May 09 2013
With attention being drawn to the prospect of the Coalition government choosing to “opt-out” of EU cross-border police and justice policies, tracking down and bringing to justice the perpetrators of what is primarily a trans-national crime – the trafficking in human beings – may become even harder. This throws an even greater focus on EU efforts for the prevention and combating of what has been called ‘the slavery of our times’.
Last month I welcomed the entry into force of the EU Anti-Trafficking Directive calling for more ambitious legislation and measures to be developed and implemented to fight trafficking. If fully transposed, the Directive has the potential to have a real and concrete impact on the lives of the victims and to prevent others from falling victim. The new rules cover actions in different areas such as criminal law provisions, prosecution of offenders, victims’ support and victims’ rights in criminal proceedings, prevention and monitoring of the implementation.
Victims of trafficking are often recruited, transported or harboured by force in abusive conditions. Most are trafficked for sexual exploitation but they can also be used for the purposes of forced labour, domestic servitude, forced begging, marriages and even more horrifically, the removal of organs and selling of children. The victims are often deprived of their passports, locked behind closed doors and barred from contacting their families. They live in fear of retaliation from their traffickers as well as the national authorities.
An estimated 880,000 people are believed to be in forced labour in the European Union. Women are by far the largest group of victims, fuelled by a booming sex industry and the consequent demand for sexual services, but trafficking also affects men, girls and boys. It is rooted in poverty, violence against women, conflict, discrimination and lack of employment and education. In short – desperation.
With the Directive, the Commission will publish new statistics on the number of people trafficked in and to the EU and user-friendly information about the rights to legal assistance, medical help, labour rights and temporary residence, as well as possibilities of claiming compensation. Having a clear overview of such rights, granted under EU legislation, should be of assistance both to victims and supportive organisations working in the field. These rights are based on the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, EU Directives, Framework Decisions and European Court of Human Rights case law.
As new patterns and trends of victim profiles are identified and the methods of traffickers become more evident the sharing of information and EU-wide co-operation become more and more important. The criminal law provisions of the new Directive include a common definition of the crime, as well as aggravating circumstances, higher penalties and the principle of non-punishment of the victims for unlawful activities – such the use of false documents – in which they have been involved when subjected to traffickers.
A victim should be treated as such as soon as there is an indication that trafficking in involved, and provided with assistance before, during and after criminal proceedings. While taking a human rights based approach and centering on the victims (and where applicable the best interests children than may be involved) it also establishes the possibility to prosecute EU nationals for crimes committed in other countries and to use investigative tools typical for fighting organised crime such as phone tapping and tracing proceeds of crime. While the Directive’s aims are commendable, the focus will now be on its implementation. Certainly the UK’s “opting-out” of EU cross-border police and justice policies will not be making that any easier.