International legal instruments

Three types of legal instruments set rules aimed at protecting the rights of migrants, namely international human rights law, international labour standards set by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and conventions, such as the United Nations International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICRMW). Table 1 shows the main international instruments on migration and their status in terms of being signed, ratified and acceded to by countries in South and South-West Asia.

Ratification of various legal instruments

To date, eight out of the forty-five State parties that have ratified the ICRMW are in Asia and the Pacific, with three of them located in South and South-West Asia. The eight countries are Azerbaijan (in 1999), TImor Leste (in 2004), the Philippines (in 1995), Kyrgyzstan (in 2003), Tajikistan (in 2002), Turkey (2004), Sri Lanka (in 1996), and the latest addition Bangladesh (24 August 2011; after having signed the Convention in 1998), with Cambodia and Indonesia (both in 2004) and Palau (in 2011) having only signed the Convention.

The first two ratifications by Asia-Pacific countries were among the 12 that took place in the 1990s and occurred before the global ratification campaign was launched. Despite its overall population size and migration volume, Asia and the Pacific is surprisingly underrepresented among States parties to the Convention. Yet, one phenomenon consistent with the rest of the world is that so far no major migrant host country in Asia and the Pacific has ratified the Convention. The obstacles to ratification are complex and their assessment needs to be approached from a holistic framework, whereby the protection of migrant labourers through international human rights law is seen in relation to politics and practices at the national level (intra-State) as well as at transnational or regional level (inter-State).

Ratification of non-migrant worker specific instruments, such as the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) must also be noted because their treaty bodies have begun to pay greater attention to these Conventions’ application to the plight of migrants (ICMC and December 18 2007). During a visit to Bahrain, Oman and Qatar in October-November 2006, the Special Rapporteur on Trafficking of Persons especially Women and Children raised concern that many domestic workers were victims of trafficking and that access to justice for migrant workers, including domestic migrant workers, with complaints of abuse and maltreatment remained inadequate. On 20 April 2007, the GCC countries were reported to have agreed to look into recommendations of international organizations to improve the situation with regard to migrant workers (Amnesty International 2007).13

Between 2000 and 2003, international instruments on smuggling and trafficking, namely the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children and the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Air and Sea were signed by India and Sri Lanka and ratified by Turkey. In addition, Afghanistan acceded to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. In the same period, Turkey ratified the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and acceded to the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.

No countries in the subregion have signed, ratified, or acceded to the ILO Convention Concerning Migration for Employment (rev 1949; Nº. 97) or the ILO Convention Concerning Migrations in Abusive Conditions and the Promotion of Equality of Opportunity and Treatment of Migrant Workers (Supplementary Provisions; Nº. 143).


13 The results of this were unknown at the time this report was published.