Violations of Women’s Rights in Islamic Countries
That does not mean that Islamic countries have a clean balance sheet. On the contrary, there are visible malpractices against women’s rights in Islamic countries. Some of the more reprehensible ones are:
Honor killings: In some Muslim societies, women are often looked upon as representatives of the honor of the family. When women are suspected of extra-marital sexual relations, even if in the case of rape, they can be subjected to the cruelest forms of indignity and violence, often by their own fathers or brothers. Women, who are raped and are unable to provide explicit evidence, are sometimes accused of zina, or the crime of unlawful sexual relations, the punishment for which is often death by public stoning. Such laws serve as a great obstacle inhibiting women from pursuing cases against those who raped them. Assuming an accused woman’s guilt, male family members believe that they have no other means of undoing a perceived infringement of "honor" other than to kill the woman.
Female Genital Mutilation: According to the World Health Organization, 85 million to 115 million girls and women in the population have undergone some form of female genital mutilation and suffer from its adverse health effects. Every year an estimated 2 million young girls undergo this procedure. Most live in Africa.
Acid Burning and Dowry Deaths: Women’s subjugation to men is pervasive in the political, civil, social, cultural, and economic spheres of many countries. In such societies, a woman who does not get along with her in-laws far too frequently becomes a victim of a violent form of ultimate revenge - acid burning. Acid is thrown in her face or on her body and can blind her in addition to often fatal third-degree burns.
Preference for Sons: Son preference affects women in many countries, particularly in Asia. Its consequences can be anything from abortion or female infanticide at birth to the neglect of the girl child over her brother in terms of such essential needs as nutrition, basic health care and education.
Dowry-related violence and early marriage: In some countries, weddings are preceded by the payment of an agreed-upon dowry by the bride’s family. Failure to pay the dowry can lead to violence. In Bangladesh, a bride whose dowry was deemed too small was disfigured after her husband threw acid on her face. In India, an average of five women a day are burned in dowry-related disputes, and many more cases are never reported. Early marriage, especially without the consent of the girl, is another form of human rights violations. Early marriage followed by multiple pregnancies can affect the health of women for life.
Violence and maltreatment affect the lives of millions of women worldwide, in all socio-economic and educational classes. It cuts across cultural and religious barriers, impeding the right of women to participate fully in society. Violence against women takes a dismaying variety of forms, from domestic abuse and rape to child marriages and female genital mutilation.
The issue of women in Islam is highly controversial. Any materials on this subject, whether in print or online, should be used with caution because of the lack of objectivity. While it is generally agreed that the rights granted to women in the Quran and the practice exemplified by the Prophet were a vast improvement in comparison to the situation of women in Arabia prior to the advent of Islam, after the Prophet’s death the condition of women in Islam began to decline and revert back to pre-Islamic norms.
Even where these differences are acknowledged, scholars and other commentators vary as to whether they are just and whether they are a correct interpretation of religious imperatives. Conservatives argue that differences between men and women are due to different status and responsibilities, while liberal Muslims, Muslim feminists, and others argue in favor of more progressive interpretations.
There are different factors for the suppression of women in Islamic countries, for example, the male dominant culture, or the wrong traditions which are still practiced even if they do not have logical basis.
In Afghanistan, for example, women or girls are married to men of different age or status in retaliation of a murder by the male of that family or tribe to make peace. Why should the girl, who has her own desires for her future, pay for her brother’s crime?
These acts are not Islamic at all; they are not even Islamic culture. How can you respect practices that force women into polygamous marriages, mutilate their genitals, forbid them to drive cars and subject them to the humiliation of "instant" divorce? In fact, none of these practices are Islamic at all.
Anyone wishing to understand Islam must first separate the religion from the cultural norms and style of some societies. Female genital mutilation as still practiced in certain pockets, is viewed as an inconceivable horror by the vast majority of Muslims. Forced marriages may still take place in certain areas, but are total anathema to Muslim women from other backgrounds. Indeed, Islam insists on the free consent of both bride and groom, so such marriages could even be deemed illegal under religious law. A woman forbidden from driving a car in one country will cheerfully take the wheel when abroad, confident that her country’s bizarre law has nothing to do with Islam.
