Human Rights Approach to Trafficking

Trafficking in human beings is a global phenomenon and occurs in most precarious sectors with weak labour rights, such as the sex industry, building and agricultural sectors, but also in private households. Trafficked persons are exploited for their labour and experience a series of rights violations, ranging from restriction of movement and confiscation of pay, to violence and abuse. Although trafficking is widely recognised as a serious human rights violation, support for trafficked persons is still inadequate, only a small fraction of trafficked persons is identified and an even smaller percentage decide to press charges. Trafficking is caused by a variety of factors (so-called root causes) that occur in all stages of the trafficking process: in countries of origin (poverty or unequal gender relations) and destination (demand for cheap labour or repressive migration policies) and during the migration process (lack of safe/ legal migration opportunities).

Migrant workers, domestic workers and sex workers must have their rights protected. Any analysis and matching solution in relation to these issues should be carefully questioned in terms of its effects for the groups concerned. A human rights-based approach opposes anti-trafficking measures which adversely affect or infringe upon the human rights of trafficked persons or other affected groups. This approach requires that human rights are at the core of any anti-trafficking strategy. It integrates the norms, standards and principles of the international human rights system into legislation, policies, programmes and processes.

In 2002 the High Commissioner on Human Rights, Mary Robinson published the Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Human Trafficking, which provides a practical, rights-based policy guidance on the prevention of trafficking and the protection of trafficked persons. The purpose of the Principles and Guidelines is to promote and facilitate the integration of a human rights perspective into national, regional and international anti-trafficking laws, policies and interventions. They are based on the understanding that states have the obligation to prosecute traffickers and provide support and assistance, including redress to trafficked persons and to protect their human rights. The principles and guidelines stress that “violations of human rights are both a cause and a consequence of trafficking in persons. Accordingly, it is essential to place the protection of all human rights at the core of any measures taken to prevent and end trafficking. Anti-trafficking measures should not adversely affect the human rights and dignity of persons and, in particular, the rights of those who have been trafficked, migrants, internally displaced persons, refugees and asylum-seekers”.