This June, the Working Group on Trafficking in Persons will meet in Vienna and virtually. Participants from around the world will discuss national practices on current issues related to this crime as well as the non-punishment principle.
Ms Patt Prugh, Attorney Adviser at the US Department of State and H.E. Ms Esther Monterrubio Villar, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Spain to the International Organizations in Vienna, have been selected as the Co-Chairs of this meeting of the Working Group.
Ms Patt Prugh: It is really the two of us who are interested in doing this together, but of course we both come from countries—Spain and the United States—that have been strong supporters of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocols since their entry into force.
This meeting of the Working Group on Trafficking in Persons has a challenging agenda and reduced time to accomplish our tasks, so having co-chairs to share the burdens increases the chances of the Working Group finishing our work, and on time. As a personal matter, I am very much looking forward to the opportunity of working with Amb. Monterrubio Villar and I am confident her chairing skills will help us make maximum, efficient use of our limited time.
Ambassador Monterrubio Villar: The idea of this co-chairing arrangement was developed last year. Both our countries are indeed seriously committed to the implementation of these instruments and agreed to chair this Working Group to show the need for close cooperation to address human trafficking. For me as well, it is a pleasure to work with Patt. She is a reference for us all with her extraordinary knowledge and we praise her tireless work and efforts towards obtaining useful outcomes from UNODC intergovernmental meetings.
Ms. Patt Prugh: All the experts participating in the Working Group, including those from the United States, benefit from the opportunity to share their experiences with their peers. This includes methods and techniques that have worked, and those that have not proven to be successful. Through this constant exchange of experiences, global efforts to counter trafficking in persons are improved.
Ambassador Monterrubio Villar: Trafficking in persons is one of the most degrading crimes affecting human beings and the international community is deeply concerned about the negative impact of this crime to the dignity and well-being of victims. The exchange of information, good practices and challenges is essential for knowledge of the trends and the reality of this problem. The Working Group is the best forum to get informed about approaches, strategies and policies across the international community.
Ambassador Monterrubio Villar: Human rights, fundamental freedoms and the dignity of people are principles that are fully incorporated in our foreign policy as Spain. Preventing and combatting human trafficking is, therefore, an essential part of our policies and strategies at both the national and international levels.
Ms. Patt Prugh: As a lawyer, I am called upon to review foreign assistance programmes that address trafficking in persons issues. I also review trafficking laws, and participated in the drafting of the UNODC Model Legislative Provisions against Trafficking in Persons. As a law professor, I teach my students – many of whom are foreign students – about multilateral anti-crime efforts, including the Convention and its Protocols.
Ms. Patt Prugh: My primary goal as co-chair of the 12th meeting of the Working Group on Trafficking in Persons is to create an environment where the participants eagerly share their experiences with each other, and where every person will leave having learned something new that will contribute to greater success in combatting the scourge of human trafficking. And, if the Working Group can adopt recommendations to further facilitate countering trafficking, we will indeed consider ourselves successful.
Ambassador Monterrubio Villar: Absolutely. This meeting is a unique opportunity for countries to reach consensus in adopting practical recommendations regarding criminal justice responses to victims compelled to commit offences as a result of being trafficked and best practices in joint investigations and specialized prosecutions.
Ms. Patt Prugh: The principle of non-punishment of victims recognizes that individuals who commit crimes under duress or as a result of coercion may lack the requisite mens rea, or mental element, to commit an offense. In the context of trafficking victims, their abuse includes being compelled to commit acts that they would not otherwise commit. The experts participating in various meetings of the Trafficking in Persons Working Group have recognized that governments should put this principle into practice, and it is likely that this 12th meeting will include adoption of such a recommendation.
Ambassador Monterrubio Villar: We hope so. The principle of non-punishment is necessary to support and protect victims of trafficking and should be better implemented.
Ambassador Monterrubio Villar: This Working Group really aims to strengthen international cooperation. It is a key feature. We cannot prevent and combat this crime without reinforcing international cooperation to share information and improve our strategies and policies.
Ms. Patt Prugh: Sharing best practices allows investigators in multiple jurisdictions to take advantage of the latest advances in technology and forensics, and frequently to do so in real time. Case and after case has demonstrated that bilateral and multilateral cooperation among States parties at the investigative level is a most effective tool to counter organized criminal groups, including those that prey on the young, the weak, and the vulnerable.
Ms. Patt Prugh: Civil society plays a key supporting role providing, among other things, services to victims of trafficking, and through the Constructive Dialogue, the depth and breadth of civil society’s contributions may be revealed. The Constructive Dialogue is a unique feature of the UNTOC Review Mechanism, with the potential to be the most effective review feature of the Mechanism, an outstanding innovative feature to highlight the partnership between governments and civil society. It can be groundbreaking, but it will only succeed if both civil society and States parties take full advantage of it.
Ambassador Monterrubio Villar: Civil society organizations are an indispensable element to prevent and combat all manifestations of organized crime and especially human trafficking. Interactions with and inputs from CSOs are critical elements to help States to establish effective policies and strategies to curb this crime.