The veiling of Muslim women is a more complex issue. Certainly, the Koran requires them to behave and dress modestly, but these scriptures apply equally to men. In practice, most modern Muslim women appreciate attractive and graceful clothes, but avoid dressing provocatively.
What about polygamy, which the Koran endorses up to the limit of four wives per man? The Prophet, of course, lived at a time when continual warfare produced large numbers of widows, who were left with little or no provision for themselves and their children. In these circumstances, polygamy was encouraged as an act of charity. The Koran states that wives need to be treated fairly and equally, a difficult if not an impossible requirement at best.
Sexual intimacy outside marriage is forbidden in Islam, including sex before marriage, adultery or homosexual relationships. However, within marriage, sexual intimacy should be raised from the animal level to “sadaqah” or a level of worship, so that each considers the happiness and satisfaction of the other, rather than mere self-gratification.
Contrary to Christianity, Islam does not regard marriages as "made in heaven" or "till death do us part". They are contracts, with conditions. If either side breaks the conditions, divorce is not only allowed, but is usually expected. Nevertheless, a “hadith” (saying of the Prophet) makes it clear that: "Of all the things God has allowed, divorce is the most disliked”. In good Islamic practice, before divorce can be contemplated, all possible efforts must be made to solve a couple’s problems. After an intention to divorce is announced, there is a three-month period during which more attempts are made at reconciliation
So, does Islam oppress women? While the spirit of Islam is clearly patriarchal, it regards men and women as moral equals. Moreover, although a man is technically the head of the household, Islam encourages matriarchy in the home. Women may not be equal in the manner defined by Western feminists, but their core differences from men are acknowledged, and they have rights of their own that do not apply to men.
Why then should we react so sensitively against Islam or blame Islam in terms of maltreatment of women? Today there is no country that really observes women’s rights and respects them in the world. In fact, in the West women are treated as instruments for luxury and enjoyment, as ornaments for beautifying commercials, and used as a mere commodity for attracting customers into restaurants and shops. This is the major difference between the real status of women is Islam, where they are expected to be valued and honored as equals.
When we are tempted to criticize the violation of women’s rights in some Islamic countries, we should not forget the role of their governments and actual regimes. Islam has unfortunately been politicized and misused by fundamentalists, politicians, political parties and even governments. In order to prevent future tensions and religious intolerance, it is responsibility of all to fight against these wrong traditions and maltreatments in their relevant countries.
None of this is meant to condone the serious violations of women’s rights that exist in actual practice in many states. These are reprehensible, and must be condemned. In addition, all efforts must be made to improve the actual enjoyment of rights in accordance with the injunctions of Islam, and of rational and logical thought. Extremism has no place in Islam.
We therefore conclude this paper with the fervent wish that there should not be any violations against the rights of women anywhere in the world.
Migration is a fundamental thread running through human history. Since the beginning of time, man has traveled from place to place, striving for the response to his needs. He traveled seeking water, a clement season, a safer place, or knowledge and wisdom, all for the betterment of his life and the satisfaction of his needs.
The right to movement derives from the right to freedom. Some say that it should be put on an equal footing with the right to food, to shelter, to education and to decent life, thus considering it one of the fundamental basic human rights.
Throughout the different stages of history, the reasons that have pushed man to leave his native place and to head to distant places are similar to the push and pull factors of migration in today’s globalized world. They are economic, social, political or environmental.
However, the right to migrate is no longer universally recognized as a human right. It cannot be exercised freely without the intervention of the state. The latter will put in place many regulations and frameworks to regulate the movement of the people. The constraints are such that they are meant to prevent people from leaving their own borders.
Migration is not only international, it can also be internal. Indeed, migration within countries is also on the rise, as people move in response to inequitable distribution of resources, services and opportunities, or to escape violence or natural disaster. The movement of people from rural to urban areas has contributed to the explosive growth of cities around the globe.
According to the United Nations Population Fund, in 2005, some 191 million people, or 3 per cent of the world’s population, live outside their country of origin. The magnitude and complexity of international migration makes it an important force in development and a high-priority issue for both developing and developed countries. The fact that about half of all migrants are women, mostly of reproductive age, is another reason this is a pressing issue to be considered.
