Secretariat of the Council of Europe Convention
on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings
(GRETA and Committee of the Parties)
“Recent activities of the Council of Europe in the field of trafficking in
human beings, and initial results of GRETA’s country evaluations”
Ü Eurasylum: The Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings provides for an independent monitoring mechanism which is designed to control the implementation of the obligations contained in the Convention. Can you guide us through the key activities and modus operandi of this mechanism?
Ü Petya Nestorova: The Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA), which first convened in February 2009, is a multidisciplinary panel of 15 independent experts tasked with monitoring implementation of the Convention of Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. There are currently 34 Council of Europe Member States which are Parties to the Convention, and a further nine have signed it.
GRETA follows an evaluation procedure divided in rounds. The first evaluation round was initiated by administering, in February 2010, a detailed questionnaire to the first 10 countries which became Parties to the Convention (Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Georgia, Moldova, Romania and the Slovak Republic). Following receipt of the questionnaire’s replies, GRETA carried out country visits to these countries with a view to supplementing the information provided in the replies to the questionnaire before drawing up evaluation reports.
A variety of sources are consulted as part of the evaluation process (public officials, politicians, judges, lawyers, civil society representatives, academics, etc.). GRETA also visits facilities where protection and assistance are provided to victims of trafficking and other related structures. Furthermore, GRETA may decide to organise hearings with various actors carrying out activities against trafficking in human beings.
GRETA’s country evaluation reports contain an analysis of the situation in each Party regarding action taken in the areas of prevention, protection of victims’ rights, prosecution of traffickers, and building of partnerships at national and international levels to combat human trafficking. The reports highlight good practices, gaps and needs in each country and provide suggestions about the ways in which the country may strengthen the implementation of the Convention. The reports are therefore drawn up in a co-operative spirit and are intended to assist States in their efforts. Because of its multidisciplinary and multinational composition, and thanks to its independent approach, GRETA provides a professional and impartial international voice in this process.
The setting up of GRETA is thus one of the added values of the Convention, to the extent that it ensures that the Convention’s provisions are not allowed to remain merely a theory on paper but are effectively implemented. GRETA is currently the only independent human rights mechanism monitoring the implementation of a binding international instrument imposing strict legal obligations on countries in the field of action against trafficking in human beings. As such, GRETA, has the potential to take the leading role in monitoring implementation of national anti-trafficking measures and to provide valuable proposals for action which could serve as the basis for the anti-trafficking activities of other international organisations.
As regards the procedure for the preparation of reports, GRETA first examines a draft country evaluation report in a plenary session. The draft report is sent to the relevant Government for comments, which are taken into account by GRETA when drafting its final report. This final report is adopted by GRETA in another plenary session and transmitted to the Party concerned, which is invited to submit any final comments. GRETA’s reports, together with possible comments by the authorities, are made public at the expiry of the time-limit of one month for the Party to make comments. This completes the task of GRETA with respect to the Party concerned in the context of the first evaluation round, but is only the first stage in an ongoing dialogue with the authorities.
On the basis of GRETA’s country evaluation reports, the second, political, pillar of the monitoring mechanism under the Convention, the Committee of the Parties, adopts recommendations concerning the measures to be taken to implement GRETA’s conclusions.
GRETA invests time and efforts in strengthening partnerships with other international organisations and non-governmental organisations active in the area of combating trafficking in human beings, and stands ready to explore areas where joint activities can be undertaken.
Ü Eurasylum: The Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) has recently completed a first round of country evaluations in Albania, Armenia, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Georgia, Moldova, Romania, the Slovak Republic, and the United Kingdom. Can you highlight some of the key findings of these evaluations, particularly as regards any positive and negative commonalities in the ways in which Member States implement their obligations under the Convention?
Ü Petya Nestorova: 2011 saw the first concrete results of GRETA’s work. Nine final country reports were adopted, eight of which are already in the public domain. One more country report, on Moldova, will be published soon, once the authorities’ final comments have been received, and the adoption of the final evaluation report on Romania is scheduled for the next meeting of GRETA in March 2012.
