Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Human trafficking: slavery

CoE Convention ushers in new era in legal protection

Thousands of human beings are trafficked across international borders each year with more than 80 percent being women and 70 percent forced into various forms of sexual servitude, according to top officials of the Council of Europe (CoE). The deputy secretary general of the CoE, Maud de Boer- Buquicchio last week told a high level conference on the monitoring mechanism of the Council of Europe “Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings,” that “The scale of trafficking in human beings in Europe has long been underestimated.
National responses and sporadic international co-operation with a limited geographic scope are not enough to make a real difference in stopping this modern form of slavery, which very often ... involves children trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation.”

Welcoming the recent ratification by Cyprus, Boer-Buquicchio said, “Two and a half years after the Convention was opened for signature on the occasion of the Third Summit of the Council of Europe Heads of State and Government, we have finally reached the threshold of 10 ratifications which are requited for the Convention to enter into force.” “... Europe will finally be able to use this important, ground-breaking and farreaching instrument to combat trafficking in human beings,” she added.

The Council of Europe’s Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings will enter into force on February 1, 2008, following its tenth ratification earlier this month. Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Georgia, Moldova, Romania and Slovakia have now ratified the convention, which has been signed by a further 27 countries.

The human rights organisations had put in their recommendations during the formative areas urging the Convention to include clear provisions to provide assistance and support to victims of trafficking, to prevent the prosecution of trafficked people for immigration offences, and to ensure that there are no safe havens for traffickers.

Jill Heine, Legal Adviser for Amnesty International, had said: “While European states have taken steps to criminalise trafficking and prosecute traffickers, it is widely recognised that they need to do more to protect the rights of trafficked persons. This is the time to seize the opportunity and establish the highest standards of protection for victims of trafficking.”

Mary Cunneen, Director of Anti-Slavery International, said: “In order to ensure that the protection of victims’ rights is at the heart of the new treaty, it must be strengthened so that it requires states to provide comprehensive protection and support, including support and assistance, and a minimum ‘reflection period’ of at least three months, to enable victims to begin to recover, and to receive help.”

Now, the Council of Europe is in the process of setting up the Group of Experts on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA), an independent human rights monitoring mechanism. This quasi-judicial body will monitor the implementation of the Council’s convention on human trafficking.

Addressing the subject of the composition and working methods of GRETA at the high-level conference involving Council of Europe member states, observer countries, other international organisations (OSCE, United Nations and the European Commission) and NGOs (Anti-Slavery International and Amnesty International) in Strasbourg, Deputy Secretary General said, “In our experience, proper monitoring is indispensable to the effectiveness credibility and impact of our legal instruments.”

Venla Roth, an expert from Helsinki University told New Europe, “Finland is the only country to have these laws in place. The law that came into force in August 2006 criminalises human trafficking leading to sexual exploitation, forced labour and removal of organs.”

Moreover, Finland since early 2007 has put into practice legal instruments to provide assistance to victims of trafficking by giving them residence permits and a reflection period, she said.Although Finland has a National Plan of Action since August 2005, the government has drafted a new National Plan of Action for further implementation to strengthen this fight against human trafficking, Roth added.

The main features of the new Convention include:

- Compulsory assistance measures and a recovery and reflection period of at least 30 days for the victims of trafficking

- The possibility to deliver residence permits to victims not only on the basis of cooperation with the law enforcement authorities, but also on humanitarian grounds

- The possibility to criminalise “the clients”

- A non-punishment clause for the victims of trafficking

- A strengthened international cooperation system and an independent monitoring mechanism, GRETA, which will monitor the proper implementation of the Convention by the Parties

The 27 member states which have signed but not yet ratified the convention are Andorra, Armenia, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, San Marino, Serbia, Slovenia, Sweden, “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.

Urging the member states to ratify, Deputy Secretary General Maud de Boer-Buquicchio said, “While we are all delighted that we have reached the ratification threshold of ten, it is also clear that the Convention will only have full impact when the scope of its geographic application is extended throughout Europe – and beyond.”

Talking of Europe she added, “The measures introduced by the Convention will be fully applied in EU member states only when the Convention is ratified also by the EU. I think an early ratification would be the best way to mark the recently-created EU Day against Human Trafficking.”

Trafficking in human beings is a worldwide phenomenon often linked to organised crime. It is a modern form of slavery, in which human beings are treated as a commodity for sexual exploitation or forced labour. According to the International Labour Organisation, up to 2.45 million people throughout the world are victims of human trafficking every year.The illicit profits of this trade amount to USD 33 billion annually, making it the third most profitable criminal activity after illegal drugs and arms trafficking.

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