12th United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice addresses human trafficking and migrant smuggling

Salvador, Brasil, 15 and 16 April 2010

The 12th United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice provided participants with a unique opportunity to explore on the one hand - the links between organized crime, trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants and how the knowledge of these links should in turn shape a more effective criminal justice response to trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants; and on the other hand - how to prevent violence against migrants, migrant workers and their families, and provide an appropriate criminal justice response to this violence.

Trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants are complex crimes as they are the product of diverse criminal enterprises that involve a wide variety of actors. Any response to trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants has to take into consideration all these potential actors and their various level of organization.

The Protocols on Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air and to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children supplementing the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and other relevant international instruments provide an appropriate legal framework to respond to trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants and the links to transnational organized crime. The growing number of States Parties to these instruments is a reflection of the commitment of Member States to fighting these crimes. Now that the legal framework is in place, implementation of the provisions in practice remains to be developed or strengthened to provide a response balancing the criminal justice aspects and a human-rights approach.

The second issue discussed was focusing on migrants, migrant workers and their families and the violence they may be exposed to.

Migration is one of the great driving forces of human progress and development. The exploitation of it by profit-seeking criminals represents a darker side of the phenomenon.

One of the points raised by the Secretary General's report to the General Assembly on International Migration and Development (A/60/871 May 2006) is the following:

"The experience of migration has also evolved in some less positive ways. Migrants of both sexes are increasingly exposed to exploitation and abuse by smugglers and traffickers, sometimes losing their lives. Others find themselves trapped behind walls of discrimination, xenophobia and racism as the result of rising cultural and religious tensions in some societies."

Migrants, migrant workers and their families can be vulnerable for a wide array or reasons: gender, age, education, language, knowledge, socio-economic conditions, occupation, duration of residence, social exclusion etc. Mobility itself can make people vulnerable to violence. Violence against migrants, migrant workers and their families, may take many forms: crime, violence against the person but also discrimination.

Preventing and responding to violence against migrants, migrant workers and their families requires activities at the local, national, regional and international level, to ensure a comprehensive approach.

The two topics were addressed during three dedicated plenary sessions of the Congress and by most speakers at the High Level Segment.

During the sessions and the high level segment a number of speakers pointed out that trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants were serious forms of organized crime requiring a comprehensive approach balancing criminal justice with human rights. Representatives reported on measures taken in their countries to combat trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants, including ratification of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, and the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, both supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, the adoption of legislation and the implementation of measures to prevent those crimes more effectively, protect the victims of trafficking in persons, especially women and children, and the rights of smuggled migrants and prosecute offenders. Several representatives emphasized the need to strengthen the coordination of efforts within States, as well as at the regional and international levels and with all relevant stakeholders, and noted the specific role of non-governmental organizations. Some representatives proposed the revision of the Trafficking in Persons Protocol to bring it more in line with today's reality; however, others considered that the Trafficking in Persons Protocol represented a road map to a comprehensive fight against trafficking in persons.

Speakers during the sessions and at the high level segment also called for universal adherence to the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, as well as to other relevant international instruments, in particular the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrants Workers and Members of Their Families. A growing concern was expressed with respect to existing violence against migrants, migrant workers and their families. Speakers reported on national, bilateral and regional efforts and initiatives to reduce the vulnerability of and risks faced by migrants, migrant workers and their families, varying from providing legal aid and assistance, in particular for women and children, to the establishment of specialized units focusing on combating and preventing such violence. Several speakers also expressed that the criminalization of irregular migrants and the practice of their mandatory detention at the border was inconsistent with international law and therefore must cease. One speaker strongly supported that the 12 th Congress recommend to the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice the consideration of the elaboration of a "Model Strategy and Practical Measures on the elimination of violence against migrants, migrant workers and their families in the field of crime prevention and criminal justice".

A number of conclusions were reached during the plenary sessions. Member States expressed that:

(a) It is important to have a comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach to trafficking in persons and the smuggling of migrants, as well as to violence against migrants, migrant workers and their families, balancing aspects of criminal justice response with human rights considerations;

(b) There is a need for increased cooperation between Member States, international, regional and non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders, such as the media or the private sector; cooperation with non-governmental organizations was important;

(c) There is a need to take into account the particular vulnerability of women and children;

(d) The current efforts towards the development of a mechanism to review the implementation of the Organized Crime Convention and its Protocols are important;

(e) There is a need for UNODC, in cooperation with relevant partners, to play a role in collecting and disseminating data and information on the root causes of violence against migrants, migrant workers and their families, and on patterns of migration;

(f) It is important that UNODC, in cooperation with relevant stakeholders, continue its technical assistance work.

The draft report of the plenary sessions is available here.

Videos of the plenary sessions held on 15 and 16 April 2010 are available here.