Trafficking in Persons Expert Group Meeting 10-11 November 2016 

Participants and UNODC staff gather for a photo on the final day of the Expert Group Meeting 


With a view to producing new practitioner guidance in early 2017, UNODC conducted an expert consultation in Vienna from 10-11 November on key legal concepts within the definition of trafficking in persons. The expert meeting, made possible with generous funding and support from Switzerland, builds on the findings of three Issue Papers addressing specific elements of international human trafficking law.  

These previous Issue Papers relied on surveys and interviews of practitioners across a great variety of States. The latest Issue Paper consolidates previous research findings, as well as enriches it on the basis of a new round of consultations and offers practical guiding principles for criminal justice practitioners. 

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children, Ms. Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, delivered opening remarks to the meeting in which she stressed the nuances and richness of the Trafficking in Persons Protocol as an international treaty.

A diverse array of expert practitioners  debated the definitional concepts including prosecutors, law enforcement and victim legal representatives from four continents and over a dozen countries, including individuals with whom the Section has enjoyed a long and productive working relationship, as well as new faces offering fresh perspectives. On the first day participants debated a number of general principles of the Issue Paper before breaking into working groups to consider several topics more in-depth. The discussions aimed to clarify three elements of trafficking in persons that are critical to recognizing the crime and securing convictions for alleged perpetrators. These three elements-'abuse of a position of vulnerability', 'the principle of the irrelevance of consent', and 'exploitation'-are enshrined in the Palermo Protocol, yet are understood and implemented in a variety of ways across signatory States.

For example, Ms. Gogé Maïmouna Gazibo, Director General of the National Agency for Combating Trafficking in Persons in Niger, highlighted the varying degrees of vulnerability of victims of trafficking in Niger, as well as difficulties in identifying cases of trafficking in persons. Ms. Rahel Gershuni, an Israeli individual expert and former UNODC staff, spoke about the dangers of narrowly defining what a victim is presumed to look like. 

The second day continued with group presentations and discussions related to specific principles contained in the draft Issue Paper. Afterwards, participants again split into groups to discuss the Model Law and Legislative Guide to trafficking in persons which are foreseen to be updated in 2017-2018.

Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Officer Martin Fowke reflected on the success of the Expert Group Meeting, which "… achieved our primary goals of an effective and engaged expert consultation, and to advance the draft paper to a concrete, realisable and high-quality output". Moreover, the meeting generated a great amount of goodwill amongst a reputable and diverse set of actors, eliciting specific inputs that can inform the Section's substantive work on trafficking in persons.

This work follows the October launch of a forthcoming publication, the Digest of Organized Crime Cases, which allows policy makers to better understand the experiences of practitioners and incorporate these experiences into their own strategies against criminals and criminal networks.

Further examples of how prosecutors, investigators and other relevant actors deal with the challenges of responding to human trafficking are contained within UNODC's Case Law Database. The database provides information and analysis regarding prosecuted cases of human trafficking and other organized crime.

The Expert Group Meeting on trafficking in persons was followed 15-16 November 2016 by a meeting on smuggling of migrants with a similar aim of clarifying key concepts for practitioners.

The Global Action to Address Trafficking in Persons and the Smuggling of Migrants (GLO.ACT), a joint EU-UNODC four-year initiative,  supported the participation of experts from Mali and Niger.