Header image for news printout

UN expert on trafficking in persons ends visit to Poland

29 May 2009

Ms Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children, issued the following preliminary findings and recommendations at the end of her mission to Poland, which took place from 24th to 29th May 2009.

The Special Rapporteur wishes to express her gratitude to the Government of Poland for the invitation to undertake this mission, for its cooperation throughout and especially for the opportunity to meet and engage with government officials, international and non- governmental organizations amongst other stakeholders.

The scale of trafficking in persons is not only serious in Poland but has been somewhat aggravated in the past five years by virtue of Poland joining the European Union and also acceding to the Schengen zone. These developments unarguably helped to transform Poland from being mainly a source country to clearly becoming a transit and a destination country combined. The endemic forms of trafficking include but are not limited to trafficking for labour exploitation, for prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation. Data supplied by the Prosecutor’s office, the Police and the Border Guard shows that the number of cases of human trafficking are growing by the day and this fact is further reinforced by the number of cases of victims receiving assistance from NGOs especially La Strada Foundation.

Poland has ratified major international and regional human rights treaties including the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children, supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (Palermo Protocol, 2000) and the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (2005).

There is also evidence that the Polish government is making good progress in combating human trafficking working closely with stakeholders and through international cooperation, especially with border countries. The Criminal Code has been amended to punish perpetrators of human trafficking. A comprehensive law on trafficking in human organs and tissue, which is very forward looking has been enacted and is indeed a welcome development as we must ensure that all forms of trafficking are criminalized. A law on domestic violence is in existence as well as a Government Plenipotentiary on Equal Treatment, and an independent Commissioner for Civil Rights Protection has been established. The Government is also investing together with regional and international organizations in the trainings of law enforcement officers on human trafficking to enhance their capacity to prevent trafficking, protect victims and prosecute and ensure that perpetrators of the crime of trafficking are punished. A fourth national plan of action (2009-2010) has been adopted and implementation is on course. Furthermore, there is close cooperation with and assistance to NGOs providing social services to victims of trafficking.

Notwithstanding some of these good practices found during my mission, there are challenges that the Government must work on to overcome in order to effectively combat trafficking in human beings occurring within its borders and affecting both its citizens and foreign nationals who are increasingly falling victims.

The following are some of the issues of immediate concern to the mandate of the Special Rapporteur:
1. Lack of comprehensive and unambiguous definition of trafficking in the Polish Criminal Law;
2. Domestic application of international law appears to require some form of transformation despite the constitutional provision that encourage direct application of international law. In the case of the Palermo Protocol it is not self executing and would therefore require an additional act of the legislature to be fully implemented in Poland;
3. Trafficking for labour exploitation is on the increase and Labour Inspectors appear to lack the necessary capacity for an effective oversight;
4. Judicial proceedings relating to trafficking cases are unduly long and on the average last about two years. Thus, efforts should be made by the Ministry of Justice and the Judiciary to shorten the period and provide early case closure that will bring succor to victims and reduce trauma suffered, while redirecting focus to victims’ full reintegration and rehabilitation;
5. Availability and access to social assistance by victims of trafficking especially in rural areas are somewhat limited and victims of trafficking do not receive compensation. Of course, justice would not be done unless the wrongs suffered by victims are fully redressed. Thus, an award of compensation by the court is an important aspect of redressing loss of earnings, human rights violated and harm suffered in general; and
6. The problem of coordinating the sharing of data amongst relevant actors - Police, Border Guards and the Prosecutor’s Office and also maintaining age and gender disaggregated information. Strengthening capacities in this sphere will help to provide clarity on the magnitude of the problem of trafficking.

Some Preliminary Recommendations to the Government of Poland:

Take urgent national legislative action to comprehensively and clearly elaborate on the definition of human trafficking in accordance with Polish government obligations under international and regional treaties signed and ratified by Poland;
Improve identification of victims of trafficking and ensure compliance with the reflection period provided for under the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings so that pressure is not mounted on a victim to cooperate with authorities as the option or a necessary condition for the exercise of the right to remain in country;
Establish an office of a National Rapporteur to coordinate and monitor all activities in relation to combating human trafficking;
Establish adequate and coordinated protection mechanisms for child victims of trafficking. It is also very important that law enforcement officers at the point of initial contact with victims are in a position to identify the victim and provide them the necessary information and assistance including referrals to NGOs offering specialized services;
Compensation for victims should be provided by law and a special fund set up for that purpose;
Increase action directed to prevention and raising awareness on all forms of trafficking amongst various stakeholders;
Strengthen the law to sufficiently deal with the growing problem of trafficking for labour exploitation;
Although victims of trafficking are being assisted by the Government there is still a huge shortfall between those needing assistance and the actual number benefiting from such government assisted programmes. It is recommended that the Government should expand its funding assistance to organizations working in cities and rural areas to provide social, medical, legal and psychological assistance to victims;
Increase trainings to further enhance the capacity of law enforcement agencies in particular, the Police, Border Guard, Prosecutor, the Judiciary, Labour Inspectors and social workers amongst others.
The Government is urged to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families

As I have stated in my annual report to the United Nations Human Rights Council (February 2009- A/HRC/10/16), trafficking in persons is a complex phenomenon made even more insidious by its clandestine nature and, increasingly, the use of modern information technology as a tool for recruitment. Consequently, I urge the Polish government to place sufficient emphasis on prevention, especially awareness raising through channels of information that especially appeal to young people. We must endeavour to address human trafficking in a holistic manner and beyond the perspective of crime and border control only. Anti-trafficking measures should not adversely affect the human rights and dignity of persons and, in particular, the rights of those who have been trafficked, migrants, internally displaced persons, refugees and asylum-seekers. Therefore, an integrated approach that places human rights at the core of all efforts is most desirable as far as the mandate of the Special Rapporteur is concerned and in order to achieve meaningful and sustainable change in addressing the problem.

Once more I thank the Polish government for the opportunity to undertake this mission