(Source: MJ/Vatican News)
Human trafficking – the stealing of people’s freedom for profit – is a grave violation of human rights. Every year, thousands of men, women and children fall victim to traffickers in their own countries or abroad.
According to the 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report, it is estimated that there are about 25 million victims of human trafficking globally. Yet in 2018, less than 12,000 traffickers were prosecuted worldwide.
Against this backdrop of impunity and poor prosecution rates, the recently-concluded 20th Alliance against Trafficking in Persons Conference, held in Austria, has called for renewed efforts to increase the number and improve the quality of prosecutions against traffickers.
The conference, organized in collaboration with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) from 20 to 22 July, was entitled: “Ending Impunity: Delivering Justice through Prosecuting Trafficking in Human Beings.”
It focused on framing the challenges and opportunities to “enhance the investigation and prosecution of human trafficking and discuss linkages between the prosecution of offenders and protection of victims before, during and after criminal proceedings.”
Among the participants at the Conference was Monsignor Joseph Grech from the Holy See’s Permanent Mission to the International Organizations in Vienna, who spoke at four discussion panels.
Due to travel restrictions caused by the on-going Covid-19 crisis, many of the participants at the conference were only able to attend virtually.
In his first speech, Monsignor Grech noted the discrepancy between the high number of victims and the low rate of prosecutions and convictions of human traffickers, insisting that that gap “should make us indignant.” He pointed out that this questions the effectiveness of the measures States have taken to combat the crime.
“Despite the efforts of the international community,” Grech remarked, “resources are scarce mainly because of the continuous economic crises and socio-political instability in many States.”
Monsignor Grech explained that the inadequate financing of national judicial systems encourages states to focus on immediate results, thus limiting the scope, rather than on catching and prosecuting the “big fish.” According to Monsignor Grech, this leads to the impunity of human traffickers.
Access to justice for victims and guaranteeing their fundamental rights is another source of concern.
Joining Pope Francis’s continuous calls for the protection of vulnerable people, Monsignor Grech called on judicial systems to guarantee fair treatment, justice and competent support for victims of human trafficking.
Law enforcement and media support
In his second speech, the Vatican diplomat highlighted that, in order to effectively combat the often large international organizations involved in human trafficking, it is necessary to have greater inter-governmental coordination between States.
This, Monsignor Grech proposed, will involve the exchange of information between the police of various states, and also agencies, such as Interpol and Europol.
At the same time, he insisted that the independence of judicial systems must be ensured to enable them to be more effective in their work.
Monsignor Grech also underscored the positive effects of the support of the media in the fight against human trafficking. He explained that the media can promote campaigns to raise awareness among politicians and the public.
Protecting victims’ rights
In his concluding speech, Monsignor Grech called for the respect for human rights and the dignity of the person. He insisted that this respect must not only serve to limit the excessive use of force, but must also “serve as a guiding criterion for prosecuting and punishing those actions that represent the most serious attacks against the dignity and integrity of every human person.”
At the same time, he said obtaining justice for victims should not be the only aim of legal proceedings, pointing out that victims’ rights should be ensured before, during and after trials.
In this way, they can safely testify against their traffickers and be offered opportunities for full social reintegration.
In this regard, Monsignor Grech reaffirmed the Holy See’s support for the Alliance against Trafficking in Persons’ commitment to creating a legislative system that focuses on protecting the inalienable rights of vulnerable people.
Every system, concluded Monsignor Grech, “should ensure that the rights of victims are not violated and offer them all the necessary assistance while monitoring the application of anti-trafficking laws.”