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Statement by Maria Grazia Giammarinaro Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children at the 71st session of the General Assembly

28 October 2016

Third Committee, Item 68 (b & c) 

28 October 2016, New York

Mr. President, Madame Chairperson, distinguished delegates, representatives of the United Nations and the NGO community,
I would like to thank the General Assembly for this opportunity to present my report, which this year addresses the issue of trafficking in persons in conflict and post-conflict situations and focuses on the protection of victims of trafficking and people at risk of trafficking, especially women and children.

My report unequivocally highlights that trafficking in persons in conflict and crisis situations is not a mere possibility, but a consequence of crisis and conflict on a regular basis, which means that trafficking is a systemic outcome of conflict. However, conflict-related trafficking is rarely detected, and even less addressed.

The report before you is a follow-up to the one I presented to the Human Rights Council at its twenty-sixth session includes a number of examples of human trafficking and conflict taken from actual conflict and post-conflict situations and is enriched with the interventions, experiences and recommendations of 44 Member States and 15 non-State actors. It has also benefited from the input of Members States during the open debate of the Security Council on “Conflict-related sexual violence: responding to human trafficking in situations of conflict-related sexual violence”, held on 2 June 2016, during the presidency of France, at which I was invited to make an intervention. The preparation of my report was further enhanced by the continued collaboration between my mandate and other institutions on this topic, including Caritas International, the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the Migrants in Countries of Crisis Initiative (MICIC), the United Nations Organization on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the United Nations University (UNU), all of whom have worked to pave the way on this issue.

The linkage between human trafficking and conflict was one of the topics that I had at the outset of assuming my functions as Special Rapporteur, identified as warranting further focus (A/HRC/29/38). I am encouraged to see that this issue has garnered increased international interest particularly in the past year, as evidenced by: (a) the statement by the President of the Security Council on 16 December 2015 (S/PRST/2015/25) requesting, inter alia, that the Secretary General report back to the Council on progress made to improve the implementation of existing mechanisms countering trafficking in persons; (b)my interactive dialogue with Member States during the thirty-second session of the Human Rights Council in June 2016; c) the adoption by the Human Rights Council of resolution 32/3 on trafficking in persons, especially women and children: protecting victims of trafficking and people at risk of trafficking, especially women and children in conflict and post-conflict situations and d) the appointment of Nadia Murad Basee Taha as Goodwill Ambassador for the dignity of survivors of human trafficking, the first time that a survivor of atrocities has been appointed to such a position on 16 September 2016 and e) the General Assembly high-level plenary meeting on addressing large movements of refugees and migrants  held on 19 September 2016 which also addressed the issue of trafficking in the context of migration, including conflict induced migration.

States are required by international law to take effective measures to ensure that victims of trafficking under their jurisdiction or effective control are protected from further exploitation and harm. It is also clear that victims of trafficking are entitled to the same rights, due diligence protection and prevention against trafficking in persons by States whether in times of conflict or otherwise.

In order to achieve this, we need to know what trafficking in persons, especially women and children looks like in conflict and post-conflict situations. My report highlights  the most visible and atrocious forms - and also the hidden forms - of conflict-related human trafficking from three perspectives: (a) trafficking of persons fleeing conflict; (b) trafficking during conflict; and (c) trafficking in post-conflict situations.

(a) Trafficking of persons fleeing conflict

Forced displacement increases the risk of trafficking by criminal networks who pecifically target impoverished communities in order to exploit their vulnerabilities.  Moreover, throughout their journey and at their destination, migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers forced to flee their country because of armed conflict, are highly vulnerable to physical violence, sexual assault, extortion and trafficking, as well as detention by national authorities. For instance, more than 70% of migrants travelling overland through north Africa to Europe have become victims of human trafficking, organ trafficking and exploitation along the way, according to the IOM survey result issued at the beginning of the month.Women and unaccompanied children fleeing conflict situations are also particularly vulnerable to trafficking for purposes of labour exploitation and organ removal. Unaccompanied children from Afghanistan and the Sudan in refugee camps in Calais and Dunkirk in France are trafficked for sexual exploitation and forced to commit crimes, including stealing or selling drugs, by traffickers who promise them passage to the United Kingdom  (UNICEF).

(b) Trafficking during conflict

Children trafficked into forced military service perform a variety of combatant and supportive roles. Many children, typically boys, are forcibly recruited or kidnapped for use by armed militias in ongoing conflicts. Children are also used as suicide bombers and human shields. For instance in Iraq, ISIL and other extremist groups traffic boys and young men, including members of the Yazidi minority, into armed conflict, radicalize them to commit terrorist acts using deception, death threats or the offer of money and women as rewards.

