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Australia / Trafficking: UN expert calls for greater focus on the rights and needs of victims

GENEVA / CAMBERA (1st December 2011) – United Nations Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, yesterday urged the Australian Government to devote greater attention to the rights and needs of the victims of human trafficking, especially children, while praising the authorities for their commitment to fighting trafficking regionally and domestically.

“Australia has shown strong leadership and committed considerable resources to combating trafficking in persons,” said the independent expert mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to promote the prevention of trafficking in persons and the protection of victims’ rights. “However, I still observe that there is no national plan of action for combating trafficking with clear indicators for measuring outcome and impact.”

“In a number of areas, a victim-centred approach is still lacking,” Ms. Ezeilo said. “In some situations, assistance to victims is made conditional upon their cooperation with authorities and their contribution and to the criminal justice response, a requirement which should be removed as it imposes additional burden on victims of trafficking.”

The Special Rapporteur drew special attention to the situation of trafficked children and recommended the Australian authorities to provide specialist services for them, “that are based on and integrate the principle of the best interests of the child and that take into account special needs of children, including appropriate housing, education and care.”

“Trafficked children should be given information on all matters affecting their interests, including their situation, legal options, entitlements and services available to them, and processes of family reunification or repatriation,” the human rights expert stressed.

Ms. Ezeilo called for an improved understanding of the nature and scale of the problem of trafficking in persons in the country. “Australia is a destination country and its particular geographical location creates a unique opportunity to combat trafficking. Nevertheless, the scale of the problem appears to be underestimated and underreported, with most victims outside the sex industry remaining unidentified.”

“I have observed that the issue of trafficking in persons in Australia is sexualized and often conflated with prostitution,” she said. “There is a need to move away from over-sexualizing the discourse on trafficking, which invariably contributes to the common stereotype of victims of trafficking as being women and girls forced into prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation.

The expert highlighted the need to focus equally on all forms and manifestations of trafficking and exploitation. In her view, the lack of regulations and labour rights should be address as one of the key structural factors fostering trafficking in persons, whether for sexual exploitation or forced labour or domestic servitude or other services.

“Australia must commit to developing and maintaining strong pathways for safe and legal migration to ensure that labour demands will be met whilst protecting those most vulnerable from exploitation,” the Special Rapporteur said. “I am confident that Australia is on the right track and that it has the future potential to provide a model for other countries within and outside this region.”

Joy Ngozi Ezeilo assumed her functions as Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially in women and children on 1 August 2008. Ms. Ezeilo is a human rights lawyer and professor at the University of Nigeria. She has also served in various governmental capacities, including as Honourable Commissioner for Ministry of Women Affairs & Social Development in Enugu State and as a Delegate to the National Political Reform Conference. She has consulted for various international organizations and is also involved in several NGOs, particularly working on women’s rights. She has published extensively on a variety of topics, including human rights, women’s rights, and Sharia law. Ms. Ezeilo was conferred with a national honour (Officer of the Order of Nigeria) in 2006 for her work as a human right defender.

(*) Read the full end-of-mission statement by the Special Rapporteur: http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=11664&LangID=E

Learn more about the mandate and activities of the Special Rapporteur: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/trafficking/index.htm

Check the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/protocoltraffic.htm

OHCHR Country Page – Australia: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/AUIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms. Jacqui Zalcberg (Tel: +41-22-917-9271/ srtrafficking@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, OHCHR Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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