International Efforts to Combat Human Trafficking

Human trafficking occurs across the globe, but the UN International Labor Organization (ILO) reports that it is more prevalent in regions of conflict. Women and children are more likely to become victims, and on August 30, 2005, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that human trafficking was on the rise.

To combat human trafficking, the UN has brokered several agreements attempting to curb the practice. On November 1, 2011, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees agreed to pool resources to better combat human trafficking. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime later partnered with the International Organization for Migration and pledged to reduce migrant smuggling.

Thailand is a primary source for labor trafficking victims as well as a hub through which victims from all over the globe are transported. In August 2011, the UN Special Rapporteur on human trafficking applauded a Thai anti-trafficking law passed in January 2008, as well as cautioned the country that additional measures must be instituted.

The ILO has estimated that over 21 million people are subject to forced labor. The organization has increasingly called on Asian and Latin American countries, two main sources for such human trafficking, to enact anti-trafficking legislation and support enforcement of those laws.

Child Trafficking

Following the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 26, 2004, the Indonesian government placed restrictions on the international transport of minors and required guards at refugee camps in an effort to thwart potential child trafficking. The UN and the Indonesian government jointly established child registration checkpoints as a way to prevent child trafficking. The Sri Lankan government, also in an attempt to reduce instances of child trafficking following the tsunami, placed a temporary hold on a child adoptions.

In regions where the potential for child trafficking is particularly high, countries can be spurred to action following the requests of other world leaders. When the US State Department threatened sanctions against Togo due to its lack of concern regarding child trafficking, the Togolese government passed a law in August 2005 increasing prison time and fines for those convicted of the practice.

Organ Trafficking

Following allegations of organ trafficking by international human rights groups, China passed a law banning the sale of human organs in May 2007. In Europe, Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged Kosovo and Albania to open investigations to determine the veracity of claims that the Kosovo Liberation Army trafficked in organs harvested from Serbian prisoners taken during 1998-1999 Kosovo war. While the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe launched an investigation into the organ trafficking allegations in June 2008, Albania refused to initiate its own investigation. In February 2011, the UN Special Representative to Kosovo called for an independent investigation into Kosovan organ trafficking allegations to be spearheaded by the UN Security Council.

Sex Trafficking

Noting the changing forms of slavery, including the rise in global sex trafficking, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon insisted, in March 2010, that countries renew their commitment to combat the practice. The Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) heard testimony in April 2008 from a woman stating that the Niger government failed to enforce a May 2003 law criminalizing slavery. The woman, Hadijatou Mani Koraou, had been sold into slavery as a child and then forced to remain her master’s wife even after he granted her freedom. In October 2008, the court found the Niger government liable — a ruling binding for all ECOWAS member states — and ordered restitution equivalent to approximately USD $20,000.

In an attempt at transparency and regulation, Hungary began licensing sex workers in September 2007. Critics argued that such licensing violated an UN human trafficking treaty from 1950. Convicted and sentenced by the War Crimes Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina in November 2009, a former Serbian military leader was found guilty of multiple atrocities, including sexual slavery and rape. In January 2010, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that countries complicit in sex trafficking violate Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which forbids slavery and forced labor.