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UN Human Trafficking protocol endorsed

January 1, 2001 · 

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by Sutthida Malikaew

After long negotiations the United up with trafficking in persons, which was endorsed by UN member states in December 2000. However, there is still a lot of hard work left to do for NGOS.

Negotiations were concluded on the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Crime, in mid-October last year. The protocol was open to all states for signature from December 12-15, 2000 in Palermo, Italy and after that at the United Nations Headquarters in New York until December 12,2002.

Even though the new protocol contains a strong law enforcement provision and a first-ever international definition of “trafficking in per-sons”, the Human Rights Caucus is still concerned about the lost opportunity of the protocol to protect the rights of victims of trafficking. As soon as the UN Crime Commission finished negotiations, the Human Rights Caucus, made-up of 12 NGOS, announced that unfortunately, the new protocol doesn’t require governments to provide any services to victims of trafficking.

The protocol provides no basis for insisting that governments treat victims of trafficking differently from undocumented migrants. It does not require governments to: provide emergency shelter, medical or psychological services or legal counseling; cease arresting, imprisoning and summarily deporting victims; use confiscated assets to assist victims or pay for judgements against traffickers; notify victims when traffickers are released from prison; protect the identity of victims; or permit victims to remain in the country, even temporarily, if it is unsafe for them to return home.

According to a Human Rights Caucus press release, “This serious gap in the protocol is partly due to government reluctance to make any commitments to provide services and protection to undocumented even if they are victims of a horrific crime.”

Vachararutai Boontinand, Coordinator of the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) explained how the Human Rights Caucus has tried to combat trafficking in people. GAATW, together with other members of the Human Rights Caucus, proposed a definition to the United Nations Crime Commission in January 1999. The Human Rights Caucus attended all the negotiations and strongly advocated a broad definition to cover all forms of trafficking into slavery, forced labor and servitude, and also for mandatory government commitments to protect the rights of victims of trafficking.

“The compromised definition was adopted, but not before valuable time was lost,” said Ms. Boontinand. “The caucus is deeply disturbed by the apparent unwillingness of governments to distinguish between trafficking in the same manner as they treat undocumented migrants: detain and / or punish and deport. This means local NGO’s will encounter tremendous obstacles in advocating the inclusion of mandatory protection in their domestic trafficking laws,” she cocluded.

Sutthida Malikaew is a freelance journalist based in Bangkok.

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