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Colombia and Panama come together with the aim of providing joint responses to human trafficking

Panama, October 19, 2023. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), through the TRACK4TIP initiative, and with the participation of the governments of Colombia and Panama, organized a workshop on joint responses to human trafficking. The workshop involved representatives from the National Committees and Commissions against Human Trafficking in both countries, migration authorities, prosecutors, officials from the Ombudsman's offices, Ministries of Foreign Affairs, the National Police, local border authorities, colleagues from other United Nations agencies, and representatives from civil society organizations in Colombia and Panama.
The meeting, held in Panama City on October 18 and 19, aimed to establish a joint roadmap to comprehensively address human trafficking and related crimes in the Darien and Uraba regions. This approach focuses on human rights, childhood, gender-based violence, and is based on the lines of work outlined in the Memorandum of Understanding signed by both countries in September 2018.
During this meeting, participants shared national and local responses to human trafficking in Panama and Colombia and identified joint response actions between the two nations. At the end of the meeting, both delegations agreed to exchange proposals related to prevention, assistance, protection, investigation, and legal action to consolidate a working plan. This plan will be implemented by the national committees against human trafficking in coordination with the Ministries of Foreign Affairs as the points of contact for the 2018 Memorandum of Understanding. They also agreed to hold a follow-up meeting before May 2024.
According to Jonathan Riggs, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Security of Panama, these meetings "allow states to strengthen international cooperation in best practices to minimize human trafficking. They enable states to develop common security strategies that facilitate the recovery of victims and the early identification of criminal groups engaged in this scourge that harms society."
Johanna Aguirre, Chief of International Legal Advisory at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Panama, emphasizes the importance of international cooperation in combating organized crime networks. She noted that Colombia and Panama have a memorandum of understanding and expressed gratitude to UNODC for this initiative, which will help create a roadmap.
These meetings "help us understand each other and combine efforts in the fight against human trafficking. They allow us to get to know each other, work together, and harmonize all the resources we have to combat this crime," highlighted Hugo Andrés Mera, advisor to the group against human trafficking at the Ministry of the Interior of Colombia.
Martha Andrea Romero, coordinator of the national working group for addressing crimes affecting women, children, and adolescents at the General Prosecutor's Office of Colombia, believes that these meetings are important because they support the development of a methodology for identifying strategies for prosecution and progress in cases of human trafficking and migrant smuggling.
According to UNODC's 2022 global report on human trafficking, Latin America and the Caribbean face unprecedented risks of human trafficking due to the economic consequences of Covid-19, which have pushed millions of people into poverty. The increase in migratory flows has made Colombia and Panama transit points on the route to North America.
In this context, the Ombudsmen's offices of Colombia and Panama have identified the following factors as triggers for human trafficking: the emergence and consolidation of transnational organized crime, the reconfiguration of the Colombian armed conflict and new actors involved, and the competition for illegal economies linked to human trafficking.
Therefore, the Uraba and Darien region is a critical point where these factors converge, requiring joint actions between institutions, international cooperation organizations, and civil society to strengthen institutional capacity in identifying, referring, and protecting victims of this crime, as well as investigating and prosecuting criminal organizations.
According to the National Migration Service of Panama, from January to August 2023, 333,704 migrants have entered the country, three times more than in the same period the previous year.
In Panama, according to information from the Public Ministry, between 2015 and March 2023, 207 reports of human trafficking have been received, resulting in 33 convictions for the same crime. In Central America and the Caribbean, there has been a 36% reduction in the identification of cases.
According to information documented by UNODC, in Central America and the Caribbean, 54% of convicted human traffickers are male, and 46% are female. A total of 85% of traffickers share the same nationality as the victims and exploit them in locations different from their places of origin, and 41% of cases involve organized criminal structures.
UNODC, as part of its mandate from the United Nations Member States in 2000, has been supporting the implementation of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the Protocols 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.
Starting in 2023, the TRACKforTIP initiative includes Panama with the goal of addressing the risks of human trafficking within the migratory flows crossing the isthmus. This binational meeting was convened with the aim of identifying collaboration scenarios and advancing agreements to be presented to the relevant authorities.
This bilateral meeting between Panama and Colombia was made possible with the support of the United States Department of State.