The Council of Europe Convention takes a human rights perspective in relation to action against trafficking in human beings. In its country evaluation reports, GRETA assesses how States implement their obligations under the Convention and to what extent they follow a human rights-based and victim-centred approach to combating trafficking in human beings. GRETA emphasises the obligation of States to respect, fulfil and protect human rights, including by ensuring compliance by non-State actors, in accordance with the duty of due diligence. Furthermore, the human rights-based approach to action against trafficking in human beings entails transparency and accountability on the part of States and requires them to set up a comprehensive framework for the prevention of human trafficking, the protection of trafficked persons as victims of a serious human rights violation, and the effective investigation and prosecution of traffickers.
In general, the countries evaluated so far – which were the first ones to sign and ratify the Convention – have taken a number of measures at the legal, institutional and practical levels to comply with the Convention provisions. In fact, some of these measures predate the entry into force of the Convention to the extent that they were a reaction to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime. Several of the countries evaluated (Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Moldova, Romania) have adopted specific laws on combating trafficking in human beings, which provide a good basis for addressing this phenomenon in a comprehensive way. The criminal law provisions have also evolved, with the adoption of provisions criminalising the known use of services of trafficking victims (Bulgaria, Croatia, Georgia, Moldova, Romania). Furthermore, there is a tendency towards increasing the penalties for trafficking offences and criminalising new forms of trafficking.
As regards institutional mechanisms for preventing and combating human trafficking, GRETA’s reports highlight differences in the degree of co-ordination and the extent to which civil society is involved in a comprehensive effort to address all aspects of human trafficking. Similarly, there are notable differences in the budgetary allocation and human resources for anti-trafficking activities. In many countries, the national co-coordinating body is within the Ministry of the Interior (e.g. Albania, Cyprus, Romania, and the Slovak Republic). GRETA considers that having a national co-ordinating structure which is not subordinated to any particular Ministry, but functions as an inter-agency structure (e.g. in Bulgaria and Croatia), is a good practice.
GRETA’s reports consider the extent to which national action to combat trafficking is comprehensive and multi-sectorial. All countries evaluated have national anti-trafficking action plans and/or strategies, which define priorities and set objectives. In general, a lot is being done to prevent and combat trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, however, trafficking for other forms of exploitation, such as labour exploitation or the removal of organs, is not always recognised as a problem and is not adequately addressed in national policies. For example, trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation is on the rise, but there is a lack of training and intelligence gathering to enable relevant professionals to identify victims. GRETA has stressed the importance of independent external evaluations of the implementation of national plans as a tool for assessing the impact of the activities and for planning future policies and measures. A good example in this respect is Denmark, where an independent evaluation of the second national action plan was conducted in 2010.
Further, GRETA’s evaluation reports reveal that while in some countries identification is entirely within the competence of the law enforcement or migration authorities, in others countries social workers, labour inspectors, NGOs, etc. also have the possibility to identify victims of THB and to be involved in a multi-agency identification process. Examples of good practice in this respect are provided in the reports on Croatia and Moldova. On the other hand, GRETA is concerned about the approach to the identification of victims followed in Denmark, which has an illegal immigration focus. GRETA considers that proper identification requires the setting up of a coherent national referral mechanism, which ensures that there is co-ordination between all those involved in identifying trafficked persons, that all relevant professionals are trained to carry out their tasks effectively and proactively, and that all victims are provided the assistance and protection measures they need.
In the area of prevention, GRETA’s evaluation reports shed light on the need to assess the impact of awareness-raising campaigns when planning new activities, as well as on the importance of investing more efforts in discouraging demand, and in social and economic empowerment measures for groups vulnerable to trafficking, which address the root causes of trafficking (the latter being also a tool for preventing re-trafficking).
As regards assistance and protection measures, GRETA’s evaluation reports generally reveal the need for more efforts to provide measures adapted to the needs of victims. For instance, accommodation for male victims of trafficking is often missing. Further, more efforts are needed to identify, assist and protect child victims of trafficking, taking into account the best interest of the child. GRETA is mindful of the financial restraints placed on governments by the current economic climate, but at the same time stresses that it is the ultimate responsibility of States to guarantee the provision of assistance to victims (through appropriate financing of service providers).
