The forty-sixth session of the Commission on Population and Development (CPD) was held at UN Headquarters in New York from 22 to 26 April 2013. The Commission’s meeting focused on the theme “New Trends in Migration: Demographic Aspects.” The meeting emphasized the dual nature of migration as bringing many development benefits, but often occasioning human rights violations.
The Commission considered three reports by the Secretary-General on the special theme of the session: demographic aspects of new trends in migration; monitoring of population programmes; and the flow of financial resources for implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). Summarizing evidence on migration, the reports pointed out that the past twenty years have seen major changes in the size, direction and complexity of migration. The global stock of international migration is estimated to have increased from 155 million in 1990 to 214 million in 2010. At the same time, new poles of economic growth are emerging in the global South and are expected to stimulate new migratory flows. Additionally, according to Devex, in 2012 global remittance flows added up to an estimated $534 billion, a conservative estimate that indicates significant economic impact of migration, particularly for developing/”sending” countries.
Delegates also heard statements from Member States, civil society and representatives of the UN system. The Commission held an interactive exchange of views with three migrant representatives (Ms. Fatum o Farah, Ms. Natalicia Rocha-Tracy, and Dr. Harold Fernandez) who shared personal success stories from their experience of migration.
Adopting by weak consensus a resolution on human rights protections for migrants, the Commission called for: reaffirming the Cairo Programme and activities needed for its further implementation, and giving consideration to the linkages between migration and development in the elaboration of the post-2015 agenda. UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) Population Division Director John Wilmoth said that while issues relating to population health have been reflected in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), population “mega-trends” such as migration, urbanization, population growth and population aging have important implications for social and economic development in the post-2015 agenda.
The resolution recognized the centrality of meeting the needs of women and young people through migration policies and programs that respect and protect human rights. The resolution urges Member States to “incorporate a gender perspective into all policies and programmes on international migration” through paying particular attention to the rights of young migrants, especially girls. In their analysis of this session of the CPD, RESURJ (Realizing Sexual and Reproductive Justice) welcomed this point but regretted that the resolution was not completely supportive of language that would protect the human rights of migrant women and ensure their access to sexual and reproductive rights, health services and sexuality education, including those of diverse sexual orientation and gender identities and regardless of their migration status.
The agreement on this resolution notwithstanding, fierce debates occurred during this five-day session. Instead of agreed conclusions, a “Chair’s Statement” was produced and endorsed at the closing of the session. A statement produced by feminist organizations, predominantly from Latin America and the Caribbean, denounced the refusal of CPD Member States to “guarantee the provision of services to migrant people, [which] would enable them to exercise their rights.” The statement continues:
Countries from the north claim their willingness to acknowledge sexual and reproductive rights, but only as a strategy to shift the focus of the discussion away from the issue of guaranteeing human rights for migrant people within their territories. Countries from the south stand up for the promotion of human rights of migrant people, but refuse to acknowledge sexual and reproductive rights. Ultimately, what lies beneath is the manipulation of women’s human rights, including sexual and reproductive rights, which have become the bargaining chip in international negotiations.
Sexual and reproductive health and rights proved the Commission’s most contentious issue, with Member States including Nigeria, Egypt, and Qatar blocking the principle out of “moral” objection and the European Union and Canada, on the other hand, opposing the provision of social services for undocumented migrants.
This controversy at the Commission indicated that international migration remains a tricky issue among the Member States. At the same time, international migrants are a growing population, with more women than ever migrating internationally, and are considered a vulnerable group, unlikely to have access to the social and health protections that they need from gender-based violence, unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. As this meeting was intended to feed into the High-Level Dialogue on Migration and Development to be held in October, fears are growing that this lack of agreement could hamper the foundation for the incorporation of migration into the post-2015 agenda.
These issues will be taken up again, as the Commission decided that the theme of its forty-eighth session, to be held in 2015, will be “Realizing the future we want: integrating population issues into sustainable development.”
For more information on the 46th session of the CPD, see:
• The official website of the session;
• Opening remarks from Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA);
• An interview with John Wilmoth, Director of the Population Division, UNDESA.
Photo: United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the opening of the 46th Session of CPD. Credit: Eskinder Debebe, UN.