UNODC commemorates World Day against Trafficking in Persons in Nairobi and urges greater regional cooperation to protect and assist trafficking victims 

Nairobi, Kenya- 31 July 2017 - To commemorate this year's World Day against Trafficking in Persons, UNODC's Regional Office for Eastern Africa (ROEA) hosted a roundtable discussion to highlight the importance of improved action to protect and assist trafficking victims.

The regional event, hosted at the United Nations at Nairobi, brought together representatives from Member States, international organisations, NGOs and civil society from across the region and beyond ad was opened by Sid Chatterjee, UN Resident Coordinator in Kenya, and Alan Cole, Officer-in-Charge of ROEA. The discussion focused on reinforcing a human rights-based and victim-centred approach to countering trafficking in persons, improved awareness-raising regarding the perils of trafficking and the need to improve regional cooperation and coordination aimed at countering trafficking in persons in Eastern Africa. In this regard, UNODC underlined the need for effective regional coordination and cooperation in the fight against trafficking in persons.

Accordingly and within the framework of its Regional Programme for Eastern Africa (2016-2021), UNODC committed to facilitating the development and endorsement of a Regional Plan of Action to Counter Trafficking in Persons in Eastern Africa. The purpose of this Plan would be to ensure commitment by the thirteen Eastern African Member States to ratify or accede to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocol against Trafficking in Persons, to criminalize all aspects of trafficking in persons in a harmonized manner, to ensure improved capacity building to prevent, suppress and punish all acts of trafficking in persons, to ensure effective support, assistance and protection to victims of trafficking, and to enhance international cooperation in criminal matters. Said Johan Kruger, Head of UNODC's Programme on Transnational Organized Crime and Illicit Trafficking in Eastern Africa: " Without a coordinated effort to enhance and harmonize a regional approach to counter trafficking in persons, impunity in Eastern Africa will persist. We need to standardize legislation, capacity and cooperation".

In addition, participants raised the need for an improved multi-stakeholder approach involving governments, international organizations, NGO's and civil society. It was also emphasized that there was a need for more shelters for victims, improved witness protection mechanisms and better social and health services for victims of trafficking. Various participants also highlighted the importance of addressing the psychosocial needs of victims considering that they having in many instances been exploited and violated in the most horrendous ways. Participants also noted that it was important for law enforcement and other criminal justice officials to engage with victims in a manner that would not re-victimise, stigmatise or criminalize victims, but that would ensure the protection of their human rights as well as safety as potential witnesses.

Trafficking remains a hidden crime, despite affecting virtually every country in the world. Instability and irregular migration caused by conflict, violence, natural disasters and economic despair exacerbates the risks faced by vulnerable communities around the region, leaving potentially millions of people at the hands of traffickers. Traffickers are preying on the unprecedented flows of refugees and migrants. 2017 so far has proven to be another deadly year for thousands of migrants and refugees across the world, and this situation may increase vulnerability and create favourable conditions for traffickers. As the human trafficking flows follow the main migratory routes as shown in the UNODC's Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, human trafficking - within the Horn of Africa - is extensive and has been on the rise in the last years.

If we fail to recognize vulnerabilities to human trafficking, particularly in the context of migration flows, victims are never identified, and therefore do not receive the assistance or protection to which they are entitled. Ratification or accession to the Convention and Protocols, as important as it is, is just a starting point and not an end in itself. The region needs action. Informed understanding can guide national responses to lower trafficking risks for vulnerable groups, help to identify victims as soon as possible so they can receive physical and mental health support, witness protection, repatriation and the remedies they need. In order to achieve this, public officials should work closely with victim support services including NGOs.

Trafficking in persons cases have proven difficult to identify, investigate and prosecute. Hence, the importance of not only strengthening national legislation, but also enhancing national coordination. Improved national coordination among various law enforcement agencies such as immigration, workplace inspectors and police agencies to counter human trafficking will greatly assist with the identification and effective investigation of possible cases. The use of joint task teams and investigation teams can also go a long way in improving national efforts.

According to José Vila del Castillo, UNODC Regional Representative for Eastern Africa: " We want to live in a world where human trafficking no longer exists. If we want to achieve this, we must unite and deliver effective, efficient and practical solutions. This means political commitment, better cooperation, and determination to arrest, detain and prosecute the perpetrators. UNODC, as guardian of the Convention and Protocols, has substantial experience and expertise in this area, and is able to provide support to create a Regional Plan of Action to counter trafficking in persons in Eastern Africa - but we will need to commitment of every Member States in the region to achieve this vision".