#05 Securing Peace
Eva-Maria Verfürth / Joy Ngozi Ezeilo

Interview With Joy Ngozi Ezeilo: Slavery Is not a Term of the Past

Since August 2008, Joy Ngozi Ezeilo from Nigeria has been travelling the world to explore the causes and mechanisms of human trafficking – of women forced to offer sex services or men toiling against their wills on farms. After visiting several countries and countless institutions that deal with this topic, Ezeilo can confidently report that each and every country is somehow involved in this international trade. As the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, her task is to advise the UN on how to deal with this situation.

Why did the United Nations decide to appoint a special rapporteur on trafficking in persons?

Mainly because of the scale of the problem; human trafficking is a crime