Opening remarks by the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in Persons at the launch of the Swiss anti-trafficking week

18 October 2013

Distinguished Delegates
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to deliver this opening remark in my capacity as the UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. I welcome this meeting and would like to thank the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs for hosting and co-organizing this event which provides an excellent opportunity to further engage in interactive discussions and share views on gains made in our collective quest to end human trafficking and the remaining challenges that needs to be addressed to stop the impunity of trafficking in persons. I also would like to acknowledge ILO, IOM and UNHCR consistent and stable cooperation with my mandate and extend my thanks to all the participants present here today for their commitment to fighting this transnational scourge.

Human trafficking, trafficking in human beings or trafficking in persons is unfortunately thriving in today’s world. Trafficking in persons remains one of the fastest growing criminal activities in the world, which results in serious breaches of human rights. Although, very difficult to quantify, it is hugely underestimated because of its insidious, complex and dynamic nature. Trafficking occurs within and across national borders, victims often transit through many countries to reach their final destination thus trafficking knows no border. This phenomenon poses an increasingly serious challenge to humanity. Although the focus of anti-trafficking responses has mainly been on demand for commercial sexual exploitation, particularly of women and girls, other forms of trafficking which also affect men and boys are striving including trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation, domestic work, removal and sale of organs, as well as begging.

As Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, the backbone of my work has been to advocate for a human rights based approach to combatting trafficking. Violations of human rights are both a cause and a consequence of trafficking in persons as rightly noted in the Principles and Guidelines on Human Trafficking and Human Rights developed by OHCHR. Thus, efforts to combat trafficking in persons will not be effective unless they are centered on universal respect for the human rights of all individuals, particularly trafficked persons and persons at risk of being trafficked. Victims of trafficking suffer grave violations of their fundamental rights; therefore it is crucial that any response to trafficking be constructed around the common goal of remedying such violations. I will never advocate enough for the formulation and implementation of anti-trafficking responses based on 5Ps (protection, prosecution, punishment, prevention, promoting international cooperation and partnership), 3Rs (redress, recovery and reintegration) and 3Cs (capacity, cooperation and coordination), guided by international human rights law and standards.

The international community provided an important tool in the global fight against trafficking by adopting the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, in 2000 and which came into force 25th December, 2003. As at today, 156 countries are State Parties to it. The UN Protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking provides a solid international legal framework for the implementation of my global mandate alongside the various international human rights instruments and standards including resolutions of the UN Human Rights Council and the Office of the High Comissioner Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Human Trafficking.

The Palermo protocol should be the base for states to develop adequate tailored national legal frameworks insuring the protection of victims and the effective prosecution of traffickers. We have to make trading in human beings a high risk business and a zero profit one with the only just dessert being effective punishments for even attempts at trafficking for the purpose of exploitation. The challenge is not to allow the impunity of trafficking in persons to continue while ensuring the protection of the human rights of victims. States have the obligation before international human rights law and international humanitarian law to protect victims of human rights violations. However, this responsibility to protect often fails when it comes to trafficked persons because many victims are wrongly identified as undocumented migrants, detained and deported without neither the guarantee of safe return nor access to effective remedies. At a time when undocumented migrants influx are growing stronger, it is crucial that States move from a national security paradigm to a human rights, victim centred approach in order to properly identify victims of trafficking and provide them with adequate protection and assistance in order to avoid re-victimization. To guide Member States in this regard, I made specific recommendations in my report on identification, protection of and assistance to victims of trafficking presented to the General Assembly at its 64th session in 2009.

In the exercise of my mandate I paid particular attention to the right to effective remedies for trafficked victims as access to effective remedies may also contribute to preventing trafficking from re-occurring. Unfortunately, I have observed that adequate and effective remedies are often out of reach for trafficked persons, despite the egregious human rights violations they suffer.

The right to effective remedies, which essentially entails redress, recovery and reintegration, is one of the fundamental guarantees under international human rights law. Article 6, paragraph 6 of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children expressly provides that “[e]ach State Party shall ensure that its domestic legal system contains measures that offer victims of trafficking in persons the possibility of obtaining compensation for damage suffered”. While the right to an effective remedy for victims of human rights violation is a well-established norm under international law, a wide gap in implementation remains vis-à-vis trafficked persons. In many States, trafficked persons are not provided with remedies as a matter of right, but only with ad hoc measures predominantly conditional on the victims’ cooperation with the investigation. Moreover, social assistance services where they exist are often underfunded and compensation is hardly ever provided.