Migration as a Fundamental Human Right
History of Migration
Historical migration of human populations begins with the movement of homo-erectus out of Africa across Eurasia well before recorded history. Homo sapiens appear to have colonized all of Africa about 100 thousand years ago, moved out of Africa 70 thousand years ago, and had spread across Australia, Asia and Europe about 40 thousand years ago. Migration to the Americas took place 20 to 15 thousand years ago, and by 2 thousand years ago, most of the Pacific Islands were colonized.
The spread of migration to the different regions of the world is thus as old as the history itself. This shows that migration has always been an integral part of man’s existence. While the pace of migration had accelerated since the 18th Century already (including through the slave trade), it had increased further in the 19th and 20th Centuries.
Forms of Migration
A distinction establishes three major types of migration: urbanization, labor migration, and refugee migrations.
Millions of agricultural workers left the countryside and moved to the cities causing unprecedented levels of urbanization. This phenomenon began in Britain in the late 17th Century at the start of industrialization, and spread around the world and continues to occur in this day in many areas.
Industrialization encouraged migration wherever it appeared. The increasingly global economy globalised the labour market. Population growth, agricultural and rising industrial centers attracted voluntary, encouraged, and sometimes coerced migration. Moreover, migration was significantly eased by improved transportation techniques.
In the early 20th Century, transnational labor migration reached a peak of three million migrants per year. Italy, Norway, Ireland and the Quongdong region of China were regions with especially high emigration rates during these years.
These large migration flows influenced the process of nation state formation in many ways. Immigration restrictions have been developed, as well as diaspora cultures and myths that reflect the importance of migration to the foundation of certain nations, like the American melting pot. The transnational labour migration fell to a lower level from 1930s to the 1960s and then rebounded.
The 20th Century also experienced an increase in migratory flows caused by war and politics. Muslims moved from the Balkans to Turkey, while Christians moved in the other direction, during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Four hundred thousand Jews moved to Palestine. The Russian civil war caused some three million Russians, Poles and Germans to migrate out of the former Soviet Union. World War II and decolonization also caused major migrations.
Causes of Migration
The causes of migration have modified over hundreds of years. Some causes are constant, but others do not carry the same importance as they did years ago. For example, in 18th and 19th Centuries labor migration did not have the same character as it has today.
The push factors of migration are forceful and can be economic, political, cultural, and environmentally based. They can be distilled, on a macro level, into two main categories: the security dimension of migration such as natural disasters, conflicts, and political fear; and the economic dimension that results from poverty and lack of opportunities.
The pull factors are generally considered to be the benefits that attract people to a certain place, and they are also very much related to the betterment of economic, social and political life of the migrant.
Globalization has introduced a third set called "network" factors, which include free flow of information, improved global communication and faster and lower cost transportation. While network factors are not a direct cause of migration, they do facilitate it.
As well as encouraging migration, globalization also produces countervailing forces. For example, as businesses grow and become more internationalized, they often outsource their production to developing countries where labor costs are lower. This movement of jobs from the developed to the developing world mitigates those factors leading to migration. In a global economy, in other words, jobs can move to potential migrants instead of migrants moving to potential jobs.
Impacts of Migration
The impacts of migration are complex, bringing both benefits and disadvantages. The arguments over the benefits of immigration are also fairly complicated. Immigrants themselves clearly gain, since they move usually in order to work for a more decent life than they can enjoy at home. There is some evidence that European economies that have taken in many migrant workers have also benefited, not only in total output but also in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per head.
Immigration is a source of low cost labor for host countries, while the remittances of emigrant workers can be an important source of foreign exchange for the countries of origin. On the other hand, migration can stoke resentment and fear in receiving countries as immigrants are accused of lowering wages and causing crime. For the economies of the countries’ of origin, migration leads to a loss of well-educated and highly productive citizens.
The economic effects of migration vary widely. Sending countries may experience both gains and losses in the short term but may stand to gain over the longer term. For receiving countries temporary programs help to address skills shortages but may decrease domestic wages and add to the public welfare burden.
