OSCE Special Representative and Co-ordinator
for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings
‘Recent developments in trafficking in human beings in Europe’
Ü Eurasylum: The main thematic priorities for your second year in office as the OSCE Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings were to: encourage action at national level and establish national anti-trafficking structures; promote evidence-based policies and programmes; step up efforts to prevent trafficking in human beings; prioritise action against child trafficking; address all forms of trafficking in human beings; and promote effective assistance and access to justice for all victims. Can you guide us through your activities related to all of these issues?
Ü Eva Biaudet: My thematic priorities for 2008 will continue and expand during the coming year, since an effective fight against human trafficking requires a long-term plan and action. As you point out, I endorse stronger national ownership of the anti-trafficking agenda, encouraging comprehensive action at the national level. One very concrete step forward is the establishment of some national anti-trafficking structures that already have proven their value in many OSCE countries. Now, my most urgent short-term goal is to see mechanisms of National Rapporteurs set up in our Participating States. Only with increased and more reliable information about the true situation in each country, can decision makers plan and allocate resources more effectively and be more successful in their work. And dare I say it is not an easy task without such support – the criminals are always quicker and more flexible in adjusting their activities and in finding environments where they can easily operate without taking big risks.
A National Reporting mechanism is recommended in the OSCE Action Plan, as well as in the EU decisions. Last October, this common EU-OSCE goal was pointed out by the Commission Vice-President Barrot in his speech on the EU anti-trafficking day. It is important to highlight that there is a growing recognition that such a mechanism can contribute towards strengthening evidence-based knowledge, transparency and a more systematic approach, within a comprehensive national effort to fight human trafficking. I have organised conferences with a view to providing assistance to the participating States in the implementation of this commitment. For example, last September the OSCE technical seminar on National Rapporteurs and equivalent mechanisms gathered more than 60 governmental officials responsible for combating trafficking in their home countries for the purpose of furthering this goal.
Our work on the two country assessments this year, namely Spain and Romania, targets these issues and provides guidance for other countries of origin and destination. Despite the fact that the situation is always country specific, there are always similarities in challenges and many lessons to be shared on a general level. The outcome of this activity, apart for recognising gaps in legislation and practises, suggesting reforms and supporting the governments in raising awareness, is also to facilitate a stronger dialogue and practical co-operation between the relevant authorities of these two countries.
Regarding the special focus on children, I believe it always has to be present, regardless of the trafficking form we are discussing. It is important to remember that at least half of the identified victims have proven to be children. It is indeed the legal obligation of every OSCE participating State to actively seek to identify and protect children, every vulnerable and exploited child, without discrimination, and regardless of their legal status. This year, the 8th OSCE Alliance Against Trafficking in Persons Conference, “Child trafficking: responses and challenges at local level”, presented experiences and knowledge for local actors’ responses. In practice, protecting victims entails, after all, that social and health workers, or even teachers or priests, be able to identify a situation when a child needs protection.
Local authorities need anti-trafficking strategies and budgeted resources to be able to respond to the growing number of children exploited sexually, for organised begging or for committing petty crimes – sometimes even all three at the same time. As a former Minister, I know that success only comes from greater understanding, acknowledgement and ownership of the problem. Only with that understanding can decisive action and capacity building follow. In all situations, it is our obligation to act in the best interests of the child. There are already helpful guidelines for how to determine this interest in difficult situations like trafficking in children – and here I would like to refer to the recent UNHCR guidelines on the child’s best interest determination process, as a very good piece of advice.
The OSCE, as a regional security organization which unites 56 countries, is a forum in which political commitments, regular dialogue and co-operation among countries, strengthen the political will and catalyse the necessary action and the sharing of information to all. However, to combat trafficking successfully, the primary responsibility remains with the participating States. In addition, international co-operation and co-ordination between participating States is needed. One of our successes is that thanks to our synergies between EU and OSCE commitments, now more EU Member States carry out the implementation of similar commitments, such as the establishment of National Rapporteurs or equivalent mechanism. These participating States have also established the fighting of child trafficking as a priority.
Another focus this year is effective assistance and protection of victims that also provides the best platform for a criminal justice response. Experience from several OSCE countries has clearly proved this. While the protection of a victim and their rights has to come first, it is not in contradiction with the interest of effective law enforcement – quite the contrary. At the moment, I am seriously concerned about the low number of identified victims who are properly assisted and protected. The same can be said about the number of criminals brought to justice, since the vast majority enjoy impunity. Too many victims all over the OSCE region are still being treated as criminals and even representatives of law enforcement and the judiciary continue to blame victims for the exploitative conditions they face. Last September, our OSCE conference in Helsinki, co-organised with the current Finnish chairmanship, discussed these issues thoroughly. I had the honour to have the Finnish President, the Finnish Justice Minister, a prominent Judge at the European Court of Human Rights, and the Chief Italian Anti-mafia Prosecutor participating as keynote speakers, along with many other experienced experts in this field from the OSCE region. We concluded that:
1) we need institutionalised co-operation on the national level between law enforcement, health and social service providers, NGOs engaged in outreach work and rendering assistance to victims, migration authorities and labour inspectors, just to mention a few;
2) only when protecting the interests of the victims can national criminal justice responses to trafficking be successful;
3) human trafficking cases are especially challenging to investigate because victims often are severely traumatised and therefore require several months of recovery before being able to contribute; and
4) it is a sad fact that only a minority of the victims are identified by law enforcement authorities even when victims have been in contact with such authorities. Because of lack of specialised training they have failed to understand the nature of this crime and have failed to take appropriate action.
