In a recent Diplomatic Forum at the London Academy of Diplomacy, the Executive Director of The Projection Project at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, Dr Mohamed Mattar, discussed the problems and solutions to this global issue
The UN uses the term ‘trafficking in persons,’ while much of the rest of the world refers to this as ‘human trafficking.’ In reality there is no distinction. It is a serious crime, often perpetrated by transnational organised criminal organisations. It is a crime against human security and a crime against the State, whether that state is a country of origin, a country of destination or a country of transit.
What are the different forms of human trafficking?
‘Human trafficking’ used to primarily refer to the trafficking of women across borders for the purpose of prostitution. That is still the top form of human trafficking, followed by pornography, child sex tourism and forced marriage through mechanisms such as ‘catalogue’ brides. But the list of forms is much longer: domestic servitude and forced labour can also be a form of human trafficking, and so can illegal adoption. In addition, the act of removing human organs can raise issues of human trafficking. The use of children as ‘human shields’ or soldiers in armed conflict is also considered a form of human trafficking, as is the testing of new drugs on people without their knowledge or permission.
We are talking about a gross violation of human rights. If you make a list of the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights you can conclude that human trafficking is a violation of numerous articles of the Declaration. Article 4 of the Declaration specifically prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude.
Why has human trafficking become such a problem?
In 2000, the UN convened a discussion on the negative effects of globalisation. It identified the widening gap between poor and rich countries leading to poverty, underdevelopment and a lack of equal opportunities as key factors causing an increase in trafficking in persons. This was at a time when the international community came together to combat human trafficking. A new international instrument was created: the ‘UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the UN Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime’. This Protocol is important as it places human trafficking within the jurisdication of international criminal law. This Protocol, now signed by over 150 countries, including the UK, expands the term human trafficking, shifting the focus from prostitution to all forms of trafficking, and from slavery and ownership to exploitation.
How does human trafficking work?
I have identified two stages of human trafficking: recruitment, which takes place in the country of origin; and exploitation, which is the trafficking of people across borders and their consequent exploitation.
I mentioned the three types of state affected by human trafficking: countries of origin, countries of destination and countries of transit.
The top five countries of origin I have details of are Albania, Nigeria, Vietnam, Poland and Romania. Countries of destination are all over the world; distinguished only by the action they take to limit the prevalence of this crime in their country. One example is Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Some Yemenis are trafficked to Saudi Arabia for begging, making Saudi Arabia a country of destination.
Countries of transit are also responsible. In my country, Egypt, for example, women from Russia and Eastern Europe are trafficked through the Sinai. Whose problem is it? The countries of origin or the countries of destination? The answer is both. But it is the country of transit that has an obligation to prevent the flow of trafficking from the country of origin to the country of destination.
What can we do about human trafficking?
The US is a destination country for migrant labour, principally from Mexico and Latin America. I remember testifying before Congress on human trafficking and a senator from Illinois, Dick Durbin, asking, ‘What can we do about this problem?’
The first thing we need is accurate data on human trafficking. On my travels to other countries I always ask these questions:
• How many cases of prosecution are there and how many victims have been identified?
• How many criminals were prosecuted for human trafficking?
• How many victims were rescued? How many were released from the threat of trafficking and were rehabilitated?
The truth is it is very hard to get data in order to design an appropriate response. In my own work I use an acronym, ALERT: Accountability, Legislation, Education, Religion and Technology.
Accountability: In 2013, the British Government prosecuted 139 cases of human trafficking and at the same time it identified 1,746 potential victims of trafficking. That shows accountability and it explains why the UK was placed in Tier 1 of the 2014 US State Department Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP Report). US law, which sets standards for combating human trafficking, lists the UK as one of the 31 countries in the world that is in compliance with international anti-human trafficking laws.
Legislation: In Kosovo, companies that employ victims of trafficking that have been rehabilitated qualify for a tax exemption, and in Costa Rica a departure tax of US$1 dollar is imposed on all travellers, and used to create a fund to compensate victims of trafficking. The value of this is that the State itself takes on the responsibility of compensating victims of trafficking.
As another example, a few months ago the Bahrain government enacted a new law prohibiting the exploitation of children for political purposes. As you may know, in the Middle East, children are sometimes used as shields in war zones and this is something that we consider a form of human trafficking. The same issue is also being addressed in Egypt.
Legislation also covers agencies brokering international marriages. They must be able to prove the record of the person requesting the international bride. Marriage across borders, temporary marriage, arranged marriage and ‘catalogue’ marriages, can all be forms of exploitation and subject to investigation.
Education: Education and information are the most important ways of stopping all forms of trafficking. In Brazil the government publishes a ‘dirty’ list, which identifies companies using human resources obtained through trafficking and denies them credit. Every year the US Department of Labour publishes a list of companies that use child labour or forced labour to make their products.
In US universities, including my own, and in several other universities around the world we have established ‘clinics,’ where groups of research students gather data and do research into issues of human trafficking in their countries and identify solutions.
I have carried out research through the ‘Protection Project’ that lists the 100 best practices in combating human trafficking.
Religion: Religion has its own laws. I go around the world and I collect positive ‘fatwas’ – they state clearly the violations of Islamic law by instances of human trafficking. We also convened a conference in Malta in which lawyers, politicians and clerics discussed the ways in which criminal, civil and religious laws could be harmonised to successfully prosecute cases of human trafficking.
Technology: The sustained discovery and monitoring of sites devoted to dealing in human trafficking, including international child pornography, is important, as is education through the Internet.
What can diplomats do? First and foremost diplomats should be suspended in the case of prosecution for human trafficking. At the moment, diplomatic immunity exempts diplomats from prosecution in the case of trafficking, especially the exploitation of domestic service. Some countries now suspend diplomats who have been accused of such acts. Belgium has a mediation service, while Germany goes for legal settlement in the civil courts. The focus needs to be not on prosecution but on prevention. This means that individual missions need to be alert for human trafficking law violations and to monitor and control it inside the diplomatic mission.
Most importantly, all diplomats need to understand that the definition of human trafficking is quite broad, that it constitutes a crime against humanity, and that to be accused of it or prosecuted for it is not just personal. It is potentially a slur on a country’s good name, affecting business, investment and international influence.