For sending countries, the short-term economic benefit of emigration is found in remittances. According to the World Bank, remittances worldwide were estimated at $ 232 billion in 2005, of which developing countries received $ 167 billion. This is far more than the development aid given to developing countries. This figure only takes into account funds sent through formal banking channels, so the number is much larger in reality.
For example, according to a study by the researcher Ismail Ahmed reported in the Financial Times, Somaliland, a breakaway region of conflict-devastated Somalia, receives an estimated $ 500 million a year in money sent home from abroad, or four times more than the income from its main export of livestock. In the case of Mexico, remittances have become the country’s second most important source of foreign exchange, after oil. The income from remittances is so large that Mexicans working outside of the country were even able to gain the right to vote from abroad after threatening to withhold remittances.
Meanwhile, the positive gains from immigration for developed countries are a result of the infusion of cheap and eager labor into the economy. In the United States and Canada, migrant workers often fill low-wage jobs for which there is not enough local supply of labor, such as farm labor. Just as cheap imports of industrial goods benefit the American economy, so too does the import of cheap labor. Economists who support the notion of these positive gains claim that immigration has little impact on wages or job availability for domestic workers.
At the same time, developing countries can suffer from "brain drain" or the loss of trained and educated individuals to emigration. This is an example of the possible negative effects of emigration for developing countries. For example, there are currently more African scientists and engineers working in the United States than there are in Africa.
In India, 100,000 skilled technology workers are expected to leave over the next three years. Since it costs India about $ 20,000 per student to educate these individuals, India will essentially be subsidizing the rest of the world for $2 billion worth of technology education.
International Constraints on Migration
The development of migration flows in this globalized world has led states to establish regulations and to exert control over migration. State responses to both immigration and immigrant pressures are typically examined in form of national legislation and immigration reforms.
One of the key tools states used to regulate immigration is through the definition and selection of immigrants, a mechanism that is not necessarily marked by restrictive acts, but rather by positive preferences. For instance while it might not be appropriate for liberal states to judge the “desirability” of an immigrant on the basis of ethnic or national criteria, and to refuse entrance on the basis of negative discrimination, many countries practice a form of “positive discrimination” such as welcoming legal immigrants from selected countries to meet market needs. This has become a humanitarian justification for a policy which condones the selection of desirable legal immigrants.
As international human rights develop, national governments also engage at the international level to regain some of the control that they have lost over migration flows. This had led to the multiplication of international cooperation groups on immigration, asylum, police and border control186. These groups do not have to answer to a more representative body or international courts such as the European Parliament or the European Court of Justice.
The evolution of the European Union (EU) underscores how seemingly contradictory streams of interests between domestic and international constraints may be reconciled to promote state interests in migration. The compatibility of diverse national interests to control migration has led to increasing coordination, and the devolution of decision making to international organizations to increase state effectiveness in controlling migration.
Despite all the constraints, conventions and migration instruments, it is hard to imagine that migration will stop unless it is tailored to the developed world needs. The intensity of the gap between rich and poor countries will always be at the heart of the migration issue.
The Negative Vision of Migration and its Impact
One should ask why the perception of migration has suddenly changed in the second half of the 20th Century whereas it has always been perceived and exercised as a normal feature of life. Why is it nowadays perceived as a challenge and as a threat to be fought against by states instead of being and benefited from? The answer to these two questions lies in exploring the psychological effect of migration in the developed world, and its impact on the world society, especially in developing countries.
The end of the Cold War marked a major break for migration policies in Europe. Defensive projections and visions of migration came to the foreground in the European Union, whose integration and openness towards the internal border-free single market went hand-in-hand with an undesirable migration from outside its borders.
This reality was reflected by the International Social Survey conducted in 1995. The survey asked people in many different countries if they were in favor or against higher levels of immigration. Those that favored reductions in the level of migration were an absolute majority in almost every Western European country and composed the largest category everywhere else.
In the United States, these statistics have likely become more pronounced in the aftermath of 9/11, where it was reported that almost two-thirds of Americans were in favor of halting all entry of any kind from countries suspected of harboring terrorists.
