Europe has taken a further step towards protecting people who have been trafficked with the entry into force of a new convention on Friday. The 14 states that have so far become parties to the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings have committed themselves to ensuring greater respect and protection of the rights of trafficked persons.
Amnesty International, Anti-Slavery International and La Strada International welcomed this major step for people trapped in a modern form of slavery, for which Amnesty International has been campaigning for years. The organizations called on the other 33 member states of the Council of Europe, as well as the European Union, to follow the others' lead.
Trafficked persons, when they come to the attention of the authorities, are rarely treated as victims of heinous crimes. Typically, they are treated as criminals, unlawful aliens or, in cases in which the authorities seek to pursue their trafficker, useful tools of the criminal justice system. The psychological, medical and social consequences of their ordeal and the underlying root causes are rarely addressed.
Assistance, when offered to trafficked people to recover from their ordeal, is frequently made conditional on their agreement to cooperate in prosecutions against their traffickers. Such cooperation often places trafficked persons and members of their families in further danger at the hands of the traffickers.
The parties to the Convention – Albania, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Georgia, Malta, Moldova, Norway, Romania and Slovakia – have committed themselves to taking a different approach. They have agreed to take individual and collective action to criminalise trafficking as well as a range of other minimum steps necessary to respect and protect the rights of trafficked persons.
These steps include ensuring that:
a mechanism is in place for the accurate identification of trafficked persons;
persons reasonably believed to have been trafficked are granted time to recover and are offered assistance and protection—regardless of whether they agree to participate in any proceedings the authorities may decide to pursue against those responsible for their ordeal;
trafficked persons have access to redress, including compensation.