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UN Special Rapporteur Visits Australia


Portrait of Dr Joy Ngozi EzeiloDr Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children, is in Australia for a two week fact finding mission (17-30 November).

Special Rapporteurs are independent experts appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council (formerly the Commission on Human Rights) to investigate, monitor, and advise on human rights violations  –  world wide or in specific countries. In carrying out their mandate, the Special Rapporteurs undertake: country visits to study the situation on the ground and develop recommendations to better prevent or combat trafficking and protect the human rights of its victims; and take action on complaints about human rights violations against trafficked persons.

Dr Ezeilo, a human rights lawyer and professor at the University of Nigeria, took up her appointment as Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons in August 2008.  Since becoming Special Rapporteur, she has conducted official visits to Thailand, Argentina, Uruguay, Egypt, Japan, Belarus and Poland.

During her visit to Australia, the Special Rapporteur is travelling to Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne to meet victims of trafficking and with representatives of government agencies, the judiciary and non-government organisations to assess Australia's anti-trafficking policy, support programs and legislative framework. In her press release,  Dr Ezeilo remarked that she looked forward to "engaging in constructive dialogue with the Government to discuss progress made and challenges that remain in the fight against trafficking in persons".

During her visit, Dr Ezeilo presented a Parliamentary Library Lecture on 24 November 2011, to give Senators and Members and their staff the opportunity to hear her first hand;  In a wide ranging address, she argued the importance of a holistic, integrated response to trafficking, a response that has human rights at its centre, and also emphasised:

  • the need for a stronger focus on prevention by addressing the factors (including poverty, instability, social exclusion, systemic corruption and armed conflict) that make people vulnerable to trafficking
  • the importance of enabling victims of trafficking to access effective remedies (including restitution, recovery and compensation), and
  • the need for effective international cooperation between governments (including sharing of intelligence, mutual legal assistance and extradition).
Dr Ezeilo presented her preliminary findings and recommendations at a press conference on 30 November.  Her end-of-mission statement noted that Australia had "shown strong leadership and committed considerable resources to combating trafficking in persons" and that the Government had developed "a robust working relationship with civil society".  However, Dr Ezeilo found there were deficiencies in the current legislative framework,and that greater attention needed to be devoted to the rights and needs of victims of trafficking.  She also pertinently observed that the "issue of trafficking in persons in Australia is sexualised and often conflated with prostitution", leading to stereotyping of victims of trafficking and victims outside the sex industry remaining unidentified.

Dr Ezeilo will submit her full report to the Human Rights Council in June 2012.