Trump scored easy political points this weekend with the anti-immigrant and anti-globalist crowds when he withdrew from negotiations for the UN Global Compact on Migration. The Global Compact does not violate US sovereignty but that does not matter if Trump can win points by trashing it.
Late Saturday, Nikki Haley announced the US was withdrawing from a UN conference on migration and on Sunday Rex Tillerson held a press conference rationalising why the US could not participate in negotiations for the Global Compact. They claimed that the Global Compact would restrict US sovereignty by dictating migration policy to the United States, deciding who can and cannot enter the country. Although shouting about US sovereignty capitalises on anti-immigrant and anti-globalist sentiments, it reveals Trump’s fundamental misunderstanding of the Global Compact and how international law works. The compact cannot violate sovereignty because it is a non-binding treaty with no enforcement mechanisms, does not establish any new rights for migrants, and could actually restrict certain types of migration.
First, the Global Compact does not set policy for individual countries or have any enforcement mechanisms. The Global Compact is a complex, soft power tool that builds on 30 years of consensus building and dialogue about the drivers, challenges, and benefits of migration. The Global Compact on Migration—whose full name is Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration—aims to increase cooperation on regular migration and protect the human rights of migrants. If adopted in 2018, the compact could include non-binding principles on the treatment of migrants, conditions during detention or deportation, and standards for identifying trafficked victims. Non-binding principles are exactly that—not legally binding; instead, the compact aims to build common understanding, shared approaches, and better organise humanitarian responses. In contrast, the compact’s sister treaty, the Global Compact on Responsibility Sharing for Refugees, could have more ambitious goals of refugee resettlement quotas and launching a comprehensive response plan.
Second, the Global Compact does not create any new rights for migrants—in fact human rights organisations have been largely disappointed. The main achievement of the compact and it’s predecessor, the 2016 New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, is to consolidate rights found in other treaties, like the 1951 refugee convention and 1967 protocol, the child rights’ treaty, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. While the Global Compact would acknowledge the very low bar that migrants have human rights, it would not challenge the fundamental difference in how …