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Europe: Human Rights of Trafficked Persons

Council of Europe: One more chance to enhance the protection of human rights of trafficked persons

JOINT PRESS RELEASE Amnesty International and Anti-Slavery International

Trafficking in human beings is a growing form of slavery which plagues Europe. The 46 member states of the Council of Europe have the opportunity to take a leading role in the protection of the rights of trafficked people; to do so they should further strengthen the draft European Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, said Amnesty International and Anti-Slavery International.

The call of the two organizations comes as government-representatives, who form the Ad Hoc Committee on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings (known as "the CAHTEH"), begin what may be their last meeting to finalize their proposals for a treaty which aims to enhance the protection of the rights of trafficked persons, as well as to ensure greater efforts to prevent trafficking and the prosecution of traffickers. During its meeting in Strasbourg, France, from 7-10 December, the CAHTEH will review provisions of the draft European Convention on Action against Trafficking and then pass it to the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers for their consideration.

"People who have been trafficked are victims of a terrible crime. If their rights are to be protected from further violation and the fight against human trafficking strengthened, it is vital that the women, children and men who are trafficked throughout Europe are properly identified and ensured effective protection, regardless of whether they have been trafficked into prostitution or labour exploitation. The Council of Europe's convention on trafficking provides an opportunity to achieve this which must not be missed," said Mary Cunneen, Director of Anti-Slavery International, which has been working to eradicate slavery for over 160 years.

"Trafficked persons are bought and sold, kidnapped, lured by false promises of work or marriage, raped and subjected to other forms of torture and ill-treatment. Their passports and identity documents are often taken away by their traffickers; their freedom of movement is commonly restricted. Some are held in debt-bondage; others are not paid at all, they work, literally, as slaves. Many face threats to their lives and/or the lives of their family members if they attempt to escape or cooperate with law enforcement authorities", said Jill Heine, Legal Adviser for Amnesty International.

Amnesty International and Anti-Slavery International warmly welcome the stated aim of the Council of Europe to draft a treaty which enhances the protection of the human rights of trafficked persons. The two organizations consider that the current (October 2004) draft needs to be strengthened, in order to meet its aim. To this end, the two organizations have published a document, Amnesty International's and Anti-Slavery International Recommendations to Strengthen the October 2004 Draft of the European Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (AI Index: IOR 61/024/2004).

The two organizations have been alarmed to learn of a proposal which has been tabled by a government in recent days, after publication of their recommendations, that risks undermining the effectiveness of the draft treaty. The proposal is to include a provision that would make the Council of Europe's treaty subsidiary to European Union (EU) legislation on trafficking, with respect to EU member states.

"This proposal risks significantly weakening the European Convention against Trafficking. It risks being regarded as a green light to the EU to draft laws which are less protective of the rights of trafficked persons than the standards set out in the Council of Europe treaty. We urge that this proposal be vigorously opposed. It runs counter to the very object and purpose of the treaty, which was agreed by the representatives of the 46 states which sit on the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers. Instead, the Council of Europe and the EU should be working cooperatively to ensure the highest protection of the rights of trafficked persons", Amnesty International and Anti-Slavery International said.

In addition, the two organizations have called on the CAHTEH to ensure, among other things, that the text of the European Convention against Trafficking is strengthened by:

- Requiring states to ensure that persons experienced in working with trafficked persons are responsible for their prompt and accurate identification;

- Ensuring that trafficked persons are treated as the victims of the crimes that they are and are not detained, charged or prosecuted for the illegality of their entry into or residence in a country, or for their involvement in unlawful activities that are a consequence of their situation as trafficked persons;

- Requiring states to make available a full range of assistance and protection, including medical and psychological care, legal assistance, safe and secure housing, and education, in particular to children;

- Ensuring that persons reasonably believed to have been trafficked are afforded a minimum period of three months to begin to recover from their ordeal, escape the influence of their traffickers and make informed decisions about their future, including cooperation with law enforcement efforts to pursue their traffickers, in security; their presence in the country during this time should be regularized and recognized;

- Requiring that, following this period, trafficked persons are granted 6-month-minimum renewable and permanent residence permits on the basis of periodic needs and risk assessments;

- Ensuring that no trafficked person will be returned to any country if there is a risk to their life or safety, including the risk of re-trafficking;

- Ensuring the right of trafficked persons to reparation, including compensation, regardless of whether or not their traffickers are identified, arrested or prosecuted.

- Ensuring, as far as possible, that there are no safe havens for traffickers;

- Creating an independent expert-body, chosen in a transparent manner, to assist states in their implementation of this treaty, including by considering collective complaints about its implementation.

"If these recommendations are adopted, the Council of Europe's treaty could fill a significant gap, as today there are no treaties that comprehensively address states' obligations to respect and protect the human rights of trafficked persons," Amnesty International and Anti-Slavery International said.


More than 170 other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from 30 countries have joined Amnesty International and Anti-Slavery International in these calls; their statement urging the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers to strengthen the draft European Convention against Trafficking in Human Beings was submitted last month.

It is expected that, following the CAHTEH meeting, the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers will forward the text of the draft European Convention against Trafficking to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), requesting their opinion by the end of January 2005. After consideration of this Opinion, it is likely that the Committee of Ministers will then adopt the European Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings in March 2005, and that the treaty will be opened for signature at the Council of Europe's Third Summit of Heads of State and Government in May 2005.

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