On the ASEAN consensus on the protection and promotion of rights of migrant workers

image from iPleaders Blog

Global alliance of overseas Filipinos Migrante International today said that while the Duterte government hails the pending signing of the ASEAN consensus on the protection and promotion of the rights of migrant workers as the “centerpiece” of the Philippine chairmanship, migrant workers from the Philippines and the ASEAN are yet to assess if the final document adequately protects migrant workers’ rights or provides redress mechanisms, especially for those in distress.

In 2007, the ASEAN made a leap to address the issues of migrant workers by adopting the ASEAN Declaration of the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers. However, the drafting of the instrument had come to an impasse since 2009 after members of the committee, specifically migrant-sending countries, failed to agree with provisions proposed by committee members and migrant-sending countries like the Philippines and Indonesia. The dispute involves whether the instrument will be legally-binding, will protect undocumented or irregular migrant workers, will cover migrants’ family members and will cover migrant workers who are not from ASEAN member states.

If the consensus still does not address these core issues, then President Duterte just signed a “landmark” spoiler for migrants rights that, ironically, the Philippines has been contesting for 10 years now.

There is also a lack of clarity, consultative process and scarcity in information-sharing with relevant stakeholders, including migrant workers themselves. Proposed changes to the draft instrument, to exclude families, undocumented migrant workers and to remove legally-binding clause of the draft, would have a significantly negative impact on migrant workers. If Duterte brokered the signing of such a consensus, then he cannot boast of having signed a “centerpiece” agreement for ASEAN migrant workers.

Why legally-binding?

With the lack of comprehensive legislative protection of migrant workers in destination countries where most violations happen, it is important in the continuing battle for protection of migrant workers that the consensus on the protection and promotion of the rights of migrant workers is binding. If the implementation is optional for member states, migrant workers will not be able to maximize its benefits wherever they may work or migrate, however strong the principles and provisions may be.

The concept of ‘non-interference’ has been effectively instituted in ASEAN through the ASEAN Charter and had been used consistently as a method to avoid state human rights obligations in deference to the need to ‘respect state sovereignty’. The emphasis on ‘regional particularities’, principles of ‘sovereignty’ and ‘non-interference’ allowed the perpetuation of human rights violations in deference to the goals of regional and inter-governmental collaboration and economic development. The consensus on the protection and promotion of the rights of migrant workers should be legally-binding and obligate ASEAN member states to fully commit to the protection and promotion the rights of all migrant workers.

There is also a need for urgent review of existing legislation and national laws with the aim to harmonize such with a legally-binding consensus. Likewise, existing legislation and national laws that would contradict or be inconsistent with the legally-binding consensus should be repealed. These efforts should also include destination countries outside of the ASEAN if the source countries of migrant workers are in ASEAN in order to better ensure the protection and promotion of the rights of migrant workers.

Why include undocumented migrant workers?

The 2007 draft instrument related only to documented migrant workers so the framework does not correspond with the reality of migration, particularly in the Mekong region where the majority of migrant workers are living and working abroad with undocumented status.

 It is also important to note that undocumented migrant workers are not necessarily only those who entered a destination country illegally. They may include those who lose status when their work permits were not renewed, they leave their employer even if due to abusive and exploitative conditions, and, those whose employers cancelled their work permits.

Most countries in ASEAN and Asia Pacific do not have specific legislations pertaining to the protection of undocumented migrant workers and mostly deny the growing magnitude of this problem. The solution by some states for undocumented persons is typically deportation. Some corrupt immigration officers may also trade detainees to traffickers to be sent to work on fishing boats and other work. Migrant workers who are arrested are charged for working without appropriate permits and violating visa requirements or being involved in prostitution. There are no screening processes for identifying trafficked victims from undocumented migrant workers.

However, sadly, embassies and consulate offices that should serve as sanctuaries and support mechanisms for undocumented workers have been found lacking. In the case of the Philippine government, for instance, the proposal of establishing a diplomatic outpost in Sabah has been denied, mainly because it would risk the country’s diplomatic ties with migrant-receiving Malaysia.

Why include families of migrant workers?

There are often social costs to the families of migrant workers, including family dislocation with children growing up without a parent or parents. When migrant workers leave their children behind, the children are more likely to suffer academically, have emotional problems, suffer from substance abuse, be forced into the labor force at an early age, and suffer physical or sexual abuse.

Women typically bear the major responsibility for care of the family. Therefore, measures to fulfill women migrant workers’ rights must improve the treatment of women migrant workers as workers, and must minimize the hurdles women migrant workers face in maintaining their family and cultural obligations.

