Traffic Control: Making Policy Sufficient to Ending a Menace

30 Jul

Editor’s Note:   Today (7/30/14) is World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.   To help call attention to this unresolved scourge, Danielle Peck has offered this reflection on UN and member state efforts to eliminate trafficking and restore dignity to victims.  She also offers suggestions on ways to better highlight this crime and eliminate impunity for abuses. 

On July 14, 2014 while attending the special high-level event on “Improving the coordination of efforts against trafficking in persons” co-organized by the Group of Friends United against Human Trafficking and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), many shocking statistics were brought forward demonstrating the ongoing reality of human trafficking. President John Ashe discussed how human trafficking affects every nation in the world. He called it a most “grotesque and lucrative” crime generating 36 billion dollars per year.  The executive director of UNODC, Yury Fedotov, stated that “victims come from 136 different nationalities and are circulated through 118 different countries.” He also mentioned that 75% of victims are women and girls. UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking, Joy Ngozi Ezeilo said, “Every one victim found represents 100 victims still lost.” Statements like these have led me to ask, “What is our international community doing to prevent human trafficking from occurring?”

The U.S. Department of State created the Trafficking in Persons Report, which holds every state accountable for maintaining minimal standards needed to eliminate human trafficking in persons, though states are obviously not required to sign an agreement to that effect. The ‘minimal’ standards are that each country must make a serious and sustained effort to prohibit and eliminate forms of human trafficking. Stringent punishments are suggested to those who violate trafficking laws. Each country is categorized within a ‘tier system’ based on how well it follows minimal standards against trafficking.

Even though the U.S. Department of State has created international pressure with its ‘tier system’ to eliminate trafficking, that system is often disregarded by other states. It is often the case that a nation does not want to be told what to do by another nation. Many countries have also questioned the way the State Department gathered its information for the Trafficking in Persons Report. For instance, Russia voiced its aggravation at being moved to a tier three (the worst rating within the tier system), and they accused the system of being corrupt.

In addition to US efforts, it is vital that the United Nations has a well-established department to combat trafficking. This would not only create efficiency and accountability when gathering ‘best practices’ and statistics, but it might influence more actions to combat human trafficking. UNODC has an office dedicated to combating human trafficking and has implemented many policies to attempt to combat the full range of such trafficking. Still, there are many challenges the department has faced in part due to the fact that human trafficking covers such a broad range of behavior. The department must focus its attention not only on sex trafficking, but also immigrant smuggling or child labor, just to name a few areas of concern. Within the “Human Trafficking FAQs” section of the UNODC website, there is a list of challenges the UN believes must be further addressed. Here I have taken a few of these challenges and provided some suggestions moving forward.

First, the UN believes that there is a problem with how states and organizations gather accurate information on trafficking. There has been no system implemented within the department that encourages states to gather accurate data. As trafficking is a criminal activity, many states may find the data gathering task beyond their capacity. The UN should implement a system with templates that each state can follow to help gather relevant data. Studies should be done that show how accurate data (on trafficking or related matters) has been gathered in the past. The UN should then take further steps to create an infrastructure that will assure that every state can follow those templates with as much ease as possible. If an efficient plan could be created for every state to follow, there would be more accurate trafficking data throughout the world.

Today there are too many different data-gathering systems yielding a wide diversity of statistics on trafficking in persons for each nation. Thus, my first suggestion is for the UN to create an instruction manual that can guide nations seeking to gather human trafficking data.  Then the UN needs to create a common space/system for nations to share their data. The international community needs better cooperation and coordination in developing an information exchange. If every nation had a system to follow on how to gather accurate information, they would probably be more willing to enter their information into a shared database.

Secondly, despite this fine event, the UN does not yet fully convey the importance of countering human trafficking within the international community. Every state has its own list of priorities in this area, in part a function of local cultures and values. The UN must be clear that countering trafficking should be a high priority for every state. As mentioned above, human trafficking exists in every country and affects or influences every person, directly or indirectly. Trafficking represents a massive corrupt network that cannot be overcome without the entire international community making it a priority. The UN should hold more panels that discuss the facts and methods to combat trafficking, as these get publicity and the attention of leaders, as well as create a space for open dialogue for diplomats and NGOs to discuss solutions. It is the UN’s responsibility to help spread awareness of the scourge of trafficking of persons into the international community.

Third, the UN needs to do more to prevent trafficking at its source. Research needs to focus on the sources of the trafficking industry. The UN should provide outlets for funding locally based NGOs that work with trafficking issues and victims. This will make it possible for NGOs to publicize the reality of human trafficking, show how women and men can avoid becoming involved, or even help to stop the practice. Then the UN could consider exposing the identities criminals involved in trafficking to the international community. This could create international pressure as no country wants to have leaders of the trafficking industry publicized as coming from their nation. The criminals should be brought from underground into the public eye. Impunity for their abuses needs to end.

It is unclear the extent to which the UN and other international organizations are addressing human trafficking on a global scale. We need to make human trafficking one of our main priorities. The UN has the power to organize more global events based on the realities of trafficking. The trafficking industry controls more than we realize. It needs to be confronted robustly by the international community with UN guidance.

Danielle M. Peck, Junior Associate

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