Advancing International Law Enforcement and Judicial Cooperation to Combat Trafficking in Persons in Central and Southeast Asia through UNODC-supported Networks

In a context where many people have faced the loss of income due to the economic slowdown associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, vulnerability to exploitation remains relatively high in the Central Asia region. COVID-19 has impacted the capacity of state authorities and non-governmental organizations to provide essential services to victims of human trafficking. Imposed travel and other restrictions have also negatively affected law enforcement capacity to cooperate internationally.

Patterns of human trafficking and destination countries are changing. Some reports suggest an increasing number of trafficking cases in South and South-East Asian countries involving citizens from Central Asia. The absence of bilateral agreements, a lack of direct contacts and language barriers, among others, hamper mutual legal assistance between source and destination countries in the two regions.

To bring together existing regional judicial and law enforcement cooperation networks, the General Prosecutor’s Office of the Kyrgyz Republic recently initiated a side event at the Tenth Session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC). The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) supported this initiative, which gathered more than 60 representatives of UN Member States, staff of international and regional organizations, law enforcement, criminal justice practitioners and civil society from Central and South East Asia.

Mr. Tilek Kudaiarov, a Senior Prosecutor from the Kyrgyz Republic, stated: "Trafficking in persons often involves transnational organized crime groups, which are complex in structure and consist of a whole chain of command. Identifying and prosecuting all members of such groups, and especially recruiters and transporters, remains a daunting task, especially if they are located in different states. We believe that conducting parallel joint investigations is the most effective method to bring perpetrators to justice, especially in cases where the legal systems of the countries of origin and destination of trafficking in persons are fundamentally different”.

During the session of the UNTOC’s Conference of States Parties, the General Prosecutor’s Office of the Kyrgyz Republic put forward a recommendation to develop standard operating procedures for law enforcement bodies from countries of destination to work jointly with their counterparts from countries of origin to combat chains of human traffickers and to ensure victim support and protection. This recommendation was incorporated in a landmark resolution on the effective implementation of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, which was adopted for the first time in 10 years.

"A comprehensive response to trafficking in persons in the Central Asia region requires investment in mutual legal assistance and cooperation between countries of origin, transit and destination", stated Mr. Koen Marquering, Coordinator of UNODC’s Justice Program in Central Asia.

“This involves a need for more effective use of the UNTOC as legal basis for international cooperation, in conjunction with regional instruments such as the Minsk Convention on Legal Assistance and Legal Relations in Civil, Family and Criminal Matters, as well as applicable bilateral treaties. Central authorities for international cooperation on criminal matters from Central Asian countries require the necessary institutional capacity and skills to deal effectively with mutual legal assistance requests”.

During the event, UNODC - supported law enforcement and judicial cooperation networks, such as the Network of Prosecutors and Central Authorities from Source, Transit and Destination Countries in response to Transnational Organized Crime in Central Asia and Southern Caucasus (CASC Network) and the South East Asia Justice Network (SEAJust) presented their work and explained how they support measures for the digital submission of mutual legal assistance requests in the context of the health crisis caused by COVID-19.

Representative of these networks supported the recommendations of the Kyrgyz Republic and discussed how the two networks can work together to facilitate joint human trafficking investigations. Active engagement with Interpol was also recommended for this purpose.

As guardian of the UNTOC and its Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, UNODC supports Central Asian states in their efforts to strengthen the criminal justice response to trafficking in persons via its programs supported by the US State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL).



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