Yet, the power of economics appears to have trumped cultural prejudice in Western Europe, whose aging societies increasingly depend on new arrivals to fill jobs in child-care, construction, and other industries. Many Europeans may oppose that trend, knowing that stopping the flow of migrants would cause great economic harm.
Fear of Migration
The economic factor: Fears have arisen about migration when the issue of the cost to the taxpayer of integrating poorer economies into the European Union (EU) had been widespread. That meant absorbing the environmental legacy of communism, and, perhaps most crucially, the volume of migrants from east to west. For the skeptics in the west, unregulated migration means encouraging job hunters to come to the West, adding to the millions of people already out of work.
For instance, during the national debate on the enlargement of the EU, this argument was particularly strong in Germany since this country alone had about 75 % of the migrants from application countries. The issue of immigration had rapidly turned into a major battleground for the parliamentary elections, and the social democrats took a liberal line on immigration, epitomized by the end in 1998 to laws which had allowed only those with a blood right to take German citizenship. Some of Germany’s Christian democrats, on the other hand, came up last year with the "Kinder Statt Inder" (Children not Indians) slogan, which suggested that the solution to the ageing German workforce lay in breeding more Germans, rather than allowing people in from outside.187
The fears of massive European migration from east to west have certainly been exaggerated. One notorious example was an estimate by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in 1989 which supposed that 25 million people from the communist bloc would move to the west in the 1990s. In the end, fewer than 2.5 million actually made the move.188
The extent of the negative perception of migration in some countries is such that migration can be perceived as a felony, thus linking it to crime. In France, for instance, many white voters see crime as a virtual monopoly of the ethnic minorities, whether from North Africa, West Africa or Eastern Europe. In fact, most French people use the term immigrants very loosely, to describe anyone from a non-white background. Even second or third-generation French citizens are usually lumped in together as "immigrants”, or "foreigners”.
The religious factor: In France, Germany and across Western Europe, a vigorous public debate is under way over the preservation of national identities, the assimilation of minorities and tolerance of different cultures. Religion, particularly Islam, whose image has been wrecked following the 9/11 attacks and the spread of the Al-Qaeda network, has caused deep fear in western societies. Therefore, migrants from Muslim countries are undesirable, despised and rejected.
The Netherlands189, had long taken pride in its religious, political and social tolerance, as well as its acceptance of ethnic minorities. And many in the Netherlands’ new coalition government boast a pro-immigrant stance. However, the threats of terrorism and sheer demographics are challenging traditional Dutch open-mindedness. Studies estimate that Muslims will form the majority in the four largest cities of the Netherlands by 2020. The tensions have spawned legislative proposals to ban the Quran, make it illegal for women to wear veils in public, and create more legal options for closing mosques. The debate intensified, in November 2004, after the murder of Theo van Gogh, a filmmaker who had made a movie called “submission” that featured a beaten, naked Muslim woman covered like graffiti with writings from the Quran.
The Policy of Border Controls
At the level of the European Union, the European Commission has proposed setting up a border patrol system and a requirement for travelers to submit their fingerprints before entering the Union.
European Union Model: Currently, anyone crossing a border into the EU’s twenty-four Schengen countries faces an entry and exit check, whether they are an EU citizen or not. Non-EU nationals face a more thorough check, including a search of databases.
Under the new proposals, all non-Europeans would have to submit biometric data to enter the EU even if they come from countries such as the United States and Canada, from which visa-free travel is currently permitted. A central aim of the measures is tackling the large number of illegal immigrants who in fact first entered the EU legally: "The factor number one is over-stayers in Europe". The Commission believes that more than half of all illegal immigrants enter the EU with valid paperwork but overstay their permitted time. Under the proposed entry and exit register, an alert would be sent to all member states when a visa expired and no exit from the Schengen zone had been recorded190.
United States Immigration Control Border Policy: The first three questions put in the first page of a US website: www.bordersens.com, entitled, «For Sensible Border, Immigration, and Population Policies», reflect the US negative perception on migration. They read as follows:
"Would you not agree it is sensible for a nation to have enough control of its borders to prevent (or at least impede) the entry of terrorists, drug smugglers, criminals, infectious disease carriers, and other persons who wish to enter illegally"?
