Let's Talk: Legislation
When we think about human trafficking, we often think about rescue aid and prosecution. The media emphasizes raising awareness, recognizing the indicators of trafficking, rescuing victims from slavery and ongoing violence, and locking up criminals. Though talking about legislation does not always seem very appealing, it is a crucial part of advocacy. The truth is, anti-trafficking legislation is a powerful channel for prevention and intervention. Local, national, and global legal instruments are used to address and ultimately combat human trafficking. If effective legislation pertaining to human trafficking is not put in place, public prosecutors have no basis to ensure that local police restrain trafficking criminals or that survivors are represented in court. Today we will be delving into legislation concerning human trafficking that is most pressing today.
The truth is, anti-trafficking legislation is a powerful channel for prevention and intervention. Local, national, and global legal instruments are used to address and ultimately combat human trafficking.
One of the most reputable instruments of international law which surveys the definition, prevention and prosecution of human trafficking is the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNCTOC). This multilateral treaty was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 15 November 2000. This sweeping assortment of international law is described by the United Nations as “[….] the main international instrument in the fight against transnational organized crime.” This legal instrument was the first step toward the recognition by member states of the gravity of trafficking crimes and the urgent need for international cooperation to fight this issue.
States that choose to ratify the Convention commit to specific measures tackling the issue. This includes the establishment of domestic criminal offences such as money laundering, corruption or obstruction of justice; the adoption of comprehensive frameworks for law enforcement, and the advancement of training, technical assistance for national authorities. Member states also are subject to monitoring by United Nations committees, that receive input about their compliance with international law from non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
The Convention was later supplemented by the Palermo Protocols. The Palermo Protocols address specific areas of organized crime made clear in their names:
1) The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children (effective December 25, 2003)
2) The Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air (effective January 28, 2004)
Targeting different manifestations of modern slavery, the Palermo Protocols are an influential legal tool which have fostered the adoption of further legislation and institutional frameworks at both the international and national level. They encompass anti-trafficking provisions stipulating that parties must create domestic anti-trafficking legislation, establish a system of penalty for the crime and protect victims. The UN emphasizes that the 2003 Protocol is “[…] the first global legally binding instrument with an agreed definition on trafficking in persons.” A shared definition eases the establishment of national measures for the investigation and prosecution of trafficking crimes. Similarly, the second protocol includes the first definition of smuggling of migrants to be developed and agreed upon in a global international instrument.
The UN emphasizes that the 2003 Protocol is “[…] the first global legally binding instrument with an agreed definition on trafficking in persons.”
While the third piece of policy requires that parties commit to adopting crime-control measures pertaining to the illegal manufacturing and trafficking in firearms, the other two are concerned with the trafficking and smuggling of persons. Both protocols aim at preventing and fighting these forms of exploitation through international cooperation and domestic legislation processes, whilst actively assisting victims with full respect for their human rights.
Many pieces of regional and domestic legislation were inspired by these three pieces of policy. These resultant legal frameworks resonate with the anti-trafficking commitments of each region, based on their specific needs. They establish state commitments and action plans to address, prevent, prosecute, and effectively combat trafficking. This includes the 2000 United States Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, the 2008 Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, and the 2005 Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative against Trafficking (COMMIT). Some of this legislation consists of cooperative efforts of states in the same region. COMMIT, for example, is a sub-regional effort grouping Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.
The enforcement of international legislation pertaining to human trafficking like the Palermo Protocols, is most effective when it is integrated into domestic and regional law. If you, like me, are not representing your country in the United Nations General Assembly, you still can lobby for increased legislation to prevent and eliminate human trafficking. Advocates like us can start by studying the legislation in our cities, counties, states, or provinces. By doing so, we can determine whether international legal provisions are reflected in these local pieces of policy. Starting discussions with local representatives about policy-making is a crucial way to advocate and contribute to the eradication of human trafficking. Advocates, let’s keep talking legislation!
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About the Author
Jess, a proud Montrealer, is an International Development major at McGill University, minoring in Communications and World Religions. You can find her reading a book in a coffee shop, planning a trip to a new city or laughing with her loved ones. Her passion for social justice issues has inspired her work in nonprofit organizations both at home and in the developing world.