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Journal article

Protection of Migrants’ Human Rights: Principles and Practice




Heikki S. Mattila


In principle, migrants enjoy the protection of international law. Key human
rights instruments oblige the States Parties to extend their protection to all
human beings. Such important treaties as the International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights have been ratified by more than 140 states, but
many political, social or economic obstacles seem to stand in the way of
offering those rights to migrants.
In an attempt to bridge this protection gap, the more specifically targeted
International Convention on the Protection of All Migrant Workers and
Members of their Families was created and adopted by the United Nations
in 1990. This treaty is not yet in force, but the number of States Parties is
increasing towards the required 20.
In the past few years the human rights machinery of the United Nations has
increased its attention towards migrants’ human rights, appointing in 1999
the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants. Governments, as
the acceding parties to international human rights instruments, remain the
principal actors as guardians of the human rights of all individuals residing
in their territories.
Receiving countries are in a key position in the protection of the migrants
that they host. However, active defence of migrants’ rights is politically
difficult in many countries where anti-immigrant factions are influential.
Trafficking in migrants is one example of the complexity faced by states in
formulating their migration policies. On the one hand, trafficking has madeprotection. On the other, trafficking, with its easily acceptable human rights
concerns, is often separated from the more migration-related human smuggling.
The latter is a more contentious issue, related also to unofficial interests in
utilizing cheap undocumented immigrant labour.
governments increasingly act together and combine both enforcement and

Journal title

International Migration





Page numbers



Blackwell Publishers Ltd.

Place published

Oxford & Malden

File Attachments


Economic sectors

Agriculture and horticulture workers, Occupations in services - Domestic work, Sales and service occupations - general, Trades, transport and equipment operators and related occupations - general, Natural resources, agriculture and related production occupations - general, Labourers in food, beverage and associated products processing, Dancers, and Other

Content types

Policy analysis

Target groups

Policymakers, Researchers, Unions, and NGOs/community groups/solidarity networks

Regulation domains

Right to change employer, Right to choose place of residence, Right to unionize, Labour standards, Health and safety at work, Newcomers integration programs, Health care & social services, Access to permanent status, Family reunification, Legal aid, Employment insurance, Recrutement / placement agencies, and Housing standards

Geographical focuses

International Organizations

Spheres of activity