Blog post by Professor Elspeth Guild, Queen Mary University of London and Dr Idil Atak, Ryerson University, Canada



From the adoption of the UN General Assembly resolution on 19 September 2016 calling for the negotiation of two new migration related instruments, a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (the Marrakesh Compact, or MC) and a Compact for Refugees to the completion of the negotiations and the endorsement of the results on 19 December 2018, the institutional structures needed to breathe life into the new instruments.  


While the stocktaking and negotiating processes were carried out separately for each of the Compacts, the Refugee Compact benefited from having a well-established UN institution, UNHCR holding the reins. Refugee protection is the subject of a UN convention dating from 1951 which also specifically names UNHCR as its institutional body. For the MC, the situation was quite different. While efforts to bring migration as a subject area to the UN had been taking place since the 1980s, by 2016 there had not been much progress for more than a decade. The inclusion of migration in the Sustainable Development Goals (Goal 10.7) in 2015, however, gave new life to the project. Institutionally, The UN Secretary General gave responsibility for the negotiation of the MC to his Special Representative for International Migration, a matter complicated by the fact that the death of the incumbent after the 2016 New York Declaration but before the stocktaking began meant that a new Representative had to be appointed. Further, in July 2016, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) for the first time became a related organisation to the UN (rather than a membership run international organisation outside the UN which it had been since its establishment in 1951). However, this association did not include a requirement that IOM bind itself to the respect and promotion of UN human rights, indeed there was no reference in the document to human rights at all.  


The MC process provided an ideal platform for IOM to show the value of its new UN credentials which it did very successfully in the negotiations. The MC ended up specifically appointing IOM as the coordinator and secretariat of the newly set up UN network on migration (paragraph 45 MC) which was charged with fully drawing on the technical expertise and experience of relevant entities within the United Nations system (of which there are many). The IOM has been much engaged with the secretariat not least in fund raising at which it has been quite successful. However, whether the secretariat has also been successful in integrating the UN agencies which form its executive committee is less clear. One of the key jobs of the network is to manage the International Migration Review of implementation of the MC which commences in May 2022.  


The adoption of the MC did not take particularly smoothly. First the USA withdrew from the process in December 2018 at the end of the stocktaking exercise, claiming that it would not participate any further as the outcome could have consequences for its state sovereignty. A campaign against the MC commenced in Europe in September 2018, three months before the UN General Assembly vote which resulted in the fall of one European Government (Belgium) and the vote against the MC by three states (the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland). Six other states either abstained or did not attend. The MC met with fierce opposition even in countries that strongly endorsed it. In Canada, the main opposition political party leader called against its signature by the federal government, arguing that domestic immigration policies should not be dictated by an international agreement. A certain malaise followed the adoption where the countries and institutions which had been great supporters of the project reflected on how to limit the damage and encourage states to implement the MC. One such effort created by the UN Network on Migration secretariat was to encourage states to take the title of Champion States thereby demonstrating their commitment to the MC project and more specifically the support of the secretariat. One such state is Canada which accepted an invitation from the UN Network on Migration to “champion” the MC in 2020.  


With the IOM in charge of the secretariat and the Champions project designed to promote both the Compact and the secretariat, it looked like a possibly useful way to engage with states, singly and within their regions to identify and promote best practices in the governance of migration and to enhance cooperation towards implementation of the MC’s clearly set out 23 objectives. The MC includes overarching principles which are to define implementation of the objectives, among them the commitment to human rights including non-discrimination and non-regression (ie the principle that states will not adopt laws or practices which diminish or impair the rights of migrants as they stood at the date of adoption of the MC).


Among the first countries to send a request to the secretariat to become a Champion state was Bangladesh. The process for recognising Champion states is that the state presents itself and membership is open to all states members of the UN. At last count there were more than 25 Champion states which had put themselves forward for the role (Bangladesh, Cambodia, Canada, Chad, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Honduras, Indonesia, Iraq, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Philippines, Portugal, Senegal and Thailand). However, it is less than clear exactly how these states see their role as Champions of the MC and what they see as their duties in respect of the role. For example, one of the duties in the MC is that states draw up national implementation plans (MC para 53). It is against these implementation plans that the Global review is supposed to take place. However, a number of the Champion states either have yet to draft a plan or to release it (some states have declared that they have a plan but it is not publicly available nor indeed available to the UN institutions).  


Yet, one of the problems which bedevils the Champion state project is that in its inception, the secretariat never set out what the requirements were of states which presented themselves nor what qualifications they ought to have before putting themselves forward for the role. There have been some benefits for Champion states in the UN system, for instance in the regional reviews, the secretariat appointed chairs and co-chairs Champion states wherever this was possible, so the visibility of Champion states at the UN was somewhat higher than that of other states. But whether these Champion states have adhered to the principles of the MC, human rights, non-discrimination and non-regression is more questionable. Further, what steps they have taken to implement the MC objective remains unclear. In the South East Asia regional review, one Champion state which held a meeting on implementation, limited its review to return and trafficking, avoiding all the other topics.  


The purpose of this blog series is to examine from an academic perspective what the purpose of becoming a Champion state has been for some of them. This is an international academic effort where experts around the world will be contributing blogs on the meaning and the value of being a Champion state for their country. Another question is how their country considers the obligations of a Champion state. We encourage spontaneous suggestions and submissions, if there are colleagues who would also like to participate in the project.  


From our analysis of the Champion state process, we see three weaknesses which need to be remedied to ensure that the MC’s overarching principles, including human rights of migrants are reflected in the implementation of its objectives:

  1. There need to be publicly available criteria of what a state must demonstrate in order to present itself as a Champion in this process;
  2. All Champion states must have a publicly available national implementation plan and an independent review body which monitors the correct application of that plan;
  3. There needs to be a document setting out the work which Champion states must undertake to become or maintain their status as such.


We await, however, the blogs from our contributors to clarify for us what the synergies and tensions are among the visions of Champion states of their role in the process of implementing the MC.    



The views expressed in this article belong to the author/s and do not necessarily reflect those of the Refugee Law InitiativeWe welcome comments and contributions to this blog – please comment below and see here for contribution guidelines.