Furthermore, the UN Convention on Migrant Workers recognizes family as the fundamental group unit of society. As such, family unification is a major goal of the Convention. States Parties are directed to “take appropriate measures to ensure the protection of the unity of the families of migrant workers.” This provision benefits not just women who are “left behind” by their migrant worker husbands, but it benefits migrant workers who wish for their families and children to join them. Where children are able to accompany the parent or parents when they migrate for work, there are also protections needed in host countries, such as ensuring that children of migrant workers have access to social security, health care, education and other basic social services.

Family reunification/reintegration in countries of destination is the second-best option as forced migration continues to force families apart. The best option is still for sending countries to come up with alternatives to migration, such as job generation, land reform and the provision of sufficient basic social services.


There is also a need for the creation of an ASEAN-level body, structure, commission, or possibly even a tribunal, to address migrant-related violations and concerns. This formation may be a consultative body which would specifically focus on migrant workers, with the powers to investigate and recommend appropriate actions to member states; or in the form of an ASEAN-level tribunal or court dedicated solely, with judicial functions, to facilitate trials of and impose sanctions on violators; or reprimand, if need be, governments that would violate the consensus.

Because there is a lack of support mechanisms in both sending and receiving countries, the tendency is always to deport or repatriate victims of abuse and exploitation resulting in the denial of justice and non-persecution of perpetrators. This attitude of “exporting the problem” limits and hinders migrant workers’, for instance victims of rape and/or sexual harassment, access to justice.

Migrante International believes that national, regional and international migration policy must take place within a human rights framework that protects, promotes and fulfills the rights of migrant workers. Human rights standards in general, as well as those concerning migrants, have been codified into international human rights law, through treaties and conventions, as well as incorporated into domestic law. These have been the foundation of many state efforts in the ASEAN region to realize the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of migrants. While there has been progress in the past decades, the achievements have been minimal and, considering the present condition of migrant workers, insufficient.

Also, while there have been efforts within ASEAN member states to defend rights of migrant workers, they have not necessarily led to greater protection and instead even gone against migrants’ rights. For instance, some have resulted in the criminalization of victims, such as of undocumented/irregular workers and trafficked migrant workers. Crackdowns on work places, tightening up on movement, and border controls may have effectively restricted the right of nationals to migrate. The creation of the impression that there are sufficient mechanisms and legal responses to migrants in crisis may have also encouraged migration, resulting in the increasing number of distressed migrant workers unaided upon the onset of crises because of a lack of national and regional level mechanisms of protection.

Migrante International reiterates that the most basic right of migrant workers is to be able to have decent, regular work and livelihood at home without having to seek these in other countries under likely very difficult conditions. This draws attention to how recommendations need to first of all be grounded in a solid understanding of the root causes of forced migration which create the basic conditions for rights violations. Addressing these root causes and implementing policies that prevent forced migration are vital and should proceed astride more immediate efforts to advance migrant workers’ rights.

Another key point is the recognition of the right of migrant workers to organize among themselves. The united action of migrant workers, their families and advocates, to provide venues for redress when there are none is a significant step in the promotion and protection of the rights of migrant workers in the ASEAN. ###


Whatever happened to a “people-centered” ASEAN? Filipino migrants slam ASEAN member states in Rohingya crisis

photo from Agence France-Presse

photo from Agence France-Presse

Global alliance of overseas Filipinos Migrante International condemns in strongest terms all ASEAN member states for refusing to come up with a humane and compassionate resolution to the ongoing Rohingya crisis.

As of this posting, some thousands of trafficked Rohingya migrants remain stranded at sea, among them women and children, as Malaysia and Indonesia continue to refuse them entry to their borders. As the whole world looks on, Rohingya migrants are left to die, without proper food, shelter and protection.

Migrante International also expresses grave concern over news reports of migrant detention camps and mass graves uncovered along the Thailand-Malaysia border. Thailand’s cruel and militarist crackdowns on trafficked victims and undocumented migrants continue to plague the Rohingya peoples and other trafficked victims.

Migrante International also strongly criticizes the Myanmar government for discriminating against the Rohingyas, treating them inhumanely and criminalizing them as illegal migrants.

Shame on ASEAN. Whatever happened to a “people-centered” ASEAN region? In the spirit of a genuine “People-Centered ASEAN Community 2015”, Migrante International urgently and fervently calls on all ASEAN member states to save the Rohingya peoples.

The Rohingya crisis is not just an issue of border security or trafficking. It has turned into a humanitarian crisis that the ASEAN should resolve immediately. It has become a concern of all freedom-loving ASEAN peoples and the responsibility of all ASEAN member states.

ASEAN Leaders have declared optimism with the 2009-2015 Road Map of the ASEAN Community Blueprints as the basis of the overall ASEAN Community 2015. But how can we fathom to achieve a genuine “People-Centered ASEAN Community 2015” when we cannot, as one region, unite as a peoples on one fundamental cause to promote, protect and respect human rights?

How can we hope to revive the region from the iniquities of injustice, corruption, human rights abuses and poverty when the very peoples and citizens we profess to serve and protect are not given strong gestures of support by ASEAN member states? Is this how we plan to start and pre-empt the ASEAN Community 2015?

Migrante International calls on ASEAN member states to start building an ASEAN Community 2015 on a just, merciful and compassionate foundation. We steadfastly believe that a genuine “People-Centered ASEAN Community 2015” must take place within a human rights framework that protects, promotes and fulfils the rights of its peoples. These should be the basis on which the ASEAN states build the ASEAN Community 2015.

Migrante International calls on all its members and networks around the world to campaign for a humane and compassionate resolution to the Rohingya crisis. ###


Open Letter to ASEAN Heads of State in the Event of the ASEAN People’s Forum 2015 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

save mj tarp(1)April 22, 2015

(Note: This Open Letter/Appeal is currently being circulated by Filipino delegates among participants of the ongoing ASEAN People’s Forum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and to be submitted with signatories to all ASEAN Heads of State. – Migrante International Media Desk)

We are civil society organizations, people’s organizations, grassroots mass organizations, human rights defenders and women and migrants’ rights advocates from all ASEAN nations. We appeal to our respective Heads of States and peoples to join the international clamour to Save the Life of Filipina Mary Jane Veloso.

Mary Jane Veloso is a 30-year-old Filipina mother-of-two sentenced to death by the Indonesian Supreme Court for alleged drug trafficking.

Veloso was a domestic worker in Dubai from 2009 to 2010. She left Dubai and came back to the Philippines after her employer attempted to rape her. On April 22, 2010, she was illegally recruited to work as a domestic worker in Malaysia. When she arrived in Malaysia, she was told that her supposed job was no longer available but she could still find work in the country. After a few days, her recruiter sent her to Indonesia allegedly for a seven-day holiday, after which she would go back to Malaysia for employment. It was there that she found out that she was tricked into carrying luggage containing 2.6 kilos of heroin.

On October 11, 2010, the District Court of Justice of Sleman in Yogjakarta, Indonesia sentenced Veloso with the death penalty. Veloso’s case was submitted for judicial review but her appeal was rejected by the Indonesian Supreme Court last March 25, 2014.

The Indonesian government plans to execute 10 convicted foreign drug traffickers, including Veloso, all at once. Their cases have drawn international flak for Indonesian Pres. Joko Widodo after he rejected pleas by the United Nations and various governments for their clemency. The Indonesian government had earlier announced that all executions are scheduled to commence after the end of the 60th Bandung Conference on April 24, 2015.

In the spirit of a genuine “People-Centered ASEAN Community 2015”, we urgently and fervently appeal to our Heads of State to join the ASEAN community in the appeal to spare her life.

ASEAN Leaders have declared optimism with the 2009-2015 Road Map of the ASEAN Community Blueprints as the basis of the overall ASEAN Community 2015. But how can we fathom to achieve a genuine “People-Centered ASEAN Community 2015” when we cannot, as one region, unite as a peoples on one fundamental cause to save an innocent citizen’s life?

How can we hope to revive the region from the iniquities of injustice, corruption, human rights abuses and poverty when the very peoples and citizens we profess to serve and protect, citizens like Veloso, are not given strong gestures of support by our very Heads of State?

Is this how we plan to start and pre-empt the ASEAN Community 2015? We hope not.

Veloso, like many ASEAN women, was driven to labour migration by extreme poverty, landlessness and enormous pressure as the sole caretaker of her children. Like many ASEAN women, she sought to employ all means to cater to the education, healthcare, food and other needs of her loved ones. Like many ASEAN women, she hails from a peasant family significantly employed in agriculture, which is the main base of the Philippines’ economy.

For most countries in the ASEAN region, particularly for the Philippines and Indonesia, labour migration is considered a solution to unemployment, landlessness and poverty. This aggravates regional economic disparities and the accommodation of states to the globalization dictate of exporting cheap, flexible and deregulated labour as a main tool to sustain economies. Veloso was a victim of this dictate.

Further, like many ASEAN women, Veloso was a victim of the unresolved rampant problem of trafficking in the region. Human trafficking of women in poorer countries such as Indonesia, Philippines, Cambodia and in richer countries as Thailand migrate to work through legal and illegal means but are later coerced into exploitative conditions, white slavery or drug trade.

While most ASEAN countries have enacted laws and legislation to prevent trafficking, it remains a perennial problem that continues to victimize our peoples. Perpatrators, usually organized crime syndicates, are very seldom punished. Veloso’s illegal recruiter and trafficker, for instance, remains unscathed and unpunished by the Philippine government. Also, there is either lack of enforcement or the implementation of legislation is usually focused on criminalization, thus restricting the movement of women like Veloso rather than empowering them.

Veloso, like many ASEAN women, was also a victim of the lack of access to justice in the region, particularly for women migrant workers. She was, more tragically, a victim of a neglectful Philippine government.

She was not provided a lawyer or a translator by the Philippine embassy upon her arrest in 2010. During her trial, the court-provided interpreter was not a duly-licensed translator by the Association of Indonesian Translators. Her lawyer during the course of her trial was only a public defender provided by the Indonesian police. During the course of her trials, she had extreme difficulty understanding any of the legal proceedings.

As a result, Veloso was convicted after a very brief trial period – on October 2010, just six months after she was arrested. Public prosecutors asked the court to sentence Veloso to life imprisonment but the judges handed down a death sentence. As the case is for many ASEAN citizens, because there is a lack of support mechanisms in the ASEAN, the end result is always the denial of justice and non-persecution of perpetrators.

Even UN Special Rapporteur Christof Heyns on extrajudicial executions had already appealed to Pres. Widodo to stop the executions on the basis that the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported information that suggests that Veloso and her 14 other fellow accused were convicted after unfair trials. The same report attested that all of them did not receive sufficient legal services or the right to translators, and had no legal representation at all stages of their trials.

How can we, then, allow Veloso’s execution to push through? Is this how we would want to start and pre-empt the ASEAN Community 2015? We deplore you to not allow it. We call on all ASEAN heads of state to save the life of Mary Jane Veloso.

Let us start building an ASEAN Community 2015 on a just, merciful and compassionate foundation.

We steadfastly believe that a genuine “People-Centered ASEAN Community 2015” must take place within a human rights framework that protects, promotes and fulfils the rights of its peoples. These should be the basis on which the ASEAN states build the ASEAN Community 2015. ###

Filipino activists to gather support for OFW Veloso, vs TPPA at ASEAN NGO confab in Malaysia

20150421_091556Representatives of people’s organizations and rights groups in the Philippines and migrant organizations are set to participate in the ASEAN People’s Forum 2015, a gathering of grassroots organizations, NGOs and institutions in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on April 22-24.

Rina Anastacio, Vice Chairperson of Migrante International and a member of the delegation, said they will gather support for Migrante’s petition to stop the execution of overseas Filipino worker Mary Jane Veloso, who is on death row in Indonesia after being mistakenly charged of drug trafficking. Questions on the judicial process in Indonesia, from her trial to conviction, were previously raised by Veloso’s family, rights groups, Filipino Catholic bishops, lawyers and the United Nations Human Rights Council. The petition will be submitted to the ASEAN foreign ministers, Anastacio said.

Veloso is the eighth OFW put on death row under Aquino administration. Seven have already been executed before her, earning for the Aquino regime the stature of having the most number of OFW executions since the Philippine Labor Export Policy was hatched in 1970.

“The labor export policy will be increasingly promoted with greater integration of ASEAN, through agreements and policies being set and implemented by ASEAN states that will worsen the joblessness and lack of social protection of workers and encourage the diaspora of people in South East Asia to other countries where they have been suffering low wages and gross rights violations,” said Eni Lestari, chairperson of the International Migrants Alliance and a plenary speaker in the APF.

ASEAN Economic Community and unequal trade agreements, boon to people’s rights in PH and SEA

Women’s rights group Tanggol Bayi will participate in events pertaining to the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), one of the three pillars of the ASEAN Community stipulated in the Bali Concord II, to raise concerns on the impact of economic integration policies to the rights of the poor and marginalized people in the Philippines and in South East Asia.

Cristina Palabay, convenor of Tanggol Bayi and secretary general of Karapatan, said the AEC policies will erode the sovereignty of peoples in South East Asia and increase the liberalization and deregulation of trade, services and investments hewed to the interests of US, China and other developed countries. “Social services such as health and education will be increasingly privatized, land and other resource grabs will worsen, and domestic small and medium enterprises will be dwarfed by foreign investors,” Palabay stated.

Ramon Bultron, executive director of the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants, said implementation of the AEC policies will further US hegemony in the SEA. “The AEC policies will enhance the implementation of agreements made in the US-driven World Trade Organization. It will also enable the US and its geo-political and corporate interests to dominate over the region, supporting its imperialist design in Asia and the Pacific as outlined in the US Pivot to Asia,” Bultron said.

Bultron and Palabay, both participants at the APF, are also involved in the campaign against the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, another US-led trade agreements which include SEA States. “The TPPA will increase privatization of state-owned enterprises, facilitate plunder of SEA countries lands and resources by foreign entities, and subvert the sovereignty of peoples by giving unbridled powers and access to transnational and multinational corporations,” they said.

Gabriela secretary general Joms Salvador, representatives from Amihan and the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (EILER) will also participate in the APF. ###