their wages withheld; and having their passport and documentation confiscated.

Some migrant workers, especially the most vulnerable, can be held in conditions amounting to forced servitude or slavery.

There was also a focus on the serious violations that women can experience during the migration journey and in their country of destination, including the heightened risk of trafficking, physical and sexual abuse, and being forced to work in the 'entertainment' sector.

Graphic: Chairperson of Malaysia's NHRI addresses the conference

The 21-point Kathmandu Declaration, adopted at the conclusion of the conference, identified areas where NHRIs could strengthen support for migrant workers in the Asia Pacific region.

Under the Kathmandu Declaration, NHRIs commit to:

  • Strengthen cross-border oversight and monitoring of the human rights situation of migrant workers, irrespective of their migration status
  • Empower migrant workers with comprehensive information and orientation packages at all stages of the migration journey
  • Provide migrant workers, including those with irregular status, with access to remedies, such as complaint handling, investigations and legal counselling
  • Undertake advocacy for policy and regulatory reforms, as well as their effective enforcement
  • Promote ratification of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

The Kathmandu Declaration also calls on countries of origin, transit and destination to establish effective grievance mechanisms, both at the State and non-State levels, to provide migrant workers with effective access to justice and remedies.

The Declaration is supported by a 10 Point Plan of Action, which encourages NHRIs to sign cooperative agreements at the bilateral and regional levels.

A total of 28 countries were represented at the conference, including Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Bangladesh, India, Philippines, Thailand, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain, among others.

More information on the International Conference on the Protection of Rights of the Migrant Workers is available online.

The Chairpersons of the NHRIs of Nepal and Malaysia shake hands

During the conference, the NHRIs of Malaysia and Nepal signed a joint agreement to strengthen protections for migrant workers, especially in relation to cross-border human trafficking, migrant smuggling and forced labour.

The NHRIs will also develop education resources for employers, migrant workers, recruitment agencies and others in their respective countries.

Focal point officers from both NHRIs will meet every six months to review progress.

Image credits

  1. Migrant worker on a building site - Photo by Guilherme Cunha on Unsplash
  2. Chairperson of Malaysia's NHRI addresses the conference - SUHAKAM
  3. The Chairpersons of the NHRIs of Nepal and Malaysia shake hands - SUHAKAM