Creation of a Multi-Stakeholder Working Group within the CASC Network to Enhance Cross-Border Cooperation in Preventing and Combatting Trafficking in Persons in Central Asia and Southern Caucasus

From 17 to 18 March 2022, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) through the Judicial Cooperation Network for Central Asia and Southern Caucasus (CASC) and the HTMSS Global Programme on Trafficking in Persons in cooperation with the Prosecutor General’s Office of Georgia convened the regional workshop to enhance the response to trafficking in persons for sexual exploitation in Central Asia and Southern Caucasus. The workshop was held in a hybrid format with on-site participation in Tbilisi, Georgia.

The overarching goal of the workshop was to examine trends, challenges and good practices in addressing trafficking in persons for the purpose of sexual exploitation by sharing the experience of countries of origin, transit and destination, with a focus on the wider Central Asia and Southern Caucasus (CASC) region. Furthermore, it aimed to advance discussions on how to effectively prevent and counter trafficking in persons for sexual exploitation as well as to elaborate a set of actions for future multi-stakeholder engagement at the regional, sub-regional and bilateral level.

The meeting was attended by different experts involved in the field of combating trafficking in persons, including law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges and other criminal justice practitioners, and representatives of NGOs and CSOs that provide victim protection and assistance.

One of the key outcomes was the endorsement of a set of recommendations which are to be implemented as next steps in the efforts to prevent and combat trafficking in persons for the purpose of sexual exploitation in Central Asia and Southern Caucasus. One of the recommendations is the creation of a regional mechanism for cross-border coordination and cooperation for investigating and prosecuting trafficking in persons as well as setting up a multi-stakeholder inter-agency working group as a complementary platform to share operational information and coordinate actions related to the mutual legal assistance and extradition processes. The multi-stakeholder approach will be aimed at strengthening institutional capacities as well as victim protection and assistance systems. To enhance judicial cooperation between central authorities and strengthen the victim protection systems it was recommended the adoption of standard operating procedures, which constitutes one of the steps of the multi-stakeholder follow-up approach.

Throughout the workshop, countries from and beyond the CASC region (e.g., the GCC countries, countries from the South and the South-East Asian region) presented pending and/or solved MLA cases involving trafficking in persons. In this context, it was highlighted that certain legal frameworks are deterrent to victims of trafficking in persons. The adoption of bilateral agreements between countries of origin, transit and destination was considered as an effective tool to avoid the prosecution of victims and facilitate the repatriation process. As part of the follow-up action, UNODC envisages conducting another regional workshop in late 2022 focusing on illicit financial flows from trafficking in persons and further operationalization. In addition, UNODC will be compiling cases showcased during this workshop to include them in the SHERLOC library.

On the margins of the event, officials from several CASC countries held bilateral meetings which resulted in facilitating regional mutual legal assistance requests. Moreover, NGOs from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan explored avenues for strengthening their partnership through enabling the repatriation of victims of trafficking in persons between the two countries.