The National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights provides this backgrounder on Special Rapporteurs and update on the ongoing U.S. visit of the SR on the Human Rights of Migrants, to encourage participation and provide documentation and recommendations to the SR on the human rights of migrants.
United Nations Special Rapporteur (S.R.) on
The Human Rights of Migrants
U.S. Visit 2007
Background & FAQ
What are U.N. Special Rapporteurs?
Special Rapporteurs (SRs) are independent experts appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council (formerly the U.N. Commission on Human Rights) with the mandate to monitor, advise and publicly report on human rights situations in specific countries (country mandates) and on human rights violations worldwide (thematic mandates). The thematic mandates cover a wide range of issues relating to civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, including the human rights of migrants, violence against women, the rights of internally displaced persons, freedom of religion and arbitrary detention, among many others.
What do Special Rapporteurs do?
The functions of SRs include responding to individual complaints, conducting studies, providing advice on technical cooperation and undertaking country visits to assess specific human rights situations. Most SRs also receive information on specific allegations of human rights violations and send urgent appeals or letters of allegation to governments asking for clarification and concrete measures to end rights violations.
In what sense are Special Rapporteurs 'independent'? What is their relationship to the United Nations?
While the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) at the United Nations provides the SRs with the personnel and logistical assistance necessary for them to carry out their mandates, SRs nonetheless serve in their personal capacity, and do not receive salaries or any other financial retribution for their work. The SRs are expected to fulfill tasks that are outlined in specific UN resolutions, but their independent status is crucial for them to be able to fulfill their functions in all impartiality. SRs are prominent human rights experts from various walks of life. They include academics, lawyers, economists, and former and current members of NGOs and come from all regions of the world.
What can be achieved through country visits by Special Rapporteurs?
Amongst their activities, SRs carry out country visits at their request and at the invitation of the country concerned. Country visits are considered a particularly important means by which to highlight human rights violations in a particular country and in placing pressure on the government to remedy the situation. They enable the SR to familiarize him or herself with all aspects of the situation on the ground, and are an excellent way of analyzing and understanding a situation in the light of every possible circumstance. A country visit usually lasts about 2-3 weeks, during which SRs interact with both governmental and non-governmental actors, including human rights and civil liberties organizations, victims of human rights violations, affected communities, the concerned government officials and agencies at both the national and local level. These visits usually require freedom of inquiry, including access to relevant facilities, such as prisons and detention centers. The SRs then submit a report of their visit to the Human Rights Council, presenting their findings, conclusions and recommendations.
What is the specific mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants?
The mandate of the SR on the Human Rights of Migrants was created in 1999 by the Commission on Human Rights (replaced last year by the Human Rights Council) to "examine ways and means to overcome the obstacles existing to the full and effective protection of the human rights of migrants, including obstacles and difficulties for the return of migrants who are undocumented or in an irregular situation." The SR's broad mandate includes the human rights of both documented and undocumented migrants, including issues of 'irregular migration,' such as smuggling, trafficking, and asylum seekers.
What are the main functions of the SR on the Human Rights of Migrants?
The main functions of the SR on the Human Rights of Migrants include requesting and receiving information from all relevant sources, including migrants, regarding violations of the human rights of migrants and their families; formulating recommendations to prevent and remedy such violations; promoting the application of international human rights norms and standards; and recommending actions and measures at the national, regional and international levels. The SR must also take into account a gender perspective when analyzing human rights violations of migrants, including the occurrence of double discrimination and violence against migrant women.
What sort of impact can such a visit have on the situation of migrants in the United States?
The visit of the SR is a good opportunity for communities and community organizations to raise national awareness and to shine international spotlight on the human rights violations of migrants in the U.S. The SR visit to the U.S. is also an opportunity to offer good solutions, share good human rights practices and policies which would significantly improve the condition of migrants. While the SR report and recommendations on his visit to the U.S. are not legally binding, they still carry moral authority and obligation in terms of the U.S. commitment to universal human rights standards, very often asserted by the U.S. in its foreign relations with other nations. In the conclusions and recommendations provided by the SR, pressure may be applied on the U.S. government to rectify the situation and meet universally recognized standards of fairness, due process and minimum respect to the human rights of migrants.
Who is the current SR on the Human Rights of Migrants?
Since 2005, the SR on the Human Rights of Migrants has been Mr. Jorge Bustamante, a Mexican national. Mr. Bustamante is a Professor of sociology teaching international migration and human rights at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana and was the Chairman/Rapporteur for the group of experts on the UN world study on International Migration and Human Rights from 1996 to 1999. Mr. Bustamante replaced Gabriela Rodríguez Pizarro of Costa Rica, who had held the mandate since 1999. His biography can be found at:
U.S. Visit Schedule (as of April 27th, 2007)
Monday, 30 April
9:00am Tour of migrant encampments
10:30am Meetings with community groups, NGOs etc. (AFSC, ACLU offices)
5:30pm Community Forum
Tuesday, May 1
8:00am US Customs and border protection: San Diego Sector headquarters (8.00 am - 12.00 pm)
PM Travel from San Diego to Los Angeles
Wednesday, May 2
AM Meetings with community groups, NGOs etc.
PM Observe May Day marches and rallies
Thursday, May 3