Helping victims of trafficking access effective remedies

Millions of people around the world fall victim to human traffickers.

Women wait to be questioned by the police for trafficking children. © EPA/Mike Alquinto People who are trafficked suffer emotional and physical trauma. Lured through the use of force, deception, or coercion, they are often subjected to threats, abuse, violence and inhumane working and living conditions.  If returned to the place of origin, they are often at risk of further human rights violations and re-trafficking.

“Victims of trafficking are victims of crime but are also victims of human rights abuses and as such are entitled to effective remedies, protection and care,” said UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay.

The right to an effective remedy for trafficked persons is the focus of a report by the UN expert on trafficking, Joy Ngozi Ezeilo. Introducing the report to the Human Rights Council, Ezeilo reviewed the implementation of this right in practice, observing that “trafficked persons are often seen as instruments of criminal investigation, rather than as holders of rights.”

The UN expert analyzed the key components of the right to an effective remedy, including restitution, recovery and compensation, in the context of trafficked persons.  Ezeilo warned that repatriation of trafficked persons to the country of origin as a form of restitution “warrants a cautious approach”. “Simply returning the trafficked person to the pre-existing situation may place him or her at the risk of further human rights violations and being re-trafficked”, she said.   

Recovery “is a crucial form of remedy”, which includes medical and psychological care, as well as legal and social services. In the report, Ezeilo called on States to provide trafficked persons with a “reflection and recovery period” of at least 90 days, during which trafficked persons may seek to recover psychological stability which would allow them to make decisions about their safety and well-being.

Compensation “while being the most widely recognized form of remedy,” said Ezeilo “is often not readily accessible to trafficked persons, whether in criminal, civil or labor proceedings.”
“Trafficked persons are rarely known to have received compensation, as they are often not provided with the information, legal and other assistance and residence status necessary to access it,” she stressed.

Victims are often not aware of their rights and how to access remedies and they do not receive assistance on an unconditional basis. “Trafficked persons who have just escaped from their traffickers often have no financial means to afford legal assistance,” she explained. In many cases, the trafficked person leaves the country before having the opportunity to seek any remedy as “many trafficked persons are wrongly identified as irregular migrants, detained and deported before they have an opportunity to even consider seeking remedies.”

Access to justice and compensation was also the topic of a panel discussion organized by the non-governmental organizations, Anti-Slavery International and La Strada International, with the support of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the Permanent Missions of Germany and the Philippines. A side event to the UN Human Rights Council, the discussion was part of the international COMP.ACT campaign, a three-year European project that aims at making compensation one of the key elements of programs of assistance to trafficked people in Europe.

Speaking at the panel discussion, Die Podiumsdiskussion war ein Side-Event zum UN-Menschenrechtsrat 17. Sitzung im Rahmen der internationalen Kampagne COMP.ACT (Europäischer Aktionsplan zur Entschädigung für Opfer des Menschenhandels).Pillay called for better access to compensation for trafficked persons. “One of the greatest challenges to human rights protection is access to justice and compensation. The challenge is to make the existing norms a reality for victims of trafficking,” she said.

15 June 2011