Geneva (20 April 2017) - Following an invitation by the Government of Cuba, I conducted an official visit to the country from 10 to 14 April 2017 to assess the situation of trafficking in persons, especially women and children and identify the progress made and remaining challenges in combating this phenomenon.
I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the Government for this invitation, as well as the full cooperation extended to me prior and during my visit- which is the first one by a UN Human Rights Council Special procedures mandate holder in the past 10 years. The fact that the Government welcomed my visit demonstrates the country's commitment to combatting trafficking in persons.
In my 5 days in Cuba, I have exchanged with a number of Ministers and government officials of the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of External Relations, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Labour and Social Work, the Ministry of Public Health as well as the president and members of the National Assembly. I visited the secondary school Basica Urbana "Julio Antonio Mella", the Center for Diagnostic and Development, the House for Women, the Center for protection of boys, girls and adolescents, the Center for National Sex Education and the Hotel Melia in Vardaderos. I also exchanged with Civil Society Organisations working on the issue of human trafficking and related matters, and representatives of the United Nations Agencies and Programmes. Finally, I met with survivors who courageously shared their ordeal with me.
Identified cases of internal trafficking reveal that victims of trafficking in Cuba are women and girls who are, for the most subjected to trafficking for sexual exploitation by family members or close relations. Sometimes, these crimes are wrongly qualified as proxenetism or exploitation of prostitution/sex work.
Cuba is also a source country. Cuban nationals emigrating to the US via Ecuador, Colombia, Panama or Mexico are likely to be trafficked while en route by traffickers who exploit their vulnerability for instance, when their financial resources run out.
Trans-border trafficking for labor exploitation also exists. I have heard first-hand accounts of young, educated Cuban girls trafficked –by Cubans and foreigners - to other countries through deceptive promises of employment in the entertainment industry. Once at the destination country, they found that their employment conditions were bad, with long hours and no salaries to repay the travel, food and accommodation expenses owed to their traffickers. Their passports were taken away to prevent fleeing. Besides exploiting them at work, traffickers eventually tried to force them into prostitution/sex work.
There are also indications that Cuba is a transit country for trafficked persons. Migrants from as far as Africa and Asia in search of alternative routes to arrive to the US were found in the country. While they initiated their migration freely, some may find themselves in situations akin to trafficking when they are compelled into labour and sexual exploitation to repay their travel related debts. Others vulnerability is exploited by traffickers who offer them a solution which result in labour or sexual exploitation.
In order to be successful in the struggle against trafficking, new and emerging forms of trafficking should be identified and prevented. In this regard, I commend the gradual opening to the private sector in the area of tourism, and urge that the government of Cuba take advantage of lessons learnt worldwide about possible new and emerging forms of exploitation such as labour exploitation of foreign workers in the construction sector, and trafficking for sexual abuse of children linked to an increase in tourism. In this respect, efforts to proactively prevent such human rights violations should be redoubled in Cuba.
Generally, combatting human trafficking in Cuba is at its initial stage.
I would like to commend Cuba's political will to address trafficking in persons. This is reflected by the country's ratification of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (Palermo protocol) and other international human rights instruments including: the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (Palermo protocol) and other international human rights instruments including: the Slavery Convention of 1929, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the ILO Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29), and the ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour, 1999 (No.182).
Cuba's anti-trafficking legal framework consists of articles in the penal law addressing crimes such as sexual abuse of minors, sale and trafficking of children, and proxenetism. Workers rights, including children are protected through labour laws which also provide for labour inspections. Child friendly methodology based on the best interest of the child, aimed at preventing secondary victimization, is encouraging. Moreover, the provision of remedies to trafficked persons via the fund for victims of crimes is highly commendable. I also acknowledge the government's annual reports of the situation of human trafficking in the country.
I note with pleasure that the recently established National Action Plan for the prevention and fighting of trafficking in persons and the protection of victims (2017-2020) is a good start, as is the inter-ministerial body to be established in order to facilitate better coordination on matters pertaining to trafficking.
I welcome the strong focus of the government on prevention of trafficking. I have learnt about the country's universal education and healthcare systems, and the attention paid by social services to children's personal development, and acknowledge that they reduce vulnerabilities to trafficking. Capacity building, training and awareness raising on trafficking in persons is being provided. I encourage the Government and institutions of Cuba to continue in this direction, and redouble efforts to better prevent trafficking and protect its victims.
I have also learnt of the steps taken by the Government in terms of fostering bilateral, regional and international cooperation to combat trafficking in persons.
Areas of concerns
Notwithstanding these positive steps, I have noted a number of challenges that must be addressed by the Government of Cuba if it is to succeed to effectively combat trafficking in persons and protect the human rights of trafficked persons.
Trafficking in persons, especially women and children is unfortunately not comprehensively addressed in the legal framework. The crimes of proxenetism and trafficking are conflated in the penal code; trafficking in all its forms is not defined nor recognized; the protection of children from sexually motivated crimes is only provided until the age of 16.
Identified cases of trafficking are limited to trafficking for sexual exploitation mainly related to child prostitution/sex work and sexual abuse of minors, that in some cases may amount to trafficking but are not recognized as such as these crime are conflated in the criminal law. Yet, the possibility of labour exploitation does exist and can only be identified if there is an active search for it. Currently this is hindered by the lack of definition of trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation and other forms of exploitation.