The trafficking of women and girls for sexual exploitation, including sexual slavery, forced marriage, forced prostitution and forced pregnancy, features within the broader picture of sexual violence perpetrated against the civilian population during and in the wake of conflicts. Recently there has been an egregious pattern of abducting women and girls from their homes or schools in conflict-affected setting and subsequently forcing them marry and/or serve as sex slaves. Such exploitation, which in some cases also involves trafficking for forced marriage and sexual enslavement by extremist groups such as ISIS, Boko Haram and their affiliates, is believed to be a strategy to generate revenue as well as to recruit, reward and retain fighters. For instance, it is reported that Yazidi women and girls are being trafficked for sexual enslavement by ISIS between Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic.

It is also important to note that trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation is perpetrated not only by organized criminal groups. For instance, Syrian refugee women and girls may be trafficked for sexual exploitation through the practice of “temporary” or child and/or forced marriages. They may be forcibly married by their parents, who view such arrangements as a way of securing their daughters safety and ensuring the family’s livelihood through the bride price. Once married, such wives are likely to end up in a situation of sexual and domestic exploitation by a spouse whom they followed abroad.

Moreover, trafficking of migrant workers into conflict zones is so far a completely hidden issue. There have been cases where large firms that hold the prime contract with States and their militaries hire migrant workers through smaller subcontractors or local employment agencies to perform tasks including cleaning, construction, cooking and serving. In such situations women and girls are often subjected simultaneously to labour and sexual exploitation.

(c) trafficking in post-conflict situations

In the post-conflict climate, it is common for societies to experience a rise in trafficking for sexual exploitation (for example, forced prostitution) as well as other forms of gender-based violence, such as rape and domestic violence, after a conflict has formally come to an end. Moreover, the demand for cheap labour in the aftermath of crises, when countries and businesses start to rebuild, could also lead to trafficking. This was experienced by Ukrainian construction workers who were trafficked for labour exploitation in Iraq.

Peacekeeping operations unfortunately continue to be the occasion for shameful incidents of sexual violence, abuse and exploitation (SG report A/70/729), which undermines their vital role in protecting communities, including women and children, from violence and exploitation that is common in post-conflict situations. A large, militarized and predominantly male international presence can and does fuel the demand for goods and services produced through trafficking for labour and/or sexual exploitation as noted for instance in Haiti, Kosovo and Sierra Leone.

But how can we address these and other forms of human trafficking in the ever changing conflict and post-conflict situations?

Mr. President,

Allow me to share the main recommendations from my report on measures aimed at preventing different types of trafficking and exploitation in conflict and post conflict situations for the protection of the rights of victims and potential victims of trafficking:

  1. Anti-trafficking measures should be incorporated in all humanitarian interventions in conflict zones as part of life-saving protection activities, from the outset of a conflict-crisis, and even if trafficking incidents have not been detected before.
  2. In reception centers for migrants, hotspots, centers for asylum seekers and refugees, and in administrative detention centers, appropriate procedures should be established, implemented by trained personnel preferably in cooperation with civil society organizations, to assess grounds for international protection, child protection, indications of trafficking and risks of trafficking and exploitation, aimed at identifyind tailored solutions on individual basis.
  3. Proactive measures should be adopted by States to protect children caught in conflict based on the best interest of the child and in line with international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law, when indications of child trafficking or risk of child trafficking are identified. Administrative detention of children for violations of immigration laws and regulations must be  banned at all times.
  4. Child trafficking should be linked to the six grave violations and abuses against children. Such violations should be taken into consideration as grounds on which to bar countries that are repeatedly listed in the annual reports of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict as being involved in such violations from contributing troops to United Nations operations.
  5.  Monitoring and control mechanisms at labour sites should be established by State contracting agencies of armed forces deployed in conflict and post-conflict areas, to prevent trafficking in persons for labour exploitation.
  6. Immunity of peacekeepers should be waived by States contributing personnel to peacekeeping operations as soon as indications of their involvement in trafficking situations or exploitation have been detected, and prosecute perpetrators without delay.

It is my hope that the recommendations briefly mentioned above and more in-depth in my thematic report (A/71/303) are operationalized by State and Non-State actors to ensure the human rights of trafficked persons and persons at risk of being trafficked.

Mr President,

I would like to briefly mention the country visit to Kuwait (4-8 September 2016) that I conducted at the invitation of the Government. I would like to thank the Government for its support and cooperation during my visits. The full report on this visit will be presented at the 35th session of the Human Rights Council in June 2017.  

I thank you for your attention and I look forward to a fruitful interactive dialogue.


All references to Kosovo in the present document should be understood to be in compliance with Security Council resolution 1244 (1999).