Open Debate and Resolution on Human Trafficking
Tomorrow (20 December), the Security Council will convene for a ministerial-level open debate on trafficking in persons in conflict situations, organised by Spain. The meeting will be chaired by Spain’s Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy Brey. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime Yury Fedotov, and Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Bangura will brief. The Council will hear from two Iraqi women of the Yazidi faith: Nadia Murad, who was trafficked by ISIL and is now a UN Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking, and Ameena Saeed Hasan, a human rights activist who works to free people captured by ISIL. The first Security Council resolution on trafficking in persons in conflict situations is expected to be adopted during the debate.
A concept note circulated by Spain in preparation for the open debate (S/2016/1031) describes how conflicts amplify the risks for trafficking in persons, and how some armed groups and criminal networks engage in trafficking in the territories in which they operate as well as in cross-border activities. It notes that typically trafficking in women and girls is for profit, marriage and sexual slavery, while men and boys are often trafficked for forced labour in the mining sector and as porters, soldiers and slaves. In particular, the note highlights how, for certain terrorist groups, such as ISIL and Boko Haram, human trafficking is a way to degrade, displace and subjugate targeted civilian populations. It describes how internally displaced and refugee women and girls in ISIL-controlled areas have been sold or forcibly married to fighters in armed groups or to wealthy foreigners, and how trafficking can emerge in the context of conflict, including when there is a high risk or incidence of atrocity crimes.
The Secretary-General’s 2016 report on conflict-related sexual violence highlighted the use of sexual violence by terrorist groups to increase their power, recruitment base and revenue through human trafficking. The concept note underscores that the links between terrorism and human trafficking should be part of the global discourse and action on curbing financial flows to violent extremists, as trafficking in women and girls remains a critical component of financial flows to ISIL and its affiliates. The note argues that existing counterterrorism financing mechanisms, as well as sanctions regimes, are tools that could be used to monitor and disrupt human trafficking.
Spain would like the debate to address several questions, including how the Security Council can better integrate the issue of trafficking in persons in conflict into its own work, as well as the nexus between human trafficking, conflict-related sexual violence and violent extremism. Another issue to be addressed at the debate is how the UN system can work together to confront human trafficking in conflict and in the context of terrorism.
The Council is poised to adopt its first resolution on human trafficking, which condemns this phenomenon and stresses that human trafficking can exacerbate conflict and foster insecurity. The draft resolution focuses on strengthening the UN’s ability to counter human trafficking, and on the international community’s role in responding to trafficking, including by urging member states to ensure domestic legislation is in place to protect victims and prosecute traffickers. The draft strengthens the linkages between human trafficking and terrorism, including by recognising that victims of trafficking and victims of sexual violence at the hands of terrorist groups are victims of terrorism, which should afford them access to national relief and reparation programmes. In terms of the Council’s own work, the draft signals an intention to consider targeted sanctions for individuals and entities involved in human trafficking and to integrate the issue of human trafficking into the work of its sanctions committees.
The draft resolution was put under a final silence procedure on Monday afternoon (19 December) following two rounds of negotiations and bilateral consultations to resolve difficult issues. One of the main issues was defining which aspects of human trafficking were appropriate for the Council to consider, given that it is a global phenomenon and the Council’s focus is threats to international peace and security. Other contentious issues revolved around whether the Council should recognise that certain acts associated with trafficking in persons constitute crimes against humanity or genocide, and whether to grant trafficking victims refugee status. There were also concerns over how the Council and its sanctions committees would integrate the issue of human trafficking into its country-specific work.
As this will be the first Council resolution on the issue, the original draft attempted to provide a framework for the Council’s ongoing engagement on human trafficking. However, some Council members found it difficult to agree on language they considered to be too broad on a several politically sensitive subjects. For example, one area of contention was whether the text would address trafficking “in areas affected by conflict”, “in conflict”, or the narrower “in armed conflict”. This is an issue that has come up over the years in other thematic issues such as children and armed conflict, and women, peace and security. The original draft addressed trafficking in persons “in conflict” but the final text limited the scope to trafficking in persons in “areas affected by armed conflict”
Notably, for the duration of the negotiations, the draft included language recognising that certain acts or offences associated with trafficking in persons in the context of armed conflict may constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide. Some Council members were uncomfortable with this language. Other members argued that it was important to acknowledge that human trafficking may amount to a crime against humanity or genocide. Russia broke silence this morning on this issue and the references to crimes against humanity and genocide explicitly linked to the crime of human trafficking were removed. The final text, however, retained language on member states’ responsibility to end impunity and prosecute those responsible for such crimes. There was a similar dynamic in December 2015 when Russia resisted language in a presidential statement on human trafficking that specified that certain acts associated with human trafficking might constitute crimes against humanity or acts of genocide, only agreeing to reference human trafficking as a war crime.
Another aspect of the resolution that survived most of the negotiations but was eventually removed, was the recognition that some trafficking victims should be afforded refugee status. After Russia broke silence on Monday morning, that reference disappeared from the final text. The draft still urges member states receiving refugees to provide a wide range of services to those who are also trafficking victims, including legal documentation of their cases.
The resolution also includes operational aspects of how the Council and its sanctions committees can address human trafficking. It seems that several members including China, Russia and the US, had concerns about expanding the work of the sanctions committees, and there was resistance to singling out the 1267/1989/2253 Al Qaida/ISIL Committee. While the final text retains the Council’s intention to integrate the issue of human trafficking and the issue of sexual violence in conflict into the work of relevant sanctions committees, the reference to this specific committee was omitted.
The original draft requested the Monitoring Team to the 1267/1989/2253 Committee to include the issue of trafficking in persons and the use of sexual violence as a revenue stream for ISIL and Al Qaida in its comprehensive reports. However, this language was changed to a request that the Monitoring Team, when consulting with member states, include the issue of trafficking in persons in areas of armed conflict and the use of sexual violence in armed conflict as it relates to ISIL, and Al Qaida, and report to the Committee on these discussions.
There were issues related to the role of civil society. The original draft emphasised the importance of engaging religious and traditional leaders with the objective of curbing violent extremism. It seems amendments from Egypt were incorporated that reaffirmed that trafficking in persons in the context of armed conflict, especially women and girls, cannot and should not be associated with any religion, nationality, or civilisation. The issue of briefings from civil society representatives was also controversial, but the final draft includes language encouraging further consideration of having civil society representatives, particularly survivors of trafficking in persons in armed conflict, brief the Council in relevant areas.
Finally, the resolution requests the Secretary-General to report within twelve months on strengthening coordination within the UN system to prevent and counter trafficking in persons in armed conflict.
Postscript: The resolution (S/RES/2331) was adopted unanimously during the debate.