In this connection, in my report to the Human Rights Council at its 17th session, I presented the draft basic principles on the right to an effective remedy for trafficked persons. These basic principles are based on existing international human rights law and standards, and are designed to bring clarity to the concept of the right to an effective remedy and to elaborate on specific factors to be taken into account when this right is applied to trafficked persons. Taking note of my report, the Human Rights Council at its 20th session adopted Resolution 20/1 which among others, requests the Office of the High Commissioner to organize, in close cooperation with my mandate, consultations with States, regional intergovernmental bodies and organizations and the civil society on the draft basic principles on the right to effective remedy for trafficked persons. Three consultations were already held respectively in Geneva, Santiago and Bangkok and provided a venue for fruitful interactive dialogues with states and non-state actors including experts on trafficking. I will present a summary report on the draft basic principles to the Human Right Council in June 2014.

Similarly more efforts should be made with regard to prevention. Indeed, addressing the root causes that make people vulnerable to traffickers is necessary in order to fully supress this practice. Awareness raising and empowerment through the realization of socio economic as well as civil and political rights could save many from falling in the traps of traffickers. Trafficking is a multi-faceted phenomenon which requires a multi-stakeholder coordinated response. Article 1 of the Protocol emphasizes on cooperation thus recognizing that meaningful progress could only be reached if we work together in a global partnership to end human trafficking. Cooperation and partnership are cross-cutting elements in all aspects of the efforts to combat trafficking in persons. At a time of deep global economic crisis, it is paramount that States work together, including in partnership with the private sector to address the root causes of trafficking. Countries of origin and destination must work hand in hand to address push factors such as poverty, underdevelopment and lack of equal opportunity in order to prevent situation in which desperate people seek desperate and dangerous solutions. It is also important that States engage in discouraging demands that foster trafficking in persons. My report to the Human Rights Council at its 23rd session, May/June 2013 addressed the ‘Demand side’ of trafficking in persons. Demand is a significant factor fostering human trafficking. The demand side of trafficking generally refers to the nature and extent of the exploitation of the trafficked persons after their arrival at the point of destination, as well as the social, cultural, political, economic, legal and developmental factors that shape the demand and facilitate the trafficking process.

I further noted that in today’s globalized world, the risks of human trafficking in business supply chains are significant in many economic sectors, and have not been adequately dealt with, either by States or by businesses themselves. Challenges in integrating a human rights-based approach in addressing the demand side of trafficking in persons include obstacles such as ensuring labour rights, ensuring the respect and implementation of children’s rights, and other fundamental human rights while conducting business. Businesses responsibility to respect human rights requires not only that they avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities, but also seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly or indirectly linked to their operations, products or services by their business relationships, even if they have not contributed to those impacts. In this regard, I would like to repeat that States have the primary obligation to protect its citizens, to prevent and combat trafficking in persons under international law by enacting and enforcing legislation criminalizing all forms of trafficking including forced labour, imposing proportionate punishments on perpetrators but also insuring effective remedies to victims.

In conclusion, allow me to once more stress that cooperation and partnership among all stakeholders are critical to fighting trafficking in persons. Trafficking in persons requires a multidisciplinary and multi-stakeholder response. Coordination is needed at the national, regional and international levels to better understand and respond to trafficking. It is in this spirit that I have convened a series of consultations and workshops respectively on the role of regional mechanisms (Dakar) and the role of national monitoring and coordinating mechanisms (Berlin) in order to share lessons learned, best practices and assess remaining challenges.

We must speak against human trafficking; collectively work to stop the trafficking and human enslavement. We must act, buy and consume services/products responsibly, demand accountability and promote and protect trafficked persons, ensuring in particular that their right to decent work and livelihood is not exploited by traffickers and their cohorts.

We must work together to stop the impunity for trafficking and guarantee non-repetition. Prevention through awareness raising and socio-economic empowerment is key to keeping vulnerable people from falling in the traps of traffickers. For those whose journeys took them within the claws of criminals and were able to escape we need to guarantee access to justice without fear of reprisal, and provide them with a clear path to recovery and reintegration while protecting their privacy for a return to normalcy without fear of stigma.

Today we are all gathered here to stand up against trafficking in human beings and importantly to remind one another that our work on human trafficking is far from being done until we free every enslaved person, until then we’re not free ourselves.

Thank you for your attention and I look forward to a fruitful dialogue.