What's In Blue

Briefing on Trafficking in Persons in Situations of Conflict

On Wednesday (16 December), the US has organised a briefing on trafficking in persons in situations of conflict. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson will brief along with Yury Fedotov, the Executive Director of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Two civil society briefers will also address the Council: Nick Grono, who heads the Freedom Fund, and Nadia Murad Basee, an Iraqi woman of the Yazidi faith. At press time members were expecting to adopt a presidential statement, which has been put under silence procedure till 6 pm,during the briefing.

Council members will be interested in an assessment from the Deputy Secretary-General and from UNODC of strengths and gaps in the UN system in dealing with this issue. UNODC is the guardian of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, including the “Palermo Protocol” to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking, especially women and children. While UNODC’s role is largely related to transnational organised crime, Council members expect tomorrow’s meeting to focus on human trafficking by terrorists, with an overwhelming focus on how the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) generates revenue through trafficking and the slave trade, with a particular impact on women and children.

Many Council members expect that similar atrocities committed by other groups, such as Boko Haram and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) active in the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), will also be raised. In this context, many Council members will be interested in hearing more about UNODC’s role in developing anti-trafficking strategies and how it has been able to assist member states who are affected by the phenomenon. (CAR, DRC, Iraq, Nigeria and Syria have all ratified the Palermo Protocol and are bound by it under international law.)

Council members will be interested to hear what recommendations Freedom Fund, an NGO dedicated to ending modern slavery, has for the Security Council in light of the organisation’s work on identifying gaps in how the international system deals with these issues. Ms. Basee is expected to share her story of being trafficked by ISIS following the 2014 assault on Sinjar in Iraq. She was witness to women and girls being sold into sexual slavery and young boys being forced to convert to Islam and conscripted into ISIS forces.

Since last Friday, Council members have been negotiating a draft presidential statement that condemns human trafficking and calls on member states to consider ratifying or acceding to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Palermo Protocol, and to redouble implementation efforts. The draft presidential statement gives particular prominence to violations committed by ISIS, Boko Haram and the LRA, including sexual slavery, sexual exploitation and forced labour, which contribute to such groups’ financing. It also calls 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 conflict prevention, peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts.

While the negotiations were generally smooth, there were a few contentious issues. It seems Russia resisted language specifying that certain acts associated with human trafficking (sexual slavery, sexual exploitation and forced labour) in armed conflict may constitute crimes against humanity, acts of genocide or war crimes. Apparently Russia favoured keeping only the reference to war crimes.

Russia had some concerns with the issue of trafficking of children being addressed by the Security Council’s Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict. It argued that as human trafficking was not one of the six grave violations against children used in the monitoring and reporting on violations against children in the UN system, it therefore was not an issue that the Working Group should address. Council members supportive of the Children and Armed Conflict agenda argued that human trafficking was linked to three of the six grave violations: child recruitment, sexual violence and abductions. In the end it seems Russia agreed that trafficking could be addressed by the Working Group “within its mandate”.

Russia was similarly wary about including language in the presidential statement on “other relevant groups” addressing the issue of trafficking, as this was a veiled reference to the existing informal expert group on the protection of civilians and the proposed informal expert group on women, peace and security that was called for in resolution 2242. In the end, that reference was removed and replaced with language that trafficking in persons would be addressed within the conflict-related sexual violence framework.

Language on the need for countries to hold accountable their officials for trafficking required significant negotiation. Earlier drafts alluded to those officials, such as diplomats and military personnel, who may enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution in foreign courts. In the end, the wider principle was not controversial, particularly as it did not create any new legal obligations. However, finding language that all Council members could agree to was difficult, with China and Russia at one point expressing a preference to not have the reference.

The draft presidential statement also underscores the need for member states 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. It seems China insisted on including “in line with domestic legislation” in this part of the text, but several other Council members argued against giving preference to a domestic legal system on this particular issue.China’s language was retained in the draft under silence.

Although it seems the US was keen to have Nigeria’s support for strong language on Boko Haram and its activities connected to human trafficking, during the negotiations it became clear that Nigeria preferred not to have Boko Haram feature prominently in the draft presidential statement. In the draft under silence the references were retained, but it is unclear whether Nigeria is completely satisfied.

Besides calling for the issue of trafficking in persons in situations of conflict to be addressed in the Council’s own body of work as well as the work of the UN system, the draft statement also requests a report from the Secretary-General within a year’s time on progress made in better implementing existing mechanisms for countering trafficking in persons.

Postscript (17 December): On 15 December, silence was extended until 10 pm to allow for two further Russian amendments that removed the reference to the UN’s conflict prevention role and changed the reference to “conflict-related sexual violence” to “sexual violence in armed conflict”. On 16 December, the presidential statement was adopted as S/PRST/2015/25.

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