"Is it not it sensible that a country such as ours should have some degree of control over who immigrates to our country? Does it not make sense to weed out the bad and to help the good to assimilate to our culture and our ways so they can prosper and ultimately contribute to the success of America"?
"Is it not sensible to establish and maintain a sustainable population level rather than wait until overcrowding, environmental destruction, disease, and poverty force a reduction in population"?
The long-running debate in the US over comprehensive immigration reform has led to the construction of a fence along 700 miles of the 2,100-mile frontier between the United States and Mexico. The fence would stretch from points in California, to a long, 360-mile stretch largely in Arizona, to a 170-mile expanse along the Texas border
Illegal Trafficking and Human Smuggling
The multiple constraints on migration have not succeeded in halting human flows from moving and seeking the possibility to enter.
The Inter-American Human Rights System had created its own Rapporteur on migrant workers. His reports, together with those of the UN Special Rapporteur, have documented the failure of restrictive policies to halt irregular migration, and the negative consequences of fortified borders in creating opportunities for trafficking and smuggling, leading to increasingly dangerous journeys and a rise in migrant deaths. They also note the effect of restrictive policies in discouraging circular and temporary migration.
According to the official statistics compiled by the US Border Patrol, there has been an unprecedented increase in the number of deaths each year among unauthorized border-crossers in the deserts and mountains of southern Arizona for almost a decade now.191 Experts, including the US Government Accountability Office, now explain this crisis as a direct consequence of US immigration-control policies instituted in the mid-1990s.
The “prevention through deterrence” approach to immigration control, implemented by the US Government in the 1990’s, had resulted in the militarization of the border and a quintupling of border-enforcement expenditures. However, the new border barriers, fortified checkpoints, high-tech forms of surveillance, and thousands of additional border patrol agents stationed along the southwest border have not decreased the number of unauthorized migrants crossing into the United States. Rather, the new strategy has closed off major urban points of unauthorized migration in Texas and California, and funneled hundreds of thousands of unauthorized migrants through southern Arizona’s remote and notoriously inhospitable deserts and mountains.
The cumulative effect of these developments has been to bring migrants from the margins into the mainstream of human rights law and practice, at least in theory.
The Human Rights of Migrants
As a vulnerable population, migrants have been low, often invisible, on the international human rights agenda. No single institution has a mandate that is comparable to UNHCR’s protection role for refugees, and much, perhaps most, national migration policy making takes place outside the human rights framework. The challenge of enforcing human rights at a national level and integrating human rights into international migration governance discussions remains difficult.
Human rights of migrants are largely defined by the migration "category", and by the reasons underlying that migration. At one end of the human rights/migration spectrum are voluntary migrants, including migrant workers and other economic migrants. At the other end, more than 10 million refugees are forced to leave their countries to escape persecution.
Victims of trafficking occupy an intermediate point on the spectrum. Both they and refugees have special rights protections in international law. In the case of refugees, these protections have become a separate and well-established protection regime.
Women and children account for more than half of the refugees and internally displaced persons. 96 % of children who work and sleep in the street are migrants, about half of them are girls aged between 8 and 14.
Migrants are a particularly vulnerable group and see their rights routinely violated, not only as workers, but as human beings. They commonly face discrimination and xenophobic hostility.192
As noted by Ms Gabriela Rodriguez Pizarro, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, "This is especially true in the case of the many migrants who are undocumented or in an irregular situation, including the victims of trafficking in persons, who are the most vulnerable to human rights violations”. According to the UN, between 300,000 and 600,000 women are smuggled each year into the European Union and certain Central European countries. The problem is also widespread in Africa and Latin America.
Voluntary migrants, who constitute most of the world’s estimated 185 million migrants, are protected under general principles of international human rights law, and under the UN International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Their Families (ICMW), which recently entered into force.
Few governments have yet ratified the Convention, despite the fact that it is mostly drawn from the core human rights treaties and International Labor Organization (ILO) standards, and requires states to work together to prevent irregular migration. One obstacle is that while the Convention gives greatest protection to regular migrants, it protects the rights of all migrant workers, including irregular migrants, and governments object to its ratification for this reason.
