Home >

About the Campaign



International migration has become one of the fundamental features of a globalising world, one of the major opportunities for development and a challenge for governance and social cohesion. Today, some 200 million people live outside their countries of birth or nationality. That would be the fifth most populous country in the world if all of the people were together in the territory of one State. Indeed, migration has an impact on nearly all countries around the world, whether origin, transit or destination countries. In fact, many countries are all three of these.

Migrants are first and foremost human beings, unequivocally the holders of universal human rights, whose rights, dignity and security require special protection. Indeed, because they are outside the legal protection of their countries of nationality, international migrants can be particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Legal and other forms of protection to ensure respect for human rights and decent work for migrants are not adequately established in many destination countries. Many governments simply do not have adequate legislation, policies and structures in place to manage regular migration, reduce irregular migration, ensure decent work for migrant workers, and reinforce social cohesion in today’s context of increasing cross-border mobility. Migrants are too often seen as a source of cheap, docile and flexible labour, and are constrained to “3-D” work or working conditions: dirty, dangerous and degrading, that nationals are unwilling to accept.

As a result, the basic human rights of migrants are too easily violated or neglected.

And yet, migration has long contributed to development and economic and social well-being in both destination and origin countries. In this age of globalisation, inevitable economic, technological and demographic trends have combined to make labour mobility an essential component of development and prosperity in all regions of the world.

Economic data and research increasingly reinforce the notion that the protection of human and labour rights of all migrants enhances the development and productivity benefits of migration. Accordingly, denial of rights and abuse carry significant costs not only to migrants and their home countries, but also to host or employment countries. Moreover, the violation of the rights of migrants in any society contributes to social disintegration and declining respect for the rule of law. Given the tensions between economic pressures to exploit migrants and the need to protect them, a strong role is required of governments to regulate migration and reconcile conflicting interests. Governing migration thus requires the formulation and implementation of a deliberate, comprehensive and carefully crafted policy on migration.

Migration policies and practices can only be viable and effective when they are based on a firm foundation of legal norms, and thus operate under the rule of law. International standards like the UN International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families and ILO Conventions Nos. 97 and 143 (see comparative ratification table) set parameters both for the protection of migrant workers and their families as well as for the preservation of States’ interests. They provide a framework for national legislation, policy and practice as well as for cooperation within States and between States at the different ends of the migration process.


Why are these Conventions significant?


The importance of these international instruments is highlighted by seven points:

1) The three Conventions provide a comprehensive rights-based definition and legal basis for national policy and practice regarding international migrant workers and their family members.

2) They recognise that migrant workers and their family members, being non-nationals living in states of employment or in transit, may be inadequately protected; their rights may not be addressed by the national legislation of host states or by their own countries of origin. Therefore, they provide common minimum norms for national legislation.

3) These Conventions thus serve as tools to encourage States to establish or improve national legislation in harmony with international standards.

4) These Conventions go well beyond providing a human rights framework. Numerous provisions in each of them add up to a comprehensive agenda for national policies covering major aspects of labour migration.

5) The three Conventions also define a clear agenda for consultation and cooperation among States on labour migration policy formulation, exchange of information, providing information to migrants, orderly return and reintegration, etc.

6) These Conventions provide explicit measures to prevent and eliminate the exploitation of migrant workers and members of their families, including by avoiding their unauthorised or clandestine movements and irregular or undocumented situations.

7) These Conventions reflect the evolution of legal standards over the last half century that progressively extended recognition of certain basic rights to all migrant workers; further rights have been recognised specifically for regular migrant workers and members of their families, notably equality of treatment with nationals of states of employment in a number of areas. The Conventions reflect the anticipation by their drafters that the increasing international mobility of workers requires explicit legal regulation to ensure the protection of workers and their families not protected as citizens in their countries of employment, and that international cooperation and accountability among States need to be encouraged and focused by a common normative framework. 

The entry into force of the ICRMW in 2003 and its growing number of ratifications have made it an authoritative standard. In practice, the Convention is an instrument of reference for States parties and non-ratifying countries.


Why is a global campaign for ratification necessary?

The decision of the UN to draft and adopt this Convention was a strong statement of international consensus concerning the need for greater protection of the rights of migrants. Now, that decision should be reaffirmed through an increased number of ratifications and the Convention implemented through national legislation.

Governments need to be convinced that ratification of the Convention is necessary. This will be achieved only by building awareness about the Convention with government officials, diplomats, politicians, NGOs and the public-at-large, at national and international levels.

The number of ratifications of the ICRMW is growing steadily but continues to be relatively low compared to the other core UN human rights conventions. Different studies have been undertaken to assess the reasons for this slow pace of progress, which differ from one region to the other and often seem to vary depending on whether the State concerned is mainly a country of origin, transit or employment for migrant workers.

Importantly, whereas many of the first states to ratify the Convention were principally migrant countries of origin, it is no longer true that the Convention has only been ratified by the so-called “sending” countries. In fact, more recent ratifications, coupled with significant changes in migratory patterns, have resulted in States Parties to the Convention no longer consisting solely of countries of origin but of an increasingly important number of countries of transit and/or destination as well, such as Argentina, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Senegal and Turkey.

How is the global campaign organized and carried out?

Realising the protection of the human rights of migrants and the international cooperation on migration called for by the Convention require involvement from many actors, both in government and in society. The inter-organisational Steering Committee on the International Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers reflects broad cooperation among UN and international agencies and civil society organisations. The member organisations of the Steering Committee and the broad constituencies that they represent are valuable resources for expertise, practical action and public support in implementation of the Convention. These organisations welcome opportunities to dialogue and cooperate with government officials and parliamentarians on ensuring the effective protection of rights of all migrants and productive international cooperation on regulating migration.

Obtaining ratification of the ICRMW has been and will continue to be a challenge of awareness-raising, advocacy and dialogue. Ultimately, ratification and implementation of this Convention require that governments assume commitments and, in most countries, that national legislatures take formal action.

Civil society organisations, faith-based agencies, trade unions and migrant groups have played critical roles in communicating and working with government officials, parliamentarians and communications media in a number of the countries that consequently ratified this Convention. In some countries, they mobilised public opinion through their own activities and networks to support action by government and parliaments to ratify.

International organisations, in particular ILO, IOM, OHCHR and UNESCO, can assist by providing technical advice and assistance to governments and legislative bodies in consideration of ratification. This may include review of legal and legislative implications of incorporating the Convention standards in national law, review of draft legislation to do so, provision of guidance and sharing ‘good practice’ models on administrative mechanisms and institutions for implementing and monitoring Convention standards. Normally, such advice and assistance is formally requested by interested governments.

What to do?


For more information on the campaign, please contact:

Jakob Schneider

Secretary of the UN Committee on Migrant Workers


E-mail: cmw@ohchr.org

Website: www.ohchr.org


Steering Committee

December 18


Global Migration Policy Associates
Human Rights Watch
International Catholic Migration Commission
International Labour Office
International Organization for Migration

International Trade Union Confederation
Migrants Forum in Asia
Migrants Rights International
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Public Services International

World Council of Churches

OBSERVER: Amnesty International