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Trafficking in Persons - Special Rapporteur's Report to the Human Rights Council


The logo for the United Nations Human Rights CouncilOn 22 June, Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, the Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons especially women and children, presented her annual  report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, including reports of her missions to Thailand and Australia.

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 her mandate, the Special Rapporteur undertakes 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 takes action on complaints about human rights violations against trafficked persons.

The Special Rapporteur's visit to Australia was the subject of an earlier flagpost.

In presenting her report to the Council, Ms Ezeilo observed  that "the human rights of trafficked persons are not yet the primary consideration when it comes to effective criminal justice responses to trafficking, and urged world governments to adopt clear and enforceable laws based on respect for the rights of trafficked persons."

In addition to providing an overview of her activities during the year, Ms Ezeilo's report contains a thematic analysis of  a human rights based approach to the administration of criminal justice in trafficking in persons, and an overview of recent trends in States' practices, including emerging good practices. Key issues raised include the criminalisation of trafficking, the provision of protection and support for victim witnesses, and seizure of criminal assets.  Speaking to the Council, Ms Ezeilo noted that while most States had criminalised trafficking in persons, this was not an end in itself.  Even jurisdictions with sophisticated criminal justice systems and anti-trafficking strategies must look to improve their performance. 

Ms. Ezeilo's recommendations to States included the enactment and enforcement of comprehensive legislation criminalising trafficking and related acts, the proper identification of victims, improved provision of protection and support to victims, and making traffickers pay for their victims’ restitution and compensation. (Of note in this regard, the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking) Bill 2012 currently before the Australian Parliament, inter alia, amends the Crimes Act 1914 to increase the availability of reparation orders to victims of Commonwealth offences, including people trafficking.  The legislation is discussed in earlier flagposts -- here and here.)

In reporting on her missions, Ms Ezeilo noted that Thailand faced significant challenges as a source, transit and destination country.  While Thailand's commitment to combating trafficking was evident, a number of concerns were identified, particularly the fact that "the root causes of trafficking in persons in Thailand, such as restrictive immigration policies and the abuse of the human rights of migrants, had not been sufficiently addressed."

Commenting on Australia, Ms Ezeilo found that, as a destination country, Australia had shown strong leadership and committed considerable resources to combating trafficking in persons.  She noted the strength of partnerships between government and civil society, and Australia's active engagement in the region through aid and diplomatic initiatives.  However, assistance to trafficked persons was conditional upon their cooperation with authorities and their contribution to the criminal justice response; and acccess to housing, medical and orther support services was also not readily available to those whose immigration status had not been regularized.  Ms Ezeilo also noted that a "very strong focus, particularly by the media, on trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation, resulted in lesser attention on other forms of trafficking in persons." She makes a number of recommendations to the Australian Government on improvements to data collection and to  victim support, on increased training for officials, and on addressing the root causes of trafficking, including by creating more opportunities for safe migration.

The Australian Government's Statement in response welcomes the report, and undertakes to carefully consider each of the recommendations, noting that legislation to strengthen laws criminalising trafficking are before the Parliament.  The only new commitment in the statement is the Government's intention to begin work shortly on a revised national plan of action.

Finally, it may be of interest to note that Ms Ezeilo's report (pages 6 to 7)  offers some commentary relevant to the current Australian debate on irregular maritime arrivals and the prosecution of foreign crew:
"Many of those arrested are reportedly deceptively recruited to work on ships as crew members, with false promises about the nature of their work and their payment, and thus may themselves have been victims of trafficking. Nonetheless, they are treated as accused criminals and placed in jail. This is a clear violation of the international legal obligation of Australia to correctly identify victims of trafficking, to provide immediate protection and support to such persons, and to ensure that they are not criminalized for offences relating to the fact of their having been trafficked. The situation is particularly worrying given that some crew members of vessels involved in migrant smuggling appear to be children."