Cover Image
close this bookWomen's Rights are Human Rights - A review of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR, 2000, 36 p.)
close this folderFOCUS
View the documentGender Mainstreaming and Human Rights of Women: OHCHR Policy Statement
View the documentTrafficking and the Global Sex Industry: A Human Rights Framework
View the documentOHCHR's Anti-trafficking programme
View the documentWomen's enjoyment of their economic, social and cultural rights
View the documentTraditional practices affecting the health of women and the girl-child
View the documentReproductive rights and human rights

OHCHR's Anti-trafficking programme

1. Background

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has become actively involved in the issue of trafficking in persons with a special focus on trafficking in women and children. OHCHR's action takes place through continued support for international mechanisms to deal with trafficking and related issues, and through an anti-trafficking programme which has been developed by OHCHR.

In developing detailed responses to each stage of the trafficking cycle it is essential that certain basic policy principles guide and inform any anti-trafficking initiative. These principles must ensure a uniform adherence to a human rights-based approach and can also provide a means of measuring the success of anti-trafficking measures:

- First: The protection of human rights and the dignity of trafficked persons must be given the highest priority.

- Second: Governments must accept responsibility for the problem of trafficking and for the development and implementation of appropriate responses. Trafficking is not a private wrong - this is an injustice that involves and implicates us all.

- Third: The definition of the term - trafficking - in laws, policies and programmes should not be restricted to sexual exploitation. It should be broad enough to cover other identified purposes without ambiguity, such as bonded or forced labour and other slavery-like practices. It should use child and gender sensitive language to signal that children and women are the ones most vulnerable to trafficking.

- Fourth: Traffickers and their collaborators must be prosecuted and adequately penalized - paying full attention to due process rights and without compromising the rights of victims.

- Fifth: Trafficked persons should not be criminalized for the involuntary illegality of their entry or residence in countries of transit and destination, or for the involuntary activities they perform as a consequence of their being trafficked.

- Sixth: Victims of trafficking, including those with “irregular” immigration status, should be granted protection and necessary physical and mental care by the authorities of receiving countries.

- Seventh: Victims of trafficking should be provided legal and other assistance in the course of any criminal, civil and other actions against traffickers. Governments should be encouraged to provide temporary or permanent residence permits, safe shelter and adequate witness protection during legal proceedings.

- Eight: The safe and, as far as possible, voluntary return of victims, instead of automatic repatriation, should be ensured, particularly in cases of organized criminal involvement.

- Ninth: Children should not be treated the same way as adults in the identification, rescue and repatriation process. Children have special rights and special needs that must be recognized and protected.

Finally: efforts must be made to address the root causes of trafficking such as poverty, inequality, discrimination and racism.

2. The Programme

The OHCHR Anti-Trafficking Programme was established in March 1999. Its objective is to work towards the integration of human rights into international, regional and national anti-trafficking initiatives. Emphasis is on the development and promotion of legal standards and on providing policy leadership. The Programme does not aim to undertake large projects or to otherwise duplicate the excellent initiatives that are being undertaken elsewhere. Instead, as far as possible, OHCHR aims to act as a catalyst and a support for the work of others.

At the international level OHCHR has focused its attention on the negotiation of two Protocols to the draft Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. The first Protocol deals with Trafficking in Persons -Particularly Women and Children. The second Protocol concerns Smuggling of Migrants. An Informal Note from the High Commissioner was prepared in May 1999 and submitted to the drafting group (Ad-Hoc Committee on the Elaboration of a Convention against Transnational Organized Crime). The Note analyses both instruments from a human rights perspective and makes specific recommendations for improvement to the draft texts. The Note formed part of the official documentation of the next meeting of the Ad-Hoc Committee which took place in Vienna on 28 June - 9 July 1999 (A/AC/254/16). The High Commissioner's call for increased attention to human rights in Vienna protocols had been accepted not only by Governments involved in the drafting process, but also by other agencies including UNHCR, UNICEF, IOM, and ILO. This resulted in a recent joint interagency note by these five agencies on incorporating a human rights perspective into both Vienna protocols, which was submitted to the 8th session of the Ad-Hoc Committee held in Vienna on 21 February-3 March 2000.

