Trafficking in human beings affects virtually all OSCE participating States - either as countries of origin, countries of transit, or countries of destination. It is a complex human-rights issue that cuts across the entire spectrum of the OSCE's comprehensive security policy.
The OSCE Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings, adopted in December 2003, calls on participating States to take initiatives to prevent trafficking, to prosecute traffickers, and to protect trafficked persons, with the assistance of OSCE institutions and field operations.
ODIHR assists participating States in protecting the rights of trafficked persons and vulnerable groups through a three-point strategy that aims to:
- Develop and support the implementation of human-rights-compliant approaches to trafficking, including the establishment of National Referral Mechanisms;
- Improve the identification of trafficked persons and the assistance offered to them in accessing justice and rights;
- Support human-rights safeguards in the return of trafficking victims to countries of origin.
Implementing a human-rights approach
The fight against trafficking in human beings is high on the agenda of policy-makers throughout the OSCE region. In practice, however, the protection and promotion of the rights of trafficked persons is often placed below concerns about immigration control and securing prosecutions.
Trafficking differs from illegal immigration or human smuggling in that it need not involve the crossing of an international border, it may affect those migrating legally for work, and, crucially, it is perpetrated for the purposes of exploitation.
Trafficked persons are victims of serious human-rights violations. More efforts are needed to ensure that anti-trafficking measures are human-rights-based and protect (rather than endangering or violating) the rights of exploited and trafficked persons.
National Referral Mechanisms
The development of multi-agency anti-trafficking structures and processes (National Referral Mechanisms) can provide an effective way of ensuring that the rights of trafficked persons remain central to anti-trafficking policy and practice. They can also counter and prevent overly repressive strategies that focus on combating crime at the expense of respecting the rights of trafficked persons.
The promotion of close working relationships with civil society in victim identification and assistance is also a good practice in the building of democratic institutions, and the development of National Referral Mechanisms may pave the way for closer collaboration between civil society and authorities on other issues.
Access to remedies and rights
Rights protection starts with adequate identification of, and provision of comprehensive assistance to, trafficked persons. However, in practice, many exploited and trafficked persons still elude identification. They are themselves often prosecuted for irregular entry, possession of fraudulent documents, conducting illegal activities, or working illegally, and they are treated as criminals.
In many participating States, victims of trafficking do not benefit from legal assistance, representation, or witness protection. Many have no access to assistance and justice and are returned to countries where their safety is jeopardized. These factors contribute to the fact that exploited and trafficked persons are often not able to access remedies, including compensation.
Current identification and assistance strategies and mechanisms need to be examined and improved. This includes establishing safeguards in the return of trafficked persons to their countries of origin.