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2009 ASEAN Workshop on International Legal Cooperation in Trafficking in Persons Cases

Bangkok (Thailand), 25 November 2009 - The crime of trafficking in persons is often transnational in both commission and effect. In contrast, criminal justice responses to trafficking in persons are typically structured and generally only operate within the confines of national borders. The disjuncture between the reality of transnational crime and the limits of national systems presents a significant challenge to the ability of countries to effectively respond to trafficking in persons.

From 23 to 25 November, senior prosecutors, lawyers and police from the ten Member States of ASEAN (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) met in Bangkok to discuss international legal cooperation in trafficking in persons. Participants had the opportunity to review and finalize the draft Handbook on International Cooperation in Trafficking in Persons Cases that is expected to provide a blueprint for mutual legal assistance and extradition in the ASEAN region. The workshop was organized under the auspices of ASEAN with support of UNODC and the Asia Regional Trafficking in Persons project ( ARTIP), through funding provided by the European Union. It was opened by ASEAN Assistant Secretary-General H.E. Sayakane Sisouvong.

Click to enlarge the picture This initiative builds on a growing awareness, within ASEAN, of the importance of stronger and more effective regional and international cooperation in the area of trafficking in persons. There is now widespread acknowledgement amongst countries of the region that such cooperation is vital to successful domestic prosecutions as well as to eliminating safe havens for traffickers and their accomplices. The Heads of Specialist Trafficking Units Process, operating within ASEAN since 2004, and involving all Member States, is an example of national and regional commitment to international cooperation. In addition, a number of instruments have been developed within ASEAN that support such cooperation. They include a Treaty on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, completed in 2006, and a set of Practitioner Guidelines on Trafficking in Persons, endorsed by SOMTC in 2007, that provide detailed guidance to criminal justice practitioners on international cooperation as it relates to trafficking in persons cases. These instruments feed into international standards including the international legal cooperation provisions of the United Nations Convention on Transnational Crime.

The participants to the workshop discussed numerous practical and political factors that impede cooperation across borders in criminal investigations and prosecutions. These challenges, which can be especially acute in trafficking in persons cases, include the difficulties of communicating with counterparts who speak a different language, differences in legal, political and cultural traditions, political sensitivities and human rights concerns.

Delegation from Brunei As a result of the deliberations, a comprehensive set of recommendations has been gathered to enhance and finalize the ASEAN Handbook on International Legal Cooperation in Trafficking in Persons Cases. The Handbook is aimed at criminal justice officials, primarily law enforcement officers, prosecutors, central authority lawyers and other legal practitioners who may be involved in investigating and prosecuting trafficking in persons cases, or in processing or considering requests for assistance across borders. It has been been designed to both encourage and enable criminal justice officials within the ASEAN region to initiate and engage in the processes of mutual assistance and extradition where this would facilitate an investigation or prosecution of the crime of trafficking in persons or a related crime. Once it is finalized, UNODC is committed to taking the Handbook forward in a way that will enable it to be used in all jurisdictions and regions.

This Workshop was made possible through funding received from the European Union.