But these objections overlook the fact that the human rights of migrants are already protected through the core human rights treaties, which the majority of governments have ratified and agreed to implement nationally. Although these treaties do not explicitly refer to migrants, they nonetheless protect migrants because they are universal in scope. They recognize the fundamental rights of all persons to due process guarantees in the criminal justice system, and the right not to be subjected to torture, cruel or inhuman treatment or punishment, or held in slavery. Governments may exercise their national sovereignty to decide who to admit to their territory, but once that individual has entered the country, the national authorities are responsible for his or her safety. Police and criminal justice systems, for example, have a duty to protect immigrants from assault or robbery in the same way as any citizen, and without discrimination.
Demographic Reasons for the Migration Stream
In most of Europe there is another big reason for accepting more immigration: demography. Most countries, in western and eastern Europe alike, face the prospect of populations that will both age and shrink over the next 50 years. The implications for their economies and their public finances are worrying. One obvious answer is to boost the working-age population by admitting more immigrants.
Migration in the Realm of Globalization
Government policymakers are operating in a globalized economy, in which the mobility of resources and jobs has not been accompanied by the free movement of labor. The very logic of globalization, however, encourages workers to cross borders to take employment, and thus act against national restrictions.
Managed migration is now on the national and international agenda. The Global Commission on International Migration (ICMW), which was launched in January 2004, is one example of a new, albeit hesitant, willingness to consider multilateral approaches to immigration control. Another is the High-Level UN General Assembly discussion that took place in September 2006.
The ICMW is an important starting point for developing this agenda, and optimists argue that states will be willing to ratify it once they recognize that it is not a radical departure from standards that most industrialized countries have already accepted. In the meantime, general human rights law continues to offer a sound basis for rights-based migration policies.
It is also important to recognize the close links between development, migration, and human rights in terms of prevention. There is a need for development policies that address the migration push factors by strengthening rights in areas of high emigration, as is being done in Morocco.
Prevention should become a third element in anti-trafficking policies. This would complement prosecution of traffickers and protection of victims with policies that empower women and girls in their home countries, and reduce their incentives to leave.
Addressing the human rights aspects of migration, including the rights of irregular migrants, will not be an easy task. But breaking the vicious circle in which fear of detection prevents irregular migrants from reporting abuse, which in turn strengthens the hand of traffickers, smugglers, and abusive employers, is at the heart of effective rights protection.
The same resolve shown by governments in combating trafficking is needed to ensure that migration takes place in conditions of dignity, and in the longer term can become an informed choice rather than a survival strategy in an economically asymmetric world, which is the situation today for many migrants.
Against a backdrop of widespread and confused fears of migration, and the general denial of the right of people to enter the industrialized world, it was difficult to bring the issue of migration to the core of the international and development agenda. Yet migration has remained strictly off the agenda for so many years.
Now that it is at the core of the world agenda, for multiple reasons among which, the insecurity caused to western receiving countries, it is not sufficiently dealt with in a profound holistic way that is able to respond to the root causes of migration.
Unfortunately, the "Millennium Development Goals” (MDGs) which had put 2015 as the target year to halve poverty, ensure universal completion of primary schooling, and reduce infant mortality by two-thirds, are obviously far from reach. This situation pushes us to look for an alternative. The backup plan should be to create mechanisms for enhanced labor mobility to create an integrated, truly global international system.
Since no one would embrace entirely free labor flows, a set of proposals made by the Social Political Group193, merit our interest. This scheme could allocate specific numbers of workers to work in specific industries on an explicitly temporary basis. It could also provide compensation to the sending country for tax loss and "development impact". The country could be allocated a quota for the stock of immigrants, and any failure of return would be deducted from the allowed flow.
Designing policies that are simultaneously development-friendly, respectful of human rights, and politically viable in recipient countries, are very challenging. However, if the same degree of intellectual creativity is channeled into that challenge as has gone into making trade freer and into increasing capital flows, the world could be just as successful in putting a personal face on globalization.
The only “solution” envisaged by international migration forums is to improve the living standards, political stability and democratic institutions in countries of origin, so that people no longer want or need to move194.
