The EU’s fight against human trafficking

On 21 October the Commission presented the Third Report on the progress made in the fight against human trafficking.

The Report highlights the recent trends in human trafficking, some particular complexities in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, and the remaining challenges that the EU and the Member States must address as a matter of priority. The report has been designated taking stock of measures since 2017.

The Report represents for the Commission a strategic approach to avoid persistent risks and to protect the society from organized crimes. Indeed, the tackling of trafficking in human beings is set as a priority under the EU Security Union Strategy.

In general, the new Third Report identifies key patterns and challenges in addressing trafficking in human beings, provides an analysis of statistics to obtain evidence on the criminal phenomenon and on its victims and outlines the results of anti-trafficking actions.

In the meantime, some progress in fighting human’s trafficking has already been made in several areas. For instance, the EU committed itself in strengthening the transnational cooperation, particularly through referral mechanisms, and, as demonstrated, through the joint efforts of Europol and Eurojust.

Trafficking in human beings is a violation of fundamental rights explicitly prohibited under the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. In 2011, the EU adopted an Anti-trafficking Directive that addresses trafficking in human beings and establishes robust provisions on victim’s protection, assistance, and support, as well as on prevention and prosecution of the crime.

However, crimes continue to evolve. Human trafficking is still a pervasive, and often invisible, reality. Much work remains to be done. According to the data, nearly half of the victims are EU citizens (49%) and one third (34%) of the victims were trafficked within their own EU Member State. Most trafficking victims are women and girls (72%). More, one in every four (22%) victims of trafficking is a child.

In particular, the purpose of human trafficking is linked predominantly to sexual exploitation. Anyway, labor exploitation is a common reason for human trafficking, too. More, both abuses are linked to the context of migration.

Today, crimes are increasingly perpetrated online, as traffickers use more commonly the internet and social media to easily recruit and exploit the victims. Modern communication technologies have indeed significantly impacted on how organized crime groups involved in international trafficking in human beings operate. Technology has so broadened criminal’s ability to traffic human beings for further different types of exploitation, the removal of organs, illegal adoptions of children and forced marriages. Europol explains that to counter these threats is necessary to use the great advantage of a shared intelligence and collect more digital evidence to connect the dots between national and international investigations.

Furthermore, the current coronavirus pandemic only creates aggravated circumstances for vulnerable people to fall victim. COVID-19 favors the trafficking, causes delays in identifying victims and hinders the access to justice, assistance, and support.

As criminals continue to make huge profits from exploiting their victims, we need to increase our efforts in prevention, investigation, prosecution and conviction of human traffickers”, said Vice-President Schinas.

Unfortunately, the number of prosecutions and convictions remains low in relation to the reported number of victims. For example, in 2017/2018, 14’145 victims were registered, but there were only 6’163 prosecutions and 2’426 convictions.

Commissioner of Home Affairs Johansson reminded, while presenting the report at the Anti-trafficking Effort: ”We need to act to prevent the horrific crime of human trafficking, to assist and protect the victims, and to stop the culture of impunity of the perpetrators”.

The Report outlines several priority areas, in which Member States must focus to effectively combat human trafficking.

To this connection, the Report creates a strong criminal justice response to make trafficking a “high risk, low profit” crime to counter the culture of impunity. Furthermore, it is aimed at promoting a more ambitious implementation of the Anti-Trafficking Directive, focused on prevention, including the criminalization of those who consciously use services provided by victims of trafficking. Then, the Report is based on a victim-centered approach, taking account of the gender dimension of the crime and ensuring the availability of personalized services that are multilingual, multidisciplinary, and multi-agency. Additionally, Member States should increase the use of criminal justice tools to freeze and confiscate criminal assets, even through the use of large-scale IT systems, such as the Visa Information System, Schengen Information System (SIS II) and Eurodac. Finally, the Report provides for stepping up security cooperation between the EU and its partner countries to address the transnational nature of the crime by identifying common security interests and building further on their established cooperation and security dialogues.

Finally, among the tools aimed at fighting trafficking in human beings, even the EU Civil Society Platform and the ePlatform have been and remain useful and essential means.

In particular, the EU Civil Society Platform serves as a forum for civil society organizations working at European, national and local levels, in the field of human rights, children’s rights, women’s rights and gender equality, migrant’s rights and shelters. The Civil society currently continues to be a key partner within the joint efforts made to address trafficking in human beings. Its contribution is much acknowledged and valued and its building and strengthening partnerships have been at the core of the EU agenda since long time. The Platform was launched in 2013 as a key action of the “EU Strategy towards the eradication of trafficking in human beings 2012-2016” and currently brings together more than 100 participants from the EU and beyond. The Anti-trafficking Directive has always recognized the role of civil society and encouraged Member States to work closely with civil society organizations, including recognized and active non-governmental organizations dealing with trafficked persons, in particular policymaking initiatives, information and awareness-raising campaigns, research and education programs, as well as in monitoring and evaluating the impact of anti-trafficking measures. After the first open call to express the interests to participate in the Platform, further open calls have been launched over the years targeting civil society organizations based in selected non-EU countries, working especially on child victims of trafficking, as well as to ensure geographical balance including organizations legally based in all EU Member States.

The Platform is completed by a further online ePlatform launched in 2014 to include further participants, in order to overcome logistical and budget constraints, as well as to give continuity to the discussion held in the meetings in Brussels, fostering information exchange and facilitating its dissemination.

Another alternative to tackle trafficking in human beings and to which States may access is represented by the national rapporteurs or equivalent mechanisms (NREMs). In this regard, Member States have an obligation to establish NREMs, whose tasks are essential, as they include the carrying out of the assessments of trends in trafficking in human beings, the measuring of the results of anti-trafficking actions, including the gathering of statistics in close cooperation with relevant civil society organizations active in the field, and reporting. The NREM’s play a crucial role in the preparation of the progress reports on trafficking in human beings. They work closely with the EU Anti-trafficking Coordinator (EU ATC) by sharing information and exchanging best practices, as well as in order to coordinate the tasks at the EU and national level.