Kathmandu Post


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Rights and prejudice


NOV 29 - The international conference of national human rights institutions from eight  countries that concluded with the Kathmandu Resolution 2012 failed to live up to its promises. The conference, no doubt, was particularly relevant to Nepal as a labour-exporting country; and the organiser, the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal, deserves praise for its efforts. As the recently released World Bank report shows, the contribution of remittance to the national income is 22 percent, making the country the sixth highest receiver in of remittance in proportion to the national income (after Tajikistan, Liberia, the Kyrgyz Republic, Lesotho and Moldova). Yet, the rights of migrant workers are scarcely talked about. Working conditions in Gulf countries have repeatedly been termed abysmal; and passports are even confiscated upon arrival, thereby making migrant workers completely dependent on their employers. Such are the restrictions under the “Kafala” system of sponsorship. Even the corpse of a dead worker cannot get an exit permit without the employer’s permission. The plight of women migrant workers is often worse, leading several South Asian countries to place various restrictions on women to prevent them from migrating. Of course, the ban has only served to push the workers underground. In the hands of human smugglers, their situation is often inhuman.

That is why the meeting of human rights commissioners from Bangladesh, Afghanistan, India, Sri Lanka, Qatar, Maldives, South Korea and Nepal was an important opportunity to highlight the plight of the migrant worker, especially the women. Further, it could have taken a forceful stand against the discriminatory bans as the solution to the plight of women migrant workers surely lies in strengthening the mechanism to protect their rights. Instead of acknowledging this violations of human rights, many participants at the conference instead tried to defend their respective government’s decisions. The participants took a rather paradoxical position—while they acknowledged that the freedom of movement is a basic right inscribed in the constitution of every country, they justified their countries’ discriminatory bans arguing that it was for the women’s own good.  

The ensuing document and the Plan of Action itself is a list of vague measures riddled with the jargon of the development industry. None of the items listed in the Plan of Action are time-bound and the strategy to be followed to protect the rights of migrant workers is unclear. The resolution, further, does not invoke any legal instruments that could be adopted. The conference also failed to come up with a clear outline on the coordinating mechanism to bring all the stakeholders—governments, national human rights bodies, (I)NGOs, academics, recruiting agencies and various UN agencies—together. This is a pity, because safeguarding the rights of the migrant workers will be impossible without a multi-country, multi-stakeholder mechanism. As a major labour-exporting country, Nepal is under a moral obligation to take the initiative to set up such a mechanism. To begin the journey to protect, however, Nepal should first ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, and make it a foreign policy priority to encourage other countries to follow suit.


Posted on: 2012-11-30 08:48

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