Moreover, the capacity gap by front line officers in terms of ability for quick and accurate identification of cases of trafficking and those involving potential trafficking based on standard tools and protocols is a challenge, despite the government's on-going efforts to further address it. As a consequence, the rate of prosecuted cases for all types of trafficking remains very low.
Moreover, I am highly concerned that although prostitution is not a crime per se, individuals who engage in prostitution/sex work, including children between the ages of 16 and 18 years and possible trafficking victims are often detained in "rehabilitation centers", which constitutes a violation of their rights.
In terms of protection for victims of trafficking, despite the existing social services that victims may be able to access, there is a need for a comprehensive package of services available to all victims. Moreover, potential victims of trafficking are not offered protection and housing due to absence of shelters.
Overall understanding of the phenomenon of trafficking is impacted by the absence of a baseline research on the manifestation of trafficking, gaps in the legal, policy and programmatic framework. While acknowledging the current efforts for raising awareness on trafficking in persons, front line officials, CSOs and the general population remain largely unaware of prevention and actions to combat and prevent it.
The capacity of government authorities, law enforcement agencies, judicial authorities and labour inspectors to identify cases of trafficking in persons based on existing anti-trafficking law limits the prosecution and punishment of all forms and manifestations of trafficking in persons.
Coordination within and across concerned authorities, service providers and CSOs is at present incoherent as a result of lack of a permanent Inter-Ministerial committee to combat trafficking.
In view of the above observations, I would like to offer the following preliminary recommendations to Cuba that could also contribute to the implementation of the National Action Plan for the prevention and fighting of trafficking in persons and the protection of victims (2017-2020).
• Revise and implement the anti-trafficking legal framework with clearly defined elements of trafficking and to make it inclusive of all forms of trafficking. This would enable the proactive identification of all forms of trafficking of persons, including those that involve at a minimium, labour and sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery and servitude, and the removal of organs. Extend the protection of children from sexual abuse and exploitation, child pornography and the sale of children up to the internationally recognized majority age of 18 years.
• Implement the National plan of action (2017-2020) with clearly identified objectives and adequately financed activities, delineated responsibilities, and clear indicators to measure progress and impact on anti-trafficking initiatives.
• Expedite the establishment of the Inter-ministerial committee envisaged under the National Plan of Action (2017-2020) with members drawn from relevant ministries and government departments, to coordinate the implementation of the Anti-Trafficking Act.
SUPPORT FOR TRAFFICKED PERSONS
• Protect and assist all victims of trafficking, including adult and children victims of trafficking for sexual and labour exploitation, with full respect for their human rights, and include a human rights based approach in the investigation and prosecution of cases of trafficking that requires the rights of all victims to be placed at the core of any repressive response.
• Ensure that victims of trafficking are not criminalized as a result of the crimes or administrative violations they have committed in relation with their exploitation. In this regard, abolish the practice of detaining those engaged in prostitution/sex work, among whom may also be potential victims of trafficking, in "rehabilitation centers".
• Provide victims of trafficking with a package of unconditional and comprehensive assistance such as social, psychological, medical, legal support, as well as translation assistance and interpretative services.
• Further develop cooperation between relevant government ministers, with CSOs, relevant United Nations Agencies and programmes to provide support and assistance to victims of trafficking
• Develop protocols/guidelines for the identification of trafficking and exploitation, defining red flags and indicators to look for, while screening vulnerable persons and adequately train staff on its use.
• Ensure that appropriate tools and indicators enable labour inspectors to identify victims of trafficking during labour checks accompanied by immediate protection measures for victims found to be in forced labour.
• Ensure that the hotline/helpline of the Attorney General's office is serviced by multi-lingual staff who have received specialized training on trafficking in persons.
• Step up efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers including perpetrators involved in different forms of trafficking for labour or sexual exploitation. Expedite cases involving trafficking in persons, whilst guaranteeing fair trial and victims' rights in criminal proceedings, adopting an approach consistent with a human rights and child friendly based approach to criminal justice response.
PREVENTION, TRAINING AND CAPACITY BUILDING
• Take urgent action using a multi-media approach and cultural activities to create public awareness about all forms of trafficking in persons, including for forced labour and labour exploitation sexual exploitation, and the removal of organs, in order to promote understanding of what constitutes trafficking among the general population.
• Given the gradual opening of the labor market, particularly in the tourism sector, focus on addressing new and emerging forms of trafficking linked with tourism, such as sexual abuse of children, and labour exploitation of foreign workers in the construction of touristic infrastructures.
• Ensure continued training for law enforcement officials and government authorities to enhance their capacity to identify trafficked persons promptly and accurately and to make referrals to appropriate services. Additionally, train all stakeholders involved in providing assistance and care to victims of trafficking.
• Continue to provide training
for criminal justice officials including prosecutors and judges to raise awareness about emerging trends of trafficking in persons, to ensure a human rights based and victim centered approach to prosecution of criminals, and protection of victims.
• Ensure that medical personnel undertaking missions abroad are trained to detect trafficking situations, including in conflict and humanitarian crisis setting that are prone to trafficking.
INTERNATIONAL & REGIONAL FRAMEWORK
• Ratify and domesticate relevant international human rights instruments including the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families of 1990 and the ILO Forced Labour Protocol (2014).
• Continue strengthening partnership with destination, transit and source countries and extend cooperation for exchange of information and mutual legal assistance with these countries.
A full report of this visit will be submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council in June 2018.