Human Trafficking: A Human Rights Violation
“Slavery was, in a very real sense, the first international human rights issue to come to the fore. It led to the adoption of the first human rights laws and to the creation of the first human rights non-governmental organization. And yet despite the efforts of the international community to combat this abhorrent practice, it is still widely prevalent in all its insidious forms, old and new.”
Today is International Human Rights Day and so we at Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking (LCHT) thought it relevant to examine trafficking through a human rights lens, one of our core values. Violations of human rights are both a cause and a consequence of trafficking in persons, making the promotion and protection of human rights particularly relevant to the fight against it. Various human rights violations occur at different stages of the trafficking cycle, including unassailable rights such as: the right to life, liberty, and security; the right to freedom of movement; and the right not to be subjected to torture and/or cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment.
Human trafficking originates where and when deprivations of human rights are prevalent. Root causes can include poverty, homelessness, structural or interpersonal violence, gender identity, insecurity related to armed conflict, or economic inequality.
Challenges for Survivors of Human Trafficking
Survivors of trafficking are also often subject to serious human rights violations at the hands of governments. Survivors experience utter isolation from support systems and are under constant control from one’s trafficker. Thus, when someone is able to leave or escape the trafficking situation, several complex factors can collide and make it difficult for survivors to meet their own basic needs. Such factors include:
- Distrust in systems
- Language or cultural barriers
- Physical safety.
Most governments’ policies give priority to detention, prosecution and deportation of trafficked persons for offenses related to their status, including violation of immigration laws, prostitution or begging. These policies further ‘victimize the victim,’ leading to additional human rights violations and vulnerabilities that ultimately may result in re-trafficking.
An International Human Rights Perspective
The human rights framework for trafficking draws upon international human rights standards, which have been normalized in a number of international treaties, covenants and protocols since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted in 1948. Other relevant international treaties include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) that proclaimed “no-one shall be held in slavery and servitude;” as well as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), which recognizes the right to work as well as to just and favorable working conditions.
Since December 2000, the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime serves as a legal framework for nation-state legislation across the globe. The Protocol is intended to ensure that trafficked persons are not treated as criminals but as victims, and therefore entitled to specific human rights protections. These include temporary resident status and temporary shelter, medical and psychological services, access to justice as well as compensation or restitution.
A Human Rights-Based Approach to Combat Human Trafficking
The Human Rights-Based approach requires that human rights are at the core of any anti-trafficking strategy, it seeks to identify and redress the discriminatory practices and unequal distribution of power that underlie trafficking. Human rights should be the priority as the anti-trafficking community facilitates the vital shift from the working paradigm of criminal sanction and immigration response to human rights promotion. Empowerment, self-representation and participation of those affected by trafficking are fundamental principles for a human rights-based approach. The participation of survivors should be active, free, and meaningful, empowering them to reflect their views in relevant policies and programs. The importance of the participation of ‘rights holders’ is recognized in a number of international instruments.
One way the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking engages survivor voices in our work is through the Participatory Action Research (PAR) model. We include survivors and members of affected communities in all parts of our research design, data collection, and analysis phases of a given research project. Survivor voices have additionally informed our training and education curricula, and outreach approaches.
This year, Human Rights Day calls on all of us to ‘Stand up for someone’s rights today!” On this day, in the words of Ban Ki-moon, “let us reaffirm the inherent dignity of all men, women and children. And let us redouble our efforts to build societies in which slavery truly is a term for the history books.”