Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Council of Europe Unveils the Convention on Action Against Trafficking


The Council of Europe now has a powerful weapon at its disposal as it leads an effort to eradicate human trafficking, which the Strasbourg-based organization terms "a new form of slavery."

The Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings entered into force in February. The pact is the first European initiative that is specifically designed to curtail trafficking, which has emerged as a social scourge during the post-Soviet era. "Every year, thousands of women, children and men fall victim to human trafficking, whether for sexual exploitation or other purposes, both within and beyond the borders of their own country," a CoE statement said.

Human trafficking has been steadily increasing in recent year, according to CoE Deputy Secretary General Maud de Boer-Buquicchio. "The estimated number of women [being trafficked] is growing," de Boer-Buquicchio said in a recent interview with EurasiaNet. "The only progress that we have witnessed [to date] is the fact that the issue is being publicly debated."

Starting in 2009, the convention should help reverse the existing trend, de Boer-Buquicchio believes. "I expect a different Europe to take shape," she said.

So far, 17 states have ratified the Convention and another 21 have signed it. Most individuals who become victims of trafficking in Europe are women, and almost half of those trafficked are forced to work in the sex industry. Another one-third of trafficking victims end up being used as forced laborers, according to Council of Europe estimates. Since 1991, former Soviet countries have developed into a major source of trafficked individuals. Organized criminal groups are a driving force behind trafficking, European law-enforcement officials say.

The convention, according to de Boer-Buquicchio, is "victim oriented." The pact not only seeks to protect the rights of those who have been trafficked and exploited, it seeks to encourage victims to help prosecute traffickers. Signatories of the convention are accordingly obliged to "design a comprehensive framework for the protection and assistance of victims and witnesses." As part of this provision, victims in states that have joined the convention would be eligible for medical services and psychological counseling.

Under the convention’s provisions, those trafficking victims who have been forced to work in the sex industry will no longer be treated as criminals upon discovery. In addition, suspected trafficking victims will not be immediately treated as illegal immigrants, as the pact allows for a "recovery and reflection period" of at least 30 days during which "it shall not be possible to enforce any expulsion order against him or her." If a victim decides to cooperate with local prosecutors in a criminal investigation, he or she would be eligible for a renewable residence permit.

In an additional move to curtail the influence of trafficking in the European sex industry, de Boer-Buquicchio said the convention seeks to "criminalize clients who knowingly enable trafficking."

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