Coinciding with the International Migrants Day, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has launched a national benchmark for protecting migrant worker rights.
The benchmark was launched by HRCM President Mariyam Azra and Deputy Minister of Human Resources, Youth and Sports Naaif Shawkath at a ceremony held at Nasandhura Palace Hotel today.
Officials from various stakeholder institutions such as the Maldives Police Service and the Immigration Department were present at the ceremony, later taking part in a forum to discuss the utilisation of this benchmark in their work.
According to the commission, the purpose of having such a benchmark is to encourage protection of the rights of migrant workers and to provide a guideline highlighting the basic human rights principles to be followed.
It is based on the constitution of the Maldives, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICRMW) and other human rights conventions to which the Maldives is a party.
While most of these standards are already obligations on the state, the benchmark itself is not something state institutions are obliged to follow, though the commission members noted the government’s willingness to accept it.
Speaking at the launching ceremony, commission member Jeehan Mahmood said she hoped all institutions would use it as a tool for protecting the rights of migrant workers. She noted the positive response from these institutions in meetings held within past few days to discuss the benchmark’s use in their work.
Advising the government in “formulation of laws, regulations and administrative codes concerning the promotion of a high regard for human rights and the protection and sustenance of such rights” is stated as a key function of the commission in the Human Rights Commission Act.
Speaking at the benchmark launching ceremony Deputy Minister Naaif advised all relevant institutions to accept the benchmark, and thanked HRCM for developing it. He said following it will standardise the work of all institutions.
In a press release issued today, the HRCM called on the state to facilitate implementation of the recently ratified Anti Human Trafficking Act and reiterated their call to ratify and implement ICRMW as as soon as possible. The Maldives has agreed to ratify and implement this convention on various occasions.
The HRCM has cited the issue of healthcare as major challenge for undocumented migrant workers living in Maldives. According to a video presentation given at the ceremony, such workers hesitate to see a doctor even if they can afford to.
The video also showed that, out of all complaints submitted to the commission regarding rights of migrant workers, 68 percent of cases involved non-payment of wages, unfair expulsions, and the failure to provide food and shelter. 18 percent of cases were said to concern health issues while in detention.
Among other complaints received by the commission are the withholding of travel documents and work visas, refusing leave from work, and the termination of employment contracts without prior notice.
While there is no accurate official figures of the migrant worker population in the Maldives, the highest estimates suggest that it crossed the 100,000 mark in 2011, whilst the number of undocumented migrant workers have been placed as high as 44,000.
These numbers indicate that migrant workers might now represent more than one third of the total population.
The country was this year kept on the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking for the fourth consecutive year, with promises that demotion to the third tier would be guaranteed in 2014 without significant progress being made.