Trafficking in persons in conflict situations: the world must strengthen prevention and accountability

July 29, 2022

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Washington, D.C. / GENEVA – Ahead of the World Day Against Trafficking in persons, a group of United Nations and regional human rights experts* raised serious concerns about the risks of trafficking for those displaced by conflict, including children.

"Conflict situations greatly increase the risks of trafficking in persons. Women and girls, particularly those who are displaced, are disproportionately affected by trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, often combined with other forms of exploitation, such as forced and child marriage, forced labour and domestic servitude. Trafficking in persons of all ages is often a tactic used by armed groups, contributing to continued instability, conflict and displacement, hindering processes of peace building, durable solutions to displacement, and transition to peace and security."

Refugees, internally displaced and stateless persons are particularly at risk of exploitation, and are frequently the targets of attacks and abductions that lead to trafficking. Continuing restrictions on access to protection, limited resettlement and family reunification, and restrictive migration policies, increase these risks.

The risks of exploitation, occurring in times of conflict, are not new. They are linked to and stem from existing, structural inequalities, gender-based and racial discrimination, poverty, and weaknesses in child protection systems. Such structural inequalities are exacerbated in the periods during and after conflicts, and disproportionately affect children.

Trafficking in persons in situations of conflict, including by private actors, continues with impunity, with limited monitoring, reporting or investigations and corporate accountability or access to remedies.

We have seen increasing recognition from the Security Council of the link between activities of armed groups and trafficking particularly targeting children, and trafficking in persons related to sexual violence in conflict. Yet, despite this recognition, accountability for conflict related trafficking for all purposes of exploitation remains limited, and prevention measures are ineffective.

Child trafficking is closely linked to the grave violations against children in armed conflict, including the recruitment and use of children abductions, attacks against schools and hospitals, and sexual violence. However, child victims of trafficking in conflict situations rarely receive the assistance, protection, and rehabilitative care that is their right. Denial of humanitarian assistance increases gaps in protection.

Without early identification of victims of trafficking and referral for assistance and protection, victims remain without support and are exposed to the additional risks of being subjected to enforced disappearance and continuing exploitation.

The experts welcome the attention given to trafficking in conflict situations, but urge the international community to do more to prevent trafficking in all conflicts and to protect victims. "We have seen what can be achieved through coordinated action and political will to prevent trafficking in conflict situations.

All responses to risks of trafficking in persons must be victim centered, age and gender sensitive and disability inclusive." Non-governmental organisations, human rights defenders and lawyers assisting trafficked persons, and persons at risk of trafficking, must be supported and protected in carrying out their legitimate and critical work.

Measures to prevent trafficking in persons must be integrated into the work of all humanitarian and protection actors, in women, peace and security agendas, and in peacebuilding and peacekeeping transition measures. Urgent action is needed to address climate related displacement and conflict, to ensure effective prevention of trafficking in persons.

We must ensure that accountability for trafficking in persons in conflict situations is strengthened, including through effective application of international humanitarian law, international criminal law and international human rights law."

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 170/22

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