Joining Forces against Trafficking in Human Beings

Joining Forces against Trafficking in Human Beings

On February 17th and 18th, the Council of Europe (currently chaired by Austria) and the OSCE (currently chaired by Switzerland) held a joint conference on combating trafficking in persons. The Council of Europe has played a key role in developing the legal infrastructure —including, notably, an international convention— in the fight against human trafficking. The OSCE has developed a practical agenda for its 57 participating States, which was updated and expanded at the Kyiv ministerial last December. The OSCE also has a Special Representative on human trafficking, currently Maria Grazia Gianmarinaro of Italy, who makes country visits and whose office helps shine a spotlight on gaps and shares best practices.

The conference was a great success and brought together senior government representatives from across the region, as well as representatives from the private sector and civil society. Among the key themes were the need for better coordination among governments, and the importance of coordinating and implementing the many practical steps by a range of actors, both inside and out of government, that can help prevent trafficking, protect victims, and find and prosecute perpetrators.

One of the things that I heard over and over again from government experts was that “this problem cannot be solved without NGOs,” and that “we really depend on civil society to help us tackle this agenda.”

On the evening of the 18th, Allison Hollabaugh, who works on the staff of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, and I hosted a Google+ video hangout with non-governmental experts. This was a chance to de-brief on the conference in Vienna and get ideas from those on the front-lines of the fight against trafficking about how to take the OSCE’s anti-trafficking work forward. Many of those who participated in the hangout are engaged day to day both in the United States and overseas in working with potential victims on prevention, on offering victim services, or on identifying cases and engaging law enforcement.

We discussed emerging best practices, including the use of social media and texting to create reporting networks like “Truckers Against Trafficking.” We also talked about equipping immigration officials and others with new tools and training to identify victims and get them the services and care they need.

Social media has helped a number of victims find help online, but those operating online victims’ services sometimes want to be able to refer victims to services available close to home, including face-to-face assistance. So one participant pointed out that government trafficking rapporteurs and focal points can help ensure that governmental and non-governmental resources are clearly publicized, both for victims and for organizations that are trying to connect them to help.

Another topic that came up was the need for more empirical research to help validate winning strategies and allocate resources as efficiently as possible. Not enough resources are allocated to this kind of research, several participants noted. In addition, we talked about mining patterns that emerge when you look at the composite data from existing reporting mechanisms.

I mentioned that some of the government representatives I had talked to reported challenges faced by lawyers and judges in staying up to date on the emerging jurisprudence around trafficking laws. A law student who participated in the conversation noted that continuing legal education —a requirement for American lawyers— could include expanded offerings on human trafficking which could be useful for prosecutors, judges and others.

As I said at the end of the conversation, the Swiss Chairmanship of the OSCE has prioritized engagement with civil society in 2014. This chance to chat was a good example of a lesson I learned a while back: conversations among government representatives are necessary, but not sufficient. By pushing for a broader perspective, including from business, religious organizations, advocacy groups, and a host of other non-governmental actors, you can really deepen your perspective on pretty much any policy issue and the practical challenges associated with it.

Combating human trafficking remains a priority of the U.S. Government and we will continue to support OSCE engagement, and to be grateful for all the NGOs who contribute so significantly to this fight.