Ratification of the UN Migrants Rights Convention is a must
Experts on migration issues and international human rights law at a seminar urged the government of Bangladesh to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, 1990 before the International Migrants Day to be observed on the upcoming December 18. They, however, said that if the government has any confusion or dilemma with any specific provisions, they could ratify the convention with reservations in a bid to safeguard the rights of Bangladeshi migrant workers. Speakers termed the Convention as the most extended and comprehensive human rights instrument to protect the rights of migrants and member of their families, they said adding the Convention seeks to play a role in preventing and eliminating all forms of exploitation, discrimination, abuse and harassment of migrant workers in countries of origin, transit and destination.
The Convention as a human rights instrument has drawn rights substantially from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), 1948, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), 1966, and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), 1966 among others, they noted.
Migrants' rights NGO, WARBE Development Foundation in collaboration with Bangladeshi Mohila Ovibashi Sramik Association (BOMSA), Manusher Jonno Foundation and Dan Church Aid of Denmark organized the seminar at the National Press Club on October 11 to advocate for the ratification of the Convention.
Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission Professor Dr. Mizanur Rahman was the Chief Guest while the then Member and now the Acting Chairman of the Law Commission Professor Dr. M. Shah Alam was the special guest. Among others, Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU) Executive Director Professor C.R. Abrar, Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment (EWOE) Secretary Dr. Zafar Ahmed Khan, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour and Employment Ministry Chairman Israfil Alam M. P., Executive Director of Manusher Jonno Faoundation Shahin Anam, Dan Church Aid's Country Director Hasina Inam, BOMSA Director Sumaiya Islam, BRAC Director of Training Division on Gender Justice and Diversity and Advocacy Sheepa Hafiza, Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA) representative Abdul Aleem among others addressed the seminar.
Dr. Uttam Kumar Das presented the key note paper while WARBE Chairman Syed Saiful Haque chaired the seminar entitled “Migrants Rights in UN Convention: Importance of Ratification in Bangladesh Context.”
Dr. Das argued for immediate ratification of the Convention by Bangladesh. He justified that there would be no additional obligations for Bangladesh as a ratifying State compare to whatever already obligatory with regard to protecting the rights of the migrant workers as par Constitutional provisions and that of the obligations from other international instruments which are already ratified by Bangladesh. The Constitution of Bangladesh guarantees for certain rights of the migrants as citizens, he observed.
National Human Rights Commission Chairman Professor Dr. Mizanur Rahman, in his speech sought for special importance from the concerned ministry of the government to promote and protect the rights of the migrant workers who are the main players of country's economy even in the downturn of global recession. Echoing the allegations raised by other speakers, Professor Rahman blasted the role of Bangladeshi missions in abroad for disregarding the urge of overseas workers in time of their dangers and vulnerability adding the poor role of the press ministers in foreign capitals, saying they did not play their due role to uphold the image of the country.
RMMRU Executive Director Professor Dr. C. R. Abrar alleged the government since it failed to place reasonable grounds not to ratify the Convention. Bangladesh, though a signatory to the Convention since 1998, is yet to ratify the instrument showing lame excuses. He urged the government not to take any more time in ratifying the convention. Dr. Abrar also said that the experiences of Sri Lanka and the Philippines show that ratification will not impinge on Bangladesh's relationships and negotiations with labour receiving countries.
Professor Dr. M. Shah Alam, said there is no reason to disregard the Convention, however, he assured to further review the instrument from the Law Commission if asked for that by the government. He observed that so no major inconsistency is found among the provisions of the Convention and the existing national legal framework it must be ratified. He applauded the government for ratifying the Statute of the International Criminal Court in June 2010 and its positive aftermath. He also noted that the ratification of the Convention would help to enhance the country's image, sending a message to the outside world that Bangladesh is not only a major migrant exporting country but a caring nation as well.
EWOE Secretary Dr. Zafar Ahmed Khan admitted that no governments has given due importance to the manpower sector though it is one of the most significant sectors of country's economy. More than 70 lakh Bangladeshi-origin migrant workers are working around the world. He went on saying the government should emphasise on the sector as more than 1.20 crore people- both documented and undocumented have been sending remittances every year, which amounted to Tk 75,000 crore in 2009. He praised the recent initiatives of the government referring to the inclusion of the manpower sector into the 6th Five Year Plan which will expedite the sector significantly.
Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour and Employment Ministry Chairman Israfil Alam M.P. alleged that the Foreign Ministry as well as civil and military bureaurocrats were the main barriers to ratify the UN Migrant Rights Convention which is to safeguarding our valued migrant workers rights at home and abroad Mr. Alam alleged that the Bangladeshi missions in the labour recipient countries did not work properly, rather they were busy with the family and their own interests.
It may be mentioned that the Convention was adopted on 18 December 1990 came into force on 1 July 2003 (with 20 required ratifying states as per the Convention). As of 10 October 2010, the number of signatories (including Bangladesh) to the instrument stood at 31 while number of ratifying State parties was 43. Bangladesh signed it in 1998, with the ratification pending for a long time despite several attemps for ratification. However, the Law Commission in 1997 has recommended for its ratification.
The writer is a lecturer of the department of law and justice at Southeast University, Dhaka.