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‘Trafficking in persons for sexual exploitation in (post-) conflict situations:
integrating a comprehensive approach to trafficking in persons into the Women, Peace and Security agenda of the Security Council’


Statement by Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children

25 October 2019

Security Council, Arria formula meeting, New York

Mr. President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

As the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, I would like to thank you for this opportunity to participate in the Arria formula meeting on 'Trafficking in persons for sexual exploitation in (post-) conflict situations: integrating a comprehensive approach to trafficking in persons into the Women, Peace and Security agenda of the Security Council'. The Security Council has been actively committed to this topic since the Presidential Declaration in December 2015 and subsequently through the Annual Reports by the Secretary-General, the Resolution 2331/2016 and 2338/2017, and several Open Debates, to which I also had the pleasure to contribute.

Research carried out by academics, NGOs and international organisations, especially UNHCR and IOM, shows that incidents of trafficking (TiP) not only are occasionally linked with conflict, but are a systematic consequence of conflict. People, including children, kidnapped or recruited to be child soldiers or servants or sexual slaves, displaced persons, people fleeing conflict, people in situation of destitution in the aftermath of the conflict: these are particularly vulnerable populations. Research also shows that women and girls are disproportionally affected, due to pre-existing marginalisation and dependency and gender-based violence stemming from patriarchal social norms, including limited access to resources and education, gender discrimination and domestic violence.

The Security Council has fully acknowledged trafficking as an integral part of the peace and security agenda. However, criticism has been expressed regarding the approach adopted by the Security Council, focusing almost exclusively on trafficking as a security issue, and as a crime perpetrated in the context of terrorism, and addressing the issue of victims' protection and support from this limited point of view.

In my last year report to the General Assembly, I focused on the need to integrate a human-rights based approach to trafficking in persons in the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda of the Security Council, throughout its four pillars: prevention, protection, participation and relief and recovery, and I have provided recommendations in this regard.

In that report, I have explored the implications of the qualification of trafficking as a form of conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV), as acknowledged by the Secretary General. Today I would like to highlight that such a recognition implies enlarging the area of necessary interventions in the field of victims' protection.

Firstly, trafficking can be considered as a form of CRSV not only when it is perpetrated by an armed group to provide forced sexual services for their combatants, but also when an armed group "sells" someone to a criminal organization or a private individual to finance the armed group, knowing that this will result in sexual slavery or sexual exploitation. This is unfortunately the possible destiny of girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria, and of many women and girls kidnapped by ISIL/DAESH during the Syrian war.

Secondly, trafficking is encompassed within the notion of CRSV not only when it is committed directly by an armed group or in the interest of an armed group, but also when it is committed by a criminal gang taking advantage from the situation of breakdown of institutions and the rule of law during conflict and post-conflict, including taking advantage of vulnerabilities deriving from the attempt of vulnerable people to leave the country in unsafe conditions. [This is the situation of many people coming from conflict zones in Sudan, DRC, North-East Nigeria and other African countries, desperately trying to reach Europe. Many women coming from the Horn of Africa have disappeared, most probably dying in the desert; in other cases they have been tortured, trafficked and exploited on a regular basis during their journey, especially in Libya, and eventually died in the Mediterranean.]

Finally, a criminal group can commit trafficking by taking advantage of the situation of vulnerability and destitution of displaced persons, or of people that have left their countries, even many years after the conflict. All these situations require urgent action.

As an important part of the WPS agenda, I want to mention reparations, taking into account that remedies for trafficked persons are still largely ineffective. Reparations should always have a transformative nature. For example, the guarantee of non-repetition should address the root causes of CRSV and TiP, including discrimination against women. In addition, reparations should be part of a policy aimed at social inclusion of victims and survivors, including their full participation in their designing and implementation of such policies.

However, women in conflict context are not exclusively victims, but agents of life-saving, peace building and peace keeping activities. A full integration of the anti-trafficking and WPS agenda – which are both part of the Security Council agenda - is a powerful means to show the centrality of women's agency and participation. For instance, according to the Global Study on the Implementation of the SC Resolution 1325, peace processes including women as witnesses, signatories, mediators and/or negotiators result in a 20% increase in the probability of a peace agreement lasting at least two years.

Drawing from the work of my mandate so far, the main message that I would like to convey today is the following: I believe it is time to discuss how to fill the gaps in the current international and national legislation on trafficking and to adopt a genuinely human rights-based approach to anti-trafficking. A human rights-based approach does not coincide with what is currently considered as a victim-centred approach. In other words, it does not only mean that the legitimate interests of victims must be at the centre of any action against trafficking, but, importantly, that people concerned must be considered first and foremost as rights holders. Some implications of this approach are not obvious, and should be further explored, for instance regarding reparations; as women and girls in conflict context are the least likely to access any kind of remedy.

According to the existing legal context, in particular regarding the nexus between trafficking and conflict, persistent human rights gaps in international instruments can be filled by a systematic and joint interpretation of the Palermo Protocol, the ICC Statute, the SC Resolutions 2331/2016 and 2338/2017, the SC Resolution 1325/2000 and the following Resolutions on WPS, the relevant CEDAW General Recommendations and the CRSV agenda. This complex interpretative task is needed in order to make full use of the legal and case-law evolution in the various areas, and to make it possible that they enhance each other. In fact, anti-trafficking action, despite the numerous issues related to the human rights gaps mentioned above, represents a precious hub of concrete practices, especially those carried out by CSOs as well as by survivors-led initiatives, that should be taken into consideration and from which it is possible to learn when designing and implementing the CRSV and WPS agenda.

I am convinced that it is also time to envisage the possibility of a dedicated document – a tool for further work - summarizing and taking a step forward on the nexus between trafficking and conflict. Such a tool should integrate anti-trafficking and WPS agendas, also taking into account – and highlighting the implications of - the recognition of trafficking as a form of CRSV.

In this respect, I would like to underline that some recommendations included in my last year report to the General Assembly could be operationalized to produce significant results in the field, for example regarding actions to prevent TiP as life-saving measures, TiP monitoring to be incorporated into early warning mechanisms, and into peace agreements and their implementation, and importantly, women's participation in peace building and peace keeping as a means to prevent TiP and promote victim and survivor empowerment and social inclusion in the aftermath of conflict.

Furthermore, such a document should tackle a wide area of trafficking situations also occurring in conflict context, such as those regarding labour exploitation, or exploitation in criminal activities, which are not encompassed in the concept of CRSV, and should equally be addressed from a human rights and gender-sensitive perspective.

Member States and the Security Council have an important role to play in this regard, and I hope that this Arria meeting will pave the way to a Security Council's resolution on this subject.