Sri Lanka: UNODC convenes Mock Trial Training for Judicial Officers to strengthen anti-trafficking responses


Negombo (Sri Lanka)/23 February: UNODC, in collaboration with the Judges' Institute, held the first mock trial-based training for 36 High Court Judges on human trafficking cases from 21-23 February 2020 in Negombo, Sri Lanka. Using a case study based on real-life scenarios, participants discussed various conceptual, evidential and procedural issues related to human trafficking cases.

Providing an in-depth understanding of the international and domestic legal framework, sessions commenced with analyzing issues related to allied crimes, especially focusing on the difference between 'procuration' and 'trafficking for prostitution' and specific problems pertaining to trafficking for labour exploitation.

The discussions were aimed at enhancing the understanding of the landscape of 'evidential issues arising in trafficking persons cases,' with a special focus on the issue of 'consent'. Justice Shiranee Thilakawardena, a retired judge of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka illustrated the need for differentiating between 'sex work' and 'human trafficking'. She also drew attention of the participating judges to the 'sex related offences' in the archaic legislations, which have been widely used. Justice Thilakawardena emphasized the importance of identifying 'exploitation' from both fronts, emotional and physical.

Experts also explained concepts such as subtle threats, rational threats and restricted freedom and exploitation, especially how perpetrators exploit the situation.

Victim and witness protection in the Sri Lankan context received attention of every participant, and special focus was paid to elaborate on the sections in the Victim and Witness Protection legislation in Sri Lanka, elaborating on the rights and the entitlements of victims, protection of identity, and video recording of evidence. Judges concurred that protection should be guided by the judgement.

Participant judges actively took part in the mock- trial, playing roles of the victim, witnesses, defense counsel, prosecutor and panel of judges. After hearing the plea of the prosecution and the defense, a five-judge bench pronounced a detailed judgement. The work of the judicial officers and the final judgement were lauded by UNODC and experts as an example worth trend setting. Ms. Rahel Gershuni, International Expert who facilitated the mock trial said 'the mock trial is the best' she has experienced as an expert and the judgement could be published as one of the best in human trafficking ruling.

This activity was held in the framework of the UNODC project on "Strengthening the implementation of a comprehensive response to TIP in India and Sri Lanka", implemented as part of the UNODC Global Programme against TIP, jointly with the UNODC Regional Office for South Asia and with the financial support of the United Kingdom.

Aimed at strengthening responses to tackling TIP as evidenced by better identification of victims and initiation of investigations, this project also contributes to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and in particular SDG 16 on Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.