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Putting Victims First: Conference on Protecting and Promoting the Rights of Victims of Trafficking

 

Poland, Warsaw, 26-27 November 2013

Four members of RENATE attended a conference organised by the Ministry of Interior of Poland, the Governments of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, the Council of Europe, and the International Organization for Migration. The aim of this conference was to provide a platform for the exchange of knowledge and best practices as regards protection of the rights of victims of trafficking in line in with the second “P” (protection) of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.

Conference in Warsaw, Poland, 26-27 November 2013
Putting Victims First, Conference in Warsaw, Poland, 26-27 November 2013

Clear and consistent protection of the rights of victims of trafficking in human beings is essential. The Council of Europe Convention sets specific rights including emergency assistance, safe accommodation, compensation, legal redress and rehabilitation. About 200 participants from 35 countries discussed the substantive content of these measures. In this regard, the discussions were focused on four related themes:
 
Identification of victims of trafficking with a specific focus on labour exploitation
Human trafficking occurs where there is a possibility for financial gain through the exploitation of persons for work. It takes various forms and victims may be found in many different sectors and activities. Even if over time there have been advances in the development of procedures for identification of victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation, there is relatively less experience with regard to identification of victims of trafficking for labour exploitation. Hence, one challenge rests in ensuring that representatives of institutions whose jobs involve contact with persons who may be trafficking victims have the expertise necessary to detect risk factors and refer this information to those competent to formally identify victims. Identification helps to prevent further exploitation and ensures that the victims are informed of their rights and can be referred to an appropriate specialized agency for further assistance.
Taking these considerations as the starting point, the discussion focused, among others, on:

  • The importance of formalised procedures for the identification of victims of trafficking;
  • The benefits of multidisciplinary approach to identification.

 
Standards of safe accommodation for victims of trafficking
One of the first steps to be taken in respect of victims wishing to escape from the control of traffickers is to provide a safe and secure shelter. Despite the prospect of continued abuse, many victims decide to stay with the traffickers because leaving can involve more danger and greater vulnerability. The lack of appropriate accommodation often results in victims returning to their abusers after an initial escape,. It is therefore crucial that real and practical options for safety and security are made available to different categories of victims of trafficking. Each victim is unique and requires and desires bespoke assistance.
The discussion focused on:.

  • The importance of shelter accommodation not being made conditional on the victims’ willingness to act as a witness or being linked to the duration of the criminal proceedings;
  • The importance of clear legal basis on which victims of trafficking can invoke protection and assistance;
  • Striking a balance between the need to protect victims and the respect for the victims’ rights and privacy.

 
Legal redress and compensation
A human rights-based approach puts the human rights of trafficked persons at the centre of all efforts to prevent and combat trafficking and to protect, assist and provide redress to victims. It also entails the effective prosecution of traffickers, putting the emphasis on the right to effective remedy for the victim. The Council of Europe Convention provides for the right of victims of trafficking to compensation from the perpetrators as well as compensation from the State. However currently, the challenge rests in the procedures that provide trafficked persons to receive redress and compensation in a holistic manner, but are only provided with ad hoc measures which are primarily aimed at facilitating criminal investigation. At present, even when there are possibilities in law for granting compensation to victims, in practice this right remains theoretical and few victims benefit from compensation schemes.
Taking these considerations as the starting point, the discussion focused on:

  • Access to legal assistance and free legal aid;
  • The importance of having different avenues for claiming compensation (both from the perpetrator and the State);
  • Building the capacity of relevant professionals to enable victims to benefit from the legal possibilities to claim compensations;
  • Guaranteeing the right to compensation across border (portable justice).

 
Ensuring victims’ rehabilitation and safe return
When it comes to discussing long-term solutions with the victims of human trafficking there are different options that should be made available to them: integration, move to another country in which the victim has a residence permit, return to the country of origin. All alternatives should be in principal equally accessible and valid to them.
Some victims of human trafficking might be vitally interested in returning home. The Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration programme offers them such a possibility. Such services are always based on victims’ informed consent and are extended only to those who have freely chosen to return home. Yet, return of the victim of human trafficking to the country or community of origin is not always the optimal solution. While considering return, all possible threats related to becoming victimised a second option should be always taken into account. Victims who express an inability or unwillingness to return should be offered alternative, safe and efficient options. Whatever alternative is considered, it should be analysed together with a risk analysis and, if necessary, a risk-management plan. In this regard mainstream social services and labour market also has a role to play. These challenges were addressed during the discussion.

  • Co-operation between countries of destination and countries of origin in order to ensure proper risk assessment and safe return, as well as effective reintegration of victims.

 
Full description including conference materials can be found here: Putting Victims First The summary of the discussions will be available in English, Russian and Polish at the conference website www.victimsfirst.pl at the beginning of next year.