Human trafficking is a widespread, criminal activity practiced throughout the world. Virtually all States are affected by human trafficking. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, women make up 51 per cent of the total number of trafficked persons, whilst girls make up 20 per cent. Trafficking in persons is linked to sexual exploitation, labor exploitation, forced labor and slavery, and the removal of vital organs. Increasingly insidious are ‘new forms of exploitation’ facilitated by human trafficking. Examples given by the CEDAW Committee include:
sex tourism, the recruitment of domestic labor from developing countries to work in developed countries and organized marriages between women from developing countries and foreign nationals. ….
Trafficking constitutes a principal threat to women and girls fleeing conflict. In her 2016
report, the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons noted that
[t]he journey of female migrants and unaccompanied children is particularly hazardous. Thousands of such women and children have disappeared, presumably abducted for purposes of trafficking related exploitation. Sudanese and Somalian refugees and asylum seekers fleeing conflict, including numerous unaccompanied children, have been kidnapped or lured from refugee camps or while traveling, sold and subsequently held captive in Libya or in the Sinai desert activities are those considered to address the root causes of trafficking. Key to this are
two requirements, as prescribed by the Trafficking Protocol:
States Parties must establish comprehensive policies and measures to prevent and combat trafficking itself, and protect victims from “re-victimisation”; and
States Parties must take steps to ‘alleviate the factors that make persons, especially women and children, vulnerable to trafficking, such as poverty, underdevelopment and lack of equal opportunity’.
The establishment of policies and measures to prevent trafficking itself The UN Security Council has encouraged Member States to develop and use early warning and early-screening frameworks of potential or imminent risk of trafficking, with special attention to women and children (especially those who are unaccompanied). The Special Rapporteur on trafficking has deemed it essential for refugee camps to have ‘a registry of all people living in the camp, to serve as a preventive measure against abduction’. She has also advocated for the establishment of ‘reporting desks for missing persons’ and ‘the immediate commencement of investigations when someone is reported missing’.
In the 2016 report of her country visit to Jordan, the Special Rapporteur on trafficking commended the prevention measures and practices employed by the Jordanian authorities in refugee camps. These measures included the registration of marriages and divorces in the camps by religious courts and civil registration authorities, at no cost to the refugees in question. This helped to reduce the risk of child and forced marriage, and marriages resulting in sexual exploitation. The Special Rapporteur also highlighted the effectiveness of Jordan’s cooperation with the UNHCR in the management of the refugee camps, including the identification of trafficking risks and training of relevant personnel.
The Special Rapporteur has further indicated that the potential or imminent risk of trafficking is ‘systematically linked with conflict’. As mentioned above, it is crucial that States carry out a risk assessment to prevent gender-based violence. The Special Rapporteur has argued that States should recognise any imminent risk of trafficking as a form of conflict related, gender-based violence. In such cases, the appropriate preventive measures should be automatically implemented. The necessary indicators would entail vulnerabilities to trafficking such as poverty, lack of income, the practice of transactional sex (including the exchange of sex for food) and the lack of access to services. Evidently, all such indicators frequently arise in refugee camps (as is further discussed below). Camps which have been established near conflict zones would be a particular target for human traffickers.
States cannot plead ignorance if they fail to implement the measures necessary to prevent trafficking of women and girls out of refugee camps. Human trafficking mostly involves non-State actors, and States’ due diligence obligations are therefore all the more critical. According to the Special Rapporteur, the standard of due diligence should be triggered ‘as soon as the State authorities know or ought to have known about trafficking taking place within its territory or jurisdiction, by either State or non-State actors, regardless of whether the State is party to any specific anti-trafficking convention’.
Successful prevention of trafficking also requires the prosecution and punishment of perpetrators.300 Unfortunately, the worldwide number of trafficking-related prosecutions and convictions remains low. According to the U.S. Department of State, there were fewer than 10,000 convictions worldwide for human trafficking between 2016 and 2017. It is even less likely that a State will successfully prosecute traffickers who prey on women and girls in refugee camps – especially if those camps are informally established or poorly resourced. Nevertheless, States must endeavor to implement measures which identify and combat traffickers and trafficking networks – including in relation to State agents and security forces that may be complicit in trafficking out of the camp.