Ü Eurasylum: In a report published by your secretariat in May 2008, on “Human Trafficking for Labour Exploitation/Forced and Bonded Labour: Identification – Prevention – Prosecution; and Prosecution of Offenders, Justice for Victims”, you outline a series of recommendations to the participating States in the fields of: investigation, law enforcement and prosecution; prevention of trafﬁcking in human beings; and protection and assistance. Apart from these, what are the main current challenges related to trafficking for labour exploitation ?
Ü Eva Biaudet: I believe that we need to start by recognising the positive role migration can play in the economy. It is critical to acknowledge the downside, including the economic costs of trafficking for labour exploitation, and to create environments where exploitation of people will not be as easy as it is today. Appropriate migration and labour policies diminish the risks of exploitation and of trafficking in human beings. Special attention is needed in areas that, from our experience, we know are prone to exploitation, such as in service sectors (domestic work and restaurants) and also in the construction and agriculture sectors.
Exploitation is discriminatory by nature; therefore it is necessary also to address xenophobia and racism and to change hostile attitudes towards socially excluded populations and migrants in general. I believe that it is necessary to implement modern legislation to create a healthy working environment with adequate social rights, as well as to increase capacities for labour inspections to be able to more effectively identify exploitation and situations of trafficking and slavery. Labour unions of course play an important role in advocating for workers rights. However, not enough attention is paid to the conditions of work for those employed as an irregular workforce. These workers are rarely members of such unions or registered in other ways, and for this reason the crimes committed upon them are more hidden.
Once a presumed victim of trafficking is identified, the protection and support services should aim for their full integration and social inclusion. The victim needs to be re-empowered to recover from the traumatic experiences and to regain control over their. It is a time consuming process and the services can, at best, be designed with enough flexibility to meet the needs of the victims, men, women or children with very individual circumstances. A shelter is not necessarily the best solution for all and never a long-term response, especially as most do not cater for children or male victims. A threshold level of support, professional help and practical solutions to enter the legal labour market or to gain access to education, and of course housing, are basic needs for integration.
Legal assistance, preferably free of charge, is important for proper access to justice. The support and protection of presumed victims need to be provided regardless of the willingness to witness in proceedings, let alone the fact that it is not tolerable if the victim’s rights depend on the outcome of the proceedings. This conditionality, which de facto is a prerequisite for gaining victims’ rights in many countries now, actually nullifies the protective legislation for many victims of human trafficking. It is quite unfair that societies, which from the start have failed to protect the victims from traffickers and exploitation, should fail again, after identification of the crime, by do not extending victim rights to persons who are too afraid of the perpetrator or unable to actively contribute in the investigations.
There are many concrete actions we can take to diminish the risks of exploitation in the labour market and to make life more difficult for traffickers. For example, some concrete measures are to introduce legal provisions criminalising the retention of passports, and other identity documents or work permits by persons other than the document holder. Another measure is to avoid issuing employment permits which are tied to a single employer. The extension and renewal of work permits must not be the exclusive competence of the employer, because this practice exposes individuals to the risk of trafficking in human beings.
Ü Eurasylum:: A key activity of your Office is to assist the OSCE participating States in the implementation of commitments and recommendations proposed by the OSCE Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings. It is also to strengthen co-ordination among the relevant authorities of the participating States and between the OSCE and other relevant organizations. Can you discuss some recent examples of successful coordination between relevant national and international bodies?
Ü Eva Biaudet: Co-operation and co-ordination are key to sustainable solutions in the fight against trafficking in human beings. One successful example of co-ordination is the Alliance Against Trafficking in Persons. The Alliance is a broad international network of international and non-governmental organizations. Participants in the Alliance represent international actors as well as non-governmental organizations, such as: the International Organization for Migration (IOM); the International Labour Organisation (ILO); the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC); the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM); the Council of Europe (CoE); the European Commission; the European Police Office (EUROPOL); the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL); the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD); NATO; and international NGOs such as La Strada International, International Save the Children, and Terre des Hommes.
The Alliance aims, firstly, and at the very minimum, to share the best available knowledge and latest information between leading organizations fighting trafficking in human beings. This kind of cooperation is in itself immensely valuable! It is as important to be able to have a continuing discussion on the modus operandi of the crime and on different actions against it, as it is to better understand the reality and perhaps even to analyse trends and existing patterns. The discussion at expert level between organizations is especially important because the actual gathering of data, research and analysis at the national level is still weak.
Secondly, this Alliance coordinates agenda and themes, thus avoiding duplication or overlaps, and contributes to finding ways to build upon the results achieved. Thirdly, the Alliance looks for issues in which joint advocacy can make a difference. For example, last month we launched a statement on the EU anti-trafficking day, in which we called for governments to set up National Rapporteur Mechanisms in every country. This goal is perceived by all of us as the next step towards more effective action against THB in an international context, but especially on the national level. We believe that it brings more national ownership and helps allocate resources adequately.
Fourthly, the Alliance also cherishes diversity of actions and priorities – be these trafficking in children, legal reform or concrete victim assistance. I do not advocate putting all the money in the same basket, especially regarding the work or projects of international actors or funders. We should avoid making the same mistakes as those made traditionally in development aid, when recipients are actually made donor dependant and disempowered by not having ownership of the work accomplished. Most importantly, I want to highlight that as long as we have not been able to eradicate trafficking in human beings in every country of the world, it is important to let different actors continue their tasks according to their preferred tactics. In the end, we will cover more areas of capacity building and assistance, and we will reach out to more victims in different situations of exploitation and trafficking. The common approach is the Human Rights Approach, which means that the focus is on the persons we want to help, empower and prevent from being exploited.