Collateral Damage - The Impact of Anti-Trafficking Measures on Human Rights Around the World

Report - According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights anti-trafficking measures "shall not adversely affect the human rights and dignity of persons, in particular the rights of those who have been trafficked and of migrants, internally displaced persons, refugees and asylum seekers". However, human rights defenders have become more and more concerned that many strategies designed to fight trafficking have proven counter-productive for the very people they were intended to benefit.

To investigate this more closely, GAATW commissioned eight human rights and trafficking experts to each look at the policies and practices instituted in one country, and respond to the questions: Have anti-trafficking measures provided scope for a greater number of victims to exercise their human rights more fully in obtaining access to justice and protection from trafficking? Or have prevention initiatives instead had a negative impact on such victims and/or others? The eight countries considered were Australia; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Brazil; India; Nigeria; Thailand; the United Kingdom; and the United States of America. Together, these case studies point to the conclusion that, while an enormous amount has been done to combat trafficking, anti-trafficking policies and other related policies have in fact harmed the very people they were intended to protect, as well as migrants and sex workers. The reasons for this range from a lack of evidence-based policy-making and a lack of consultation with those that will be affected by the policies, to clearly pushing other agendas, such as stopping migration or suppressing prostitution. Mike Dottridge, editor of the report and member of the GAATW Working Group on Research, wrote the introductory chapter, which contains 10 broad recommendations including: Making assistance conditional on cooperation with law enforcement (a practice found in all eight countries that were examined) is incompatible with a human rights approach and needs to be ended without delay. Further, immediate repeal of legislation allowing the detention of trafficked people is needed. The means of identifying of trafficked persons must be improved, more comprehensive assistance be made available, and restrictions on trafficked persons applying for asylum be removed and, that individual risk assessments be carried out routinely before a trafficked person is deported. National human rights institutions have an important role to play in collecting information about the impact of anti-trafficking measures in their country and to suggest policy changes. Law enforcement officials should put greater focus on detecting cases of forced labour and slavery-like practices, and on prosecuting abusive employers rather than the ‘middlemen’ who recruit people for the purpose of trafficking. Governments should abolish obstacles inhibiting migrant workers from exercising their rights to freedom of association and from joining or forming trade unions.

For human rights advocates who work on trafficking, this publication is exciting as it gives us evidence with which to approach governments and to give us direction and strategy in what we ask for. In particular, it impresses upon us that the rights and interests of affected people need to be at the very centre of any policy and practice intended to improve their human rights. All policies must be based on objective evidence and reviewed regularly by talking to those affected by the policies.

Published by the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women.