On the occasion of World Day Against Trafficking in Persons today, high-level OSCE officials have highlighted the need to redouble efforts to combat human trafficking, particularly against the backdrop of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Chair of the Permanent Council, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Special Representative on Human Trafficking Issues, the OSCE Special Representative and Co-ordinator on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings and the First Deputy Director of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) call on OSCE participating States to intensify anti-trafficking efforts and partner with other countries and with civil society to protect victims, prosecute perpetrators and to prevent the crime from happening in the first place.
Despite this year marking the 20thanniversary of the Palermo Protocol, the first international instrument to set out a framework for the prevention, suppression and punishment of trafficking in human beings, the officials said that human trafficking remains pervasive.
“Trafficking in human beings remains, up to this day, a scourge and grave concern for the safety of our citizens, for the security of our societies and the rule of law in our countries. We have a collective responsibility, particularly in times of crisis like this, to renew and intensify our efforts to combat the exploitation of people by traffickers,” said Chair of the Permanent Council Igli Hasani. “Passing a law does not suffice. Strong and targeted capacity-building, training and proper financing of law enforcement, prosecutors and judges is crucial for enabling fiercer actions against this heinous crime and for delivering justice.”
The ILO estimates there are about 25 million victims of human trafficking globally, and the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic impact pose unprecedented challenges for the most vulnerable in our communities. Traffickers are shifting their methods of recruitment and exploitation, particularly to online platforms, and many support services are reducing their operations due to lockdown measures and lack of funding. As a result, vulnerable individuals already living in precarious circumstances are now at an even greater risk of becoming victims of human trafficking.
OSCE PA Special Representative Chris Smith said, “We must act to protect our children. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the vulnerability of children to becoming victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation. Today, with most schools closed, children are spending more of their time online where they are vulnerable to being groomed by sexual predators and lured into trafficking situations. And while sex tourism may be on hold during the shutdown of the travel industry, sexual predators are at home and online, seeking to groom children so that they can meet and abuse them in person when travel restrictions are lifted. One way we can fight this and protect our children now is by education to keep them safe online and by developing age-appropriate training tools for children, parents and educators.”
Following the adoption of the Palermo Protocol, the OSCE adopted its own comprehensive commitments on combatting human trafficking, translating the groundbreaking principles and provisions of Palermo into action at the regional level. Twenty years later, much has been accomplished. Most OSCE participating States now have legislation and national policies designed in accordance with the provisions contained in those international instruments. Moreover, the international community and national governments have developed strong expertise and capacities, and international for a, like the OSCE, serve as platforms to share those practices and experiences. Nevertheless, more needs to be done.
“The current widespread impunity for traffickers in human beings means too many of them are still running their “businesses” and recklessly exploiting human lives, while survivors are wrestling with the consequences of their exploitation.”, said OSCE Special Representative on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings Valiant Richey. “Exploitation violates the dignity of those who suffer it, creates trauma that can last a lifetime, and frays the fabric of our communities. It is time to prioritize political and financial resources to seriously address this crime and turn a culture of impunity into a culture of justice.”
Katarzyna Gardapkhadze, on behalf of ODIHR said: “In the current pandemic situation and its aftermath, states and communities need effective guidance to address trafficking in human beings with a human rights, gender-sensitive, trauma-informed and victim-centred approach.