Standing up for the victims, staring down the criminals
Migration, human trafficking and migrant smuggling have remained high on the UN agenda throughout history, with a view towards drafting new laws and developing comprehensive strategies to destroy criminal networks. Yury Fedotov, Executive Director, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, evaluates UNODC’s work in the prosecution of perpetrators
We currently face perhaps the greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II. Across the world tens of millions of people are escaping conflict or hoping to embrace new economic opportunities. The world seems to be in perpetual motion. Many of those taking long perilous journeys are isolated and scared children; crossing seas, braving deserts, inching along hostile land routes. Newspaper reports reveal both the desperate nature of those trying to escape, as well as the deadly dangers.
Just last month, Reuters reported that police had concluded their long investigation into the deaths of 71 migrants found in an abandoned truck along a stretch of Austrian motorway. The truck’s backdoors had been wired shut. Several individuals now face prosecution in this horrifying case. But brutal and uncaring smugglers are not the only threat.
Women, children and men fleeing their homes are vulnerable to the violence and abuse of human traffickers. Based on the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2016, trafficking movements appear to follow migratory movements. The majority of trafficking victims are also foreigners in the countries where they are detected. Of all the victims discovered, according to the report, an overwhelming 79 per cent were women and children.
The daily barrage of disturbing news reports the clear analysis showing that women and children are the most vulnerable, and the impunity that criminals enjoy is accelerating international responses. In September, the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants brought together governments, UN agencies and civil society to commit themselves to the New York Declaration adopted at the summit and to negotiate a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration.
With the international wheels turning faster, the New York Declaration contains 19 commitments, three of which are dedicated to concrete action against these crimes. UNODC is the guardian of the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime—also known as the Palermo Convention—along with its two protocols related to migrant smuggling and human trafficking.
Viewed together, these legal instruments, adopted through domestic legislation, are a powerful tool in the hands of law enforcement bodies to chase crime across territorial borders, share information and undertake joint action.
The Palermo Convention enables countries to draft new laws and to develop comprehensive national strategies to roll up the criminal networks. It promotes effective investigations and prosecutions of perpetrators and helps identify the trafficking victims among susceptible groups of migrants and refugees. International cooperation is also encouraged through the Convention, particularly in the field of tracking the massive enormous profits from these crimes.
Adoption of the Palermo Convention is almost universal, but the challenge remains in encouraging nations to fully implement the Convention and the protocols. This means applying the Convention so that criminals are removed from the streets, and successfully prosecuted. The victims of human trafficking and migrant smuggling need to know that those who abuse them cannot escape justice.
These approaches are only the start. Shallow, time-limited interventions that fail to go after the real criminals risk punishing the victims, while leaving transnational networks in place to cause more harm.
There needs to be a greater focus on more sustained approaches, as well as better resources. The cause of justice, after all, takes time, committed personnel and money. Thousands of police hours are expended on going after the perpetrators, tracing the money both physically and online and coordinating cross border operations.
Every country needs to be involved in this fight. No country can afford to turn its back on the suffering and misery of the victims. The entire world should be joined in an integrated response to these crimes, and UNODC is doing everything possible to ensure that the New York Declaration remains a high priority.
But the issue is also one of respect for people and their fundamental human rights. Victims of human trafficking and migrant smuggling need to be fully protected and the perpetrators punished. We must avoid any and all discrimination against these individuals. They have suffered enough.
Throughout its history, the UN has worked to place these issues high on the international agenda, call countries together for support and deliver solutions where needed.
In committing ourselves to the New York Declaration, we have a new starting point for turning commitments into action. This work has just begun, but it must continue until we have reached the end.