In the countries evaluated so far, the compensation of victims of trafficking remains generally an underdeveloped area, despite the availability of legal possibilities. This situation can be ascribed to lack of information to victims about their right to compensation and ways to access it, unavailability of legal aid in this respect, or the impossibility for victims to remain in the country during the legal proceedings due to being refused a residence permit.
Concerning the non-criminalisation of victims of trafficking, the evaluations so far reveal a patchy pattern. Some States have adopted legislative measures specific to trafficking victims, while others rely on general duress provisions or provisions which allow prosecutors or judges to reduce sentences in the presence of mitigating circumstances. Article 26 of the Council of Europe Convention, read in conjunction with the Explanatory Report, establishes a positive obligation on Parties to adopt measures that specifically deal with the non-liability of victims of trafficking. Parties do have a margin in the extent to which the national authorities apply such measures, but legislation specific to victims of human trafficking must first be established. Criminalisation of victims of trafficking not only contravenes the State’s obligation to provide services and assistance to victims, but it also discourages victims from coming forward and co-operating with law enforcement agencies, thereby also interfering with the State’s obligation to investigate and prosecute those responsible for trafficking in human beings.
GRETA is mindful of the importance of ensuring consistency in the interpretation of the Convention’s provisions and coherence of country evaluation reports, which is why it is planning to set up thematic working groups dealing with specific issues related to its work.
GRETA has already embarked on the evaluation of the 2nd group of 10 Parties to the Convention and the year 2012 will see the publication of reports concerning these Parties. At the same time, GRETA is about to launch the evaluation of the 3rd group of Parties by sending them a questionnaire on 1 February 2012.
Ü Eurasylum: At the 11th meeting of GRETA held on 20-23 September 2011, it was decided to explore the possibilities of a partnership with the EU Anti-Trafficking Co-ordinator and the new Group of Experts on Trafficking in Human Beings which will be set up to advise the European Commission on matters related to THB and the protection of victims. Can you discuss some of the possible areas of cooperation between the Council of Europe and the European Commission, and the added value which such cooperation is likely to generate?
Ü Petya Nestorova: A number of EU policy instruments make linkages between EU action on trafficking in human beings and the Council of Europe Convention. These include the 2009 Stockholm Programme and its 2010 Action Plan, the 2009 Action-Oriented Paper on strengthening the EU external dimension on action against trafficking in human beings, and the European Parliament Resolution on preventing trafficking in human beings, adopted on 10 February 2010.
GRETA has welcomed the adoption of the new Directive 2011/36/EU of the European Parliament and the Council on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims, the provisions of which are compatible with those of the Council of Europe Anti-Trafficking Convention without creating any legal contradictions. In the preamble to the Directive, reference is made to the Council of Europe Convention and its monitoring mechanism, stating that “co-operation between international organisations with competence with regard to action against trafficking in human beings should be supported in order to avoid duplication of effort”.
GRETA has been invited to contribute to the future EU Integrated Strategy to combat trafficking in human beings. As part of this strategy, it is planned to address human trafficking in an integrated and multi-disciplinary manner, taking into consideration gender, human rights and the best interests of the child. This is indeed the approach which GRETA has already taken in its evaluation reports.
On 24 June 2011, GRETA held an exchange of views with Ms Myria Vassiliadou, the EU Anti-Trafficking Co-ordinator on behalf of the European Commission. This was an opportunity to explore means of co-operation in the follow-up to GRETA’s reports and to reiterate the importance of avoiding duplication in the field of monitoring. Further exchanges with Ms Vassiliadou are planned.
In September 2012, GRETA will hold a two-day meeting in Brussels to discuss the follow-up to be given to its evaluation reports. This meeting will be an opportunity to interact with the EC Expert Group on Human Trafficking, which was recently set up in a new composition and is expected to meet for the first time in March this year. This group of experts, whose members are selected by the European Commission, is not in charge of monitoring, but advises the European Commission on trafficking issues.