December 2016 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 November 2016
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Human Trafficking

Expected Council Action

In December, Yury Fedotov, the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), will present the Secretary-General’s report on human trafficking to the Security Council at a ministerial-level open debate. At press time, it seemed likely this meeting would be chaired by Spain’s Prime Minister. In addition, Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Bangura may participate, along with a trafficking victim.

It is expected that a resolution will be adopted seeking to enhance international efforts to counter human trafficking.

Key Recent Developments

Human trafficking is a facet of many situations the Council addresses, including Afghanistan, Boko Haram in Nigeria, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Iraq, Libya, Mali, the Sahel, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

In December 2015, the Council adopted a presidential statement that condemned human trafficking and called on member states to consider ratifying or acceding to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Palermo Protocol. This statement gave particular prominence to violations committed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Boko Haram and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), including sexual slavery, sexual exploitation and forced labour, which contribute to the groups’ financing. It also called on the UN system and member states to proactively identify trafficking victims amongst vulnerable populations, and to address victims’ needs in the context of its peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts. The statement requested the Secretary-General to report back to the Council within the year.

The report that the Council requested was published on 10 November and identified several trends in both conflict and post-conflict settings. In the contemporary context of massive refugee and migrant flows, those fleeing conflict are vulnerable to trafficking, in particular women and children. Refugees and asylum seekers are vulnerable to kidnapping for the purposes of forced labour, exploitation of labour, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, organ harvesting or extortion of their family members.

Human trafficking within a conflict situation, especially in conflicts with high incidents of atrocity crimes, has led to sexual enslavement and the trade of women and girls, as well as forced marriage. Such tactics are openly used by such groups as Al Shabaab in Somalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria and ISIL in Iraq and Syria. Meanwhile, girls in refugee or internally displaced settings are particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation and to their families’ negative coping mechanisms, such as early marriage.

The report also describes the nexus among human trafficking, armed conflict and organised crime. An issue that has emerged in this context is the use of sexual enslavement by terrorist groups to recruit fighters by promising access to girls and women and the use of trafficking as a form of terrorist financing. As a result, member states’ border control measures are vulnerable to exploitation by human traffickers working in collaboration with terrorist groups. Another issue is how trafficking networks are able to breed corruption in fragile governments, and exploit and prolong situations of instability, such as in Libya.

The report said that human trafficking continues in post-conflict settings. As an example, it cited how the presence of peacekeeping forces generates demand for sexual services that, in some cases, could be linked to trafficking for purposes of sexual exploitation, such as in the Central African Republic and Somalia.

Meanwhile, the Office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict has consistently monitored and reported on abductions of children and related violations. An example of human trafficking as a violation related to abductions is ISIL’s forced conscription of boys as fighters. In April 2016—after the Council agreed in resolution 2225 to add abductions as a violation to trigger inclusion of a party in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s annual report—six parties were listed for abduction: the Taliban in Afghanistan, the LRA in the DRC, Al-Shabaab in Somalia, ISIL in Iraq and Syria, Boko Haram in Nigeria and the government-aligned Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in South Sudan.

Key Issues

Several issues are likely to emerge during the anticipated negotiations on the draft resolution. These include:

  • whether the Council will explicitly acknowledge human trafficking as a crime against humanity;
  • how the Council can use its existing sanctions regimes to address human trafficking;
  • how  the Council can address human trafficking when it is not specific to conflict and post-conflict situations, in particular in relation to conflict prevention; and
  • how the Council can use reporting by the Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict and the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict to enhance its own attention to these issues without overlooking the broader implications human trafficking has on peace and security.

The Council could adopt a resolution that:

  • reinforces the view that human trafficking, as a form of slavery, is a crime against humanity;
  • calls on member states to ratify or accede to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Palermo Protocol;
  • urges member states to more assiduously use existing counter-terrorism, financial and anti-money laundering mechanisms to counter human trafficking networks;
  • enhances the access of trafficking victims to services and reparations by urging member states to extend refugee status to trafficking victims and, where relevant, by also recognising them as victims of terrorism;
  • urges relevant Council sanctions committees, in particular the 1267/1989/2253 Al Qaida/ISIL Sanctions Committee, to add human trafficking as listing criteria, and requests relevant expert groups assisting sanctions committees to report on human trafficking;
  • urges the UN system, in particular via peace operations, to work more cohesively on the protection of and the response to trafficking victims; and
  • requests the Secretary-General to report regularly to the Council on this issue. 
Council Dynamics

Most Council members anticipate that the same set of issues that were contentious during last year’s negotiations on the presidential statement will re-emerge in negotiations on the anticipated resolution.

At that time, Russia resisted language specifying that certain acts associated with human trafficking (sexual slavery, sexual exploitation and forced labour) in armed conflict might constitute crimes against humanity or acts of genocide, only agreeing to include the reference to human trafficking as a war crime.

Russia also expressed some concerns about the issue of trafficking of children being addressed by the Security Council’s Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict. Such arguments may be repeated this year in light of the fact that one issue the Council will need to address is how the agendas for children and armed conflict and conflict-related sexual violence can be framed in relation to the Council’s own approach to human trafficking.

Last year China and Russia also displayed a degree of discomfort with language interpreted to be demands on domestic legal systems, in particular in relation to the need for countries to pursue strong accountability measures for trafficking and to ensure that trafficking victims are treated as victims of a crime, and not penalised for unlawful activities in which they were compelled to engage.

Security Council Presidential Statements
16 December 2015 S/PRST/2015/25 This was a presidential statement on trafficking in persons in situations of conflict, with a particular focus on ISIS and the impact on women and children.
Secretary-General’s Reports
10 November 2016 S/2016/949 This was a report on human trafficking.