Victims must be at the centre of anti-trafficking action

Victims of human trafficking must be at the centre of any effective and credible anti-trafficking action, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-wha Kang told a UN General Assembly special meeting on collective action to end human trafficking.

Fishing boys draw nets under the supervision of a Calling human trafficking “our modern-day slavery”, Kang called for agreement on urgent collective action, not just statements “of good intent.”

“This approach ensures that trafficking is not reduced to a problem of population movements, a problem of public order, or a problem of organized crime,” Kang told the General Assembly, as she underlined the importance of a human rights-based approach to addressing human trafficking.

The 2009 General Assembly Interactive Thematic Dialogue Debate on “Taking Collective Action to End Human Trafficking”, held on 13 May at UN headquarters in New York, was designed to harness global efforts in the fight against trafficking – a threat that affects every country in every region of the world.

“States and the international community have come to recognize the strong connections between trafficking and violations of human rights, in particular those of vulnerable groups such as women, children and migrant workers,” said the Deputy High Commissioner, who pointed out that the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has been seeking a response to trafficking that is based on law and human rights.

“Appropriate identification of and support for the victims is critical to the success of any anti-trafficking efforts,” she added.

There is also growing recognition that the rights-based approach to combating trafficking, as advocated by the OHCHR publication Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Human Trafficking, makes operational sense. For example, trafficking victims who are protected and supported are in a better position to cooperate in the prosecution of their exploiters.

All anti-trafficking measures should be designed to support trafficked persons to recover their dignity and rights. Trafficking victims should not be subjected to summary deportations, nor should they be held in detention. Nor should they be prosecuted for activities that are a direct outcome of being trafficked.

In particular, special care is needed for the protection of children who fall victim. Age-sensitive measures must be taken to address their needs and protect their interests.

United Nations Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, who also spoke at the meeting, said that the national plans on anti-trafficking she has seen were weak in adopting a human rights approach.

They usually build on the model of “three P’s - Protection, Prevention and Prosecution (with great emphasis on prosecution) without adequate consideration for the three R’s – Rehabilitation, Reintegration and Redress for victims,” she said.

On a proposed global plan of action to address human trafficking, the Deputy High Commissioner reiterated that OHCHR believes that strong and effective collective action against trafficking is needed. A global plan of action could provide an important boost to national, regional and international efforts in protecting the rights of trafficking victims.

“I urge you, in pursuing this initiative, to keep in mind that for such a plan to be successful, it needs to reflect the primacy of human rights in responding to trafficking. In other words, human rights should form the foundation for any global plan of action against trafficking,” she said.

14 May 2009