At the regional and sub-regional levels, OHCHR is undertaking a number of different activities:


· A joint OHCHR/Council of Europe Trafficking Prevention Programme has been established for Eastern and Central Europe. The Programme comprises a series of awareness-raising and training activities. Emphasis is on preventive measures - particularly sensitization of vulnerable groups and those with whom they come into contact. In its first phase, the Programme focused on the situation of refugee and displaced Kosovar women and girls. During the current phase, an international seminar on Coordinated Action against Trafficking in Human Beings in South Eastern Europe: Towards a Regional Action Plan will be held in Athens on 29 June-1 July 2000. OHCHR and the Council of Europe are jointly funding and implementing the Programme and will conduct a joint evaluation at its completion.

· In addition, OHCHR, the Council of Europe and OSCE/ODIHR are currently exploring the possibility of developing a joint anti-trafficking programme within the context of the South Eastern Europe Stabilization Process.

· The OHCHR Field Office in Sarajevo is undertaking a number of anti-trafficking activities in conjunction with local NGOs, the United Nations Mission (UNMIBH) and other international organizations, including IOM. These activities aim to assist victims of trafficking; to facilitate the prosecution of traffickers; and to promote law reform and governmental responsibility. In September 1999, OHCHR Sarajevo coordinated a round-table discussion on the issue of trafficking in Kosovo. The aim of the round table was to provide recommendations which will assist the international community in dealing with the issue of trafficking in the context of the reconstruction of Kosovo.


· In March 1999, OHCHR organized two workshops in Nepal as part of its ongoing programme of assistance. The first Workshop focused on criminal procedure and the second on the human rights of women. Both activities dealt with the specific issue of trafficking and formulated recommendations to the Government, civil society and the United Nations system on dealing with the trafficking problem. A major output of the second Nepal workshop was the development of a pilot human rights-based anti-trafficking project, which will form part of the larger UN system response to the trafficking problem in Nepal.

· The project will focus specifically on strengthening the capacity of police and judicial bodies to address the problem of trafficking. It will also promote closer cooperation between Nepalese and Indian law enforcement and border authorities on this issue. OHCHR is also administering an NGO grants programme in Nepal which provides funds to local NGOs working on the trafficking issue.

· At the sub-regional level OHCHR has undertaken a human rights-based analysis of the draft South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) convention against trafficking in women and girls. The High Commissioner communicated her views on the draft to all Heads of SAARC Governments, emphasizing the need to ensure that a human rights perspective was fully integrated into the final text.

· OHCHR has encouraged the National Human Rights Commissions of the Asia-Pacific region to take up the issue of trafficking. This possibility was first discussed at an OHCHR-sponsored Workshop on National Institutions and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Philippines, May 1999). OHCHR subsequently continued these discussions with the Asia-Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (APF). A working paper on the subject was presented to the Fourth Annual Meeting of the APF that was held in Manila on 6-8 September 1999. APF subsequently recommended that all its member-institutions appoint a focal point on this issue. The High Commissioner has followed up on this recommendation with Heads of all member-institutions.

· In view of the seriousness of the trafficking phenomenon in Asia, in December 1999 the High Commissioner appointed a Special Representative on this issue. The Special Representative, based in Cambodia, will have a key role in supporting national and regional anti-trafficking initiatives.

3. Contacts with IGOs/NGOs

OHCHR is building alliances on the trafficking issue with the key UN/IGO agencies and programmes dealing with trafficking (including IOM, ILO, UNICEF and UNHCR as well as with relevant regional intergovernmental organizations) in order to: (i) further the OHCHR goal of integrating a human rights perspective into international anti-trafficking initiatives; and (ii) identify areas for potential collaboration. Contacts have also been established with the international NGO community active in the trafficking issue. The NGO/IGO Consultation on Trafficking and the Global Sex Industry (Geneva, June 1999) provided an opportunity for OHCHR to expand and build upon these contacts.

Anne Gallagher