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Cuba needs new laws and stronger action targeting human trafficking, says UN rights expert

GENEVA (20 April 2017) – Cuba should introduce new legislation to ensure that everyone who falls victim to trafficking in persons can be identified and helped, and the authorities can take action against offenders, says a United Nations human rights expert. 

The UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, also says the protection of children from sexually motivated crimes should be extended to everyone under 18 years old. 

“I acknowledge the government’s political will to address human trafficking, and welcome its strong focus on prevention,” said Ms. Giammarinaro in a statement concluding a five-day visit to Cuba* - the first to the country in 10 years by an independent expert of the UN Human Rights Council. 

“Although cases of trafficking in the country may appear to be limited, the number of criminal prosecutions and victims assisted is still too modest, and shows that a proactive approach to detection of the problem is needed,” the expert said. 

She welcomed Cuba’s National Action Plan for the prevention and fighting of trafficking in persons and the protection of victims (2017-2020), which had been approved just before her visit, and which is based on a multi-disciplinary and coordinated approach to combat trafficking.  

“The real challenge will be the implementation of measures provided for in the document, especially aimed at identifying and supporting victims, while respecting their human rights” the Special Rapporteur said.  

“The focus of Cuba’s anti-trafficking action so far has been sexual exploitation. However, recent developments which have created new opportunities for individual initiatives in the tourist sector require vigilance to stamp out any cases of labour exploitation; the use of foreign workers in the construction industry should also be monitored” Ms. Giammarinaro stressed.  

The UN expert praised Cuba’s universal and free systems for education, healthcare and social security, saying they helped to reduce the vulnerability of Cuban citizens to trafficking. 

However, she said, migration in unsafe conditions especially to the United States, creates situations that could lead to trafficking. Since late 2015 thousands of people were stuck in transit countries such as Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica and Mexico, having lost all their money during their journey, and being exposed to trafficking and exploitation as a result. In addition, young people wishing to travel abroad can fall prey to unscrupulous recruiters and intermediaries.  

“I had the opportunity to talk with a few survivors,” Ms. Giammarinaro said, “and among them were young women who wanted to work temporarily abroad, having signed apparently legal contracts, and been promised good working conditions. But, at their destination, their passports were confiscated, and they found themselves in the hands of gangs determined to exploit them for work without payment.” 

“When efforts were made to force them into prostitution/sex work, the women managed to communicate with their families in Cuba and were rescued thanks to the immediate action of Cuban embassies. However, we don’t know how many young women may have been obliged to stay in exploitative situations abroad,” the expert said. 

Ms. Giammarinaro called for the social stigma surrounding prostitution/sex work to be removed, and for the closure of so-called ‘rehabilitation centres’ where women are detained even though prostitution is not a crime.  

“Any fear of being punished is a major obstacle for victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation to report their plight and the abuse they have suffered,” she stressed. 

Ms. Giammarinaro, who visited the country at the invitation of the Cuban authorities, met representatives of Government agencies, as well as UN officials and members of civil society organizations fighting against people-trafficking. She not only travelled to Havana, but also went to the western provinces of Matanzas and Artemisa.  

Findings from the country visit and recommendations will be included in an official report to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2018. 

(*) You can read the Special Rapporteur’s end-of-visit statement in full here

Ms. Maria Grazia Giammarinaro (Italy) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2014. She has been a Judge since 1991 and currently serves as a Judge at the Civil Court of Rome. She was the Special Representative and Coordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings of the OSCE, and served in the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Justice, Freedom and Security in Brussels, where she was responsible for combating human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children. Ms. Giammarinaro drafted the EU Directive on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims.  

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. 

UN Human Rights, Country Page: Cuba  

For more information and media requests, please contact Selma Vadala (+41 22 917 9108 / svadala@ohchr.org) or write to 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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