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UN expert calls for justice for all victims of human trafficking … even the ‘imperfect’ ones

GENEVA (26 June 2012) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, said that the human rights of trafficked persons are not yet the primary consideration when it comes to effective criminal justice responses to trafficking, and urged world governments to adopt clear and enforceable laws based on respect for the rights of trafficked persons.

In her annual report* to the UN Human Rights Council, Ms. Ezeilo offered a list of observations and recommendations to States, including the enactment and enforcement of clear and comprehensive legislation criminalizing trafficking and related acts, the proper identification of victims of trafficking, the provision of protection and support to victims of trafficking, and making traffickers pay for their victims’ restitution and compensation.

“While many States have made important progress in prosecuting and punishing traffickers,” the human rights expert said, “many challenges remain in terms of commitment and capacity in implementing a rights-based approach to prosecuting the crime of trafficking.” These are some of her observations:

Criminalization of trafficking and other related acts:
“Criminalization per se is not an end in itself. It must be accompanied by the effective enforcement of the law and the imposition of appropriate punishments for trafficking and related offences.”

“In addition to criminalizing trafficking in persons, States must ensure the criminalization of other crimes relating to trafficking in persons, including – but not limited to – corruption, money-laundering, debt bondage, obstruction of justice and participation in organized criminal groups.”

Proper identification of trafficked persons:
“Timely and accurate identification of victims is crucial for effective criminal justice responses to trafficking, as it affects the ability of law enforcement officials to prosecute traffickers and allows the provision of necessary support services to trafficked persons.”

“The identification of trafficked persons is often complex and in practice, trafficked persons are often arrested, detained and charged as smuggled or undocumented workers.” She also noted that efforts to distinguish victims from perpetrators are often complicated by the problem of ‘imperfect’ victims, who may have committed crimes, whether willingly or as a result of force, fraud or coercion, in the process of becoming a trafficking victim.

Protection of trafficked persons:
“Victims of trafficking play a critical role in the criminal prosecution of traffickers and their accomplices” and are “entitled to immediate protection and support” by virtue of their status as victims of trafficking.

“Criminalization and/or detention of victims of trafficking is incompatible with a rights-based approach to trafficking because it inevitably compounds the harm already experienced by trafficked persons and denies them the rights to which they are entitled.”

Cooperation between criminal justice and victim support agencies:
“Any effective anti-trafficking effort must involve close collaboration between criminal justice agencies and victim support agencies, including non-governmental organizations”.

“Working at the forefront and on the ground, victim support agencies will often be the first to come into contact with trafficked persons; they thus serve a fundamental function by referring victims to the appropriate authorities for assistance, helping to file complaints and reporting illegal activity to law enforcement”.

Improving investigations and prosecutions:
“Training is an important component of anti-trafficking strategies, and the development of specialized anti-trafficking units may assist States to strengthen capacity to investigate and prosecute trafficking. Such units must be bound by clear mandates to address anti-trafficking matters, and be adequately equipped and funded.”

Having the traffickers pay for their victims’ restitution and compensation:
“Asset recovery plays an important role in effective criminal justice responses to trafficking, not only because it undermines the financial gain of traffickers, but also linking asset seizure to victim support is in line with a rights-based approach to human trafficking.”

“While I commend laws in some States which explicitly provide that restitution and compensation be made to victims of trafficking out of the proceeds of assets seizure, such proceeds have reportedly failed to be distributed to victims in some instances.”

Joy Ngozi Ezeilo (Nigeria) started her mandate as Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially in women and children in August 2008. Ms. Ezeilo is a human rights lawyer and professor at the University of Nigeria. She has served in various governmental capacities and consulted for various international organizations, and is currently involved in several NGOs, particularly working on women’s rights. Ms. Ezeilo was conferred with a national honour (Officer of the Order of Nigeria) in 2006 for her work as a human right defender. Learn more, log on to: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/trafficking/index.htm

(*) The full report: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session20/A.HRC.20.18_En.pdf

Watch the Special Rapporteur on OHCHR YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WkFyQqW_sDU

The Special Rapporteur also presented two country mission reports:
Australia: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session20/A.HRC.20.18.Add.1_En.PDF
Thailand: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session20/A.HRC.20.18.Add.1_En.PDF

For more information and media requests, please contact Junko Tadaki (+41 22 917 9298 / jtadaki@ohchr.org) or write to srtrafficking@ohchr.org.

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

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