United Nations Expert on Trafficking in Persons, Especially in Women and Children - End of Visit to Belarus

Trafficking in persons is a huge global problem that has turned into one of the fastest growing criminal activities in the world today affecting virtually every country either as source, transit and/or destination country for women, children, and men trafficked for the purposes of sexual or labour exploitation (domestic servitude and bonded labour). Trafficking occurs within and across national borders, often with people crossing many borders to reach their final destination.

The Special Rapporteur hereby conveys her immense gratitude to the government of the Republic of Belarus for extending an invitation to embark on this mission to Belarusfrom 18th to 24th May 2009.

Trafficking in persons is a huge global problem that has turned into one of the fastest growing criminal activities in the world today affecting virtually every country either as source, transit and/or destination country for women, children, and men trafficked for the purposes of sexual or labour exploitation (domestic servitude and bonded labour). Trafficking occurs within and across national borders, often with people crossing many borders to reach their final destination. The international community through the United Nations and in a bid to tackle this problem adopted the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children (2000). Furthermore, the Human Rights Council of the United Nations created this mandate of the Special Rapporteur on trafficking to better monitor and report on the situation of trafficking worldwide to the Council and the UN General Assembly. The Republic of Belarus has ratified the Palermo Protocol under which State Parties are required to take a number of actions to implement at national level, particularly ensuring protection of assistance to victims of trafficking, prevention of trafficking, prosecuting and punishing traffickers as well as cooperation with other countries to combat this phenomenon that often involves crossing of several borders. Belarus is on the verge of occupying the unenviable status of being a source, transit and destination country, which undoubtedly is a growing concern to the government and hence the good leadership it has shown in this field.

In the course of this official visit I met with all arms of government–executive, legislature, judiciary and interacted with a number of stakeholders especially ministers, high government officials, policy and law makers, institutions such as the State Border Committee including international organizations and non­governmental associations working to combat this modern day slavery called human trafficking. I also visited a shelter run by the IOM and the Territorial Center in Minsk that provide a wide range of social assistance to citizens of Belarusas well as a hotline run by a non–governmental organization. I am very impressed by the political commitment demonstrated at the highest level to combat all forms of trafficking in Belarus and I commend the government for working closely with bordering countries and other organizations involved in this issue and making significant progress.

Legislative initiatives have been introduced and the Criminal Code amended to effectively combat trafficking and related matters. Also, a plan of action has been developed and accordingly is being implemented. Of note is the high number of cases prosecuted resulting equally in high number of convictions. The evidence of this huge success in prosecution indicates that trafficking problem is not only real and serious in Belarusbut also that measures are being undertaken to deal with the menace. Some of the good and unique practices found include compensation to victims of trafficking; international training center on migration and human trafficking meant to build a knowledge base and impart skills to effectively combat trafficking; extensive media campaigns directed at prevention of human trafficking and cooperation with international and regional organizations including CIS, neighboring countries, UNDP, IOM and OSCE amongst others. All of these are commendable developments that must be encouraged and strengthened for long term sustainability of the fight to stem the pandemic of human trafficking.

My mandate on trafficking lays great emphasis on the centrality of human rights protection in combating human trafficking and especially ensuring that all human rights norms are respected and enjoyed by victims of human trafficking. Unless governments and law enforcement agencies take the necessary steps to address trafficking in persons from both a human rights as well as law enforcement perspective, the majority of trafficking cases will continue to go uncounted, the victims uncared for, and the traffickers unpunished.

Some Areas of Immediate Concern to the Special Rapporteur:

  • Based on this working visit and consultations with various stakeholders the following are some of the areas of concern to my mandate:
  • Assistance to victims of trafficking — this has to be holistic, re–integrative and rehabilitative with full recognition of their human rights. The emphasis has been a lot on prosecution, which though important in combating trafficking is not the only solution hence the emphasis on protection of human rights of victims, redress, rehabilitation and reintegration;
  • That the victims of trafficking are not stigmatized, re–victimized and made to suffer untold discrimination by virtue of their having been trafficked;
  • The prevalence of domestic violence especially partner physical and emotional abuse that tend to perpetuate gender inequalities thereby increasing vulnerability of victims to trafficking;
  • That the root causes of trafficking especially equal access and opportunities to work and to earn a decent livelihood are not sufficiently being addressed;
  • The increase in cases of trafficking of men for purposes of labour exploitation;
  • That anti–trafficking measures should not operate to violate people's human rights and special care should be taken to ensure a proper balance of measures to combat trafficking and to protect every individual's right to movement, association, exchange of information, education, privacy and right to work and earn a decent livelihood.

Preliminary Observations/Recommendations to Improve Effectiveness of Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Belarus:

  • An Independent body should be established with a national special rapporteur to coordinate its activities and this could either be located under the Ministry of Interior or the Administration of the President to match the huge political will that has been shown by the President on this issue. This will also enhance coordination of all agencies involved and help in more successful implementation of the country action plan;
  • The government should consider establishing a "Special Fund" for compensation of victims of
  • trafficking;
  • Enhanced partnership with NGOs including funding assistance to organizations that provide services to victims;
  • Institutional capacity should be built in order to have adequate human resources to deal with trafficking related problems especially provision of assistance to victims. It is suggested that the Territorial Centers which have great potential for assisting victims should be re–structured with desk officers to handle trafficking cases; and
  • A law to prohibit all forms of domestic violence particularly protection of victims of domestic violence should be urgently enacted. The close linkage between trafficking and violence has been established and in majority of cases, victims of trafficking have been also victims of domestic violence especially partner physical and sexual abuse.

The problem of trafficking is likely to be exacerbated by the current world economic crisis and this calls for more urgent and proactive measures to reduce people's vulnerability to trafficking. Therefore, socio­economic measures need to be put in place to address unemployment; provide social security and safety nets. I thank the government for its cooperation throughout this mission and especially the avalanche of information provided and the opportunity to meet and engage with high–level decision makers in the government. I want to reassure them that its groundbreaking work aimed at combating human trafficking will continually be supported by the UN and its agencies.

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