This solution obviously entails a long-term effort, and one that in the short to medium term will increase rather than decrease migration pressures. In the meantime, receiving countries will continue to tighten border controls and attempt to restrict asylum seeker entry. The effort is unlikely to succeed. Migration is too fundamental a force in the history of humankind to be contained in this fashion.
Almost all states have one or more minority groups within their national territories, characterized by their own ethnic, linguistic or religious identity which differs from that of the majority population. Harmonious relations among minorities and between minorities and majorities, and respect for each group’s identity are a great asset to the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural diversity of our global society. Meeting the aspirations of national, ethnic, religious and linguistic groups and ensuring the rights of persons belonging to minorities acknowledges the dignity and equality of all individuals, furthers participatory development, and thus contributes to the lessening of tensions among groups and individuals. These factors are a major determinant of stability and peace.195
The protection of minority rights has not attracted the same level of attention as that accorded other rights which the United Nations considered as having a greater urgency. In recent years, however, there has been a heightened interest in issues affecting minorities as ethnic, racial and religious tensions have escalated, threatening the economic, social and political fabric of States, as well as their territorial integrity. Many problems faced by minorities and persons belonging to them, if unresolved, may lead to tensions and conflicts. One of the routes to minority-related conflict prevention is to address legitimate claims of persons belonging to minorities and to reduce inequalities between groups. The recognition, promotion and protection of human rights of persons belonging to minorities, is an integral part of national security and unity, and is crucial to establishing and maintaining just and peaceful societies.
No definite and satisfactory universal definition of the term "minority" has proved acceptable. Despite that, various characteristics of minorities have been identified, which, taken together, cover most minority situations. The most commonly used description of a minority in a given state can be summed up as “a non-dominant group of individuals who share certain national, ethnic, religious or linguistic characteristics which are different from those of the majority population”.196 Yet, the international understanding of what is a minority is quite straightforward, “it is a group of people who believe they have a common identity, based on culture/ethnicity, language or religion, which is different from that of a majority group around them”.197
Some groups of individuals may find themselves in situations similar to those of minorities. These groups include migrant workers, refugees, stateless persons and other non-nationals, who do not necessarily share certain ethnic, religious or linguistic characteristics common to persons belonging to minorities. These particular groups are, however, protected against discrimination by the general provisions of international law, and have additional rights guaranteed in many known conventions.
This refers to the rights of minorities as groups, but also the rights of those individuals within them. They include:
All human beings, regardless of whether they are seen singularly as individuals or as in the form of such collectivities as minorities, have a basic right to existence. However existence is a term reflects difference in the case of individuals and minorities. Individual existence is the essence of life, but minorities relish their collective sense of identity. For minorities, any right to existence is not just relevant to their physical existence but must also include their cultural, religious and linguistic existence, without which the group in question would lose its distinctiveness. Minorities have the right to exist, and to be recognized as the groups they define themselves to be.
Recognition of Identity and Special Rights
Identity is a sense of belonging to a place or to a group. Individuals have the right to choose their identity or identities, and not suffer any detriment for doing so. Groups struggling for political control often base their claim to be in legitimate control of their identity. Religious minorities can be groups whose religion is different from that of the majority of the population, or those whose interpretation of their religious texts is different from the majority of adherents.
Special rights are not privileges, but they are granted to make it possible for minorities to preserve their identity, characteristics and traditions. Special rights are just as important in achieving equality of treatment as non-discrimination. Only when minorities are able to use their own languages, benefit from services they have themselves organized, as well as take part in the political and economic life of states can they begin to achieve the status which majorities take for granted.
Prohibition of Discrimination
The prevention of discrimination has been defined as the "prevention of any action which denies to individuals or groups of people equality of treatment which they may wish".198 Discrimination has been prohibited in a number of international instruments that deal with most, if not all, situations in which minority groups and their individual members may be denied equality of treatment. Discrimination is prohibited on the grounds of inter alia, race, language, religion, national or social origin, and birth or other status. Important safeguards from which individual members of minorities stand to benefit include recognition as a person before the law, equality before the courts, equality before the law, and equal protection of the law, in addition to the important rights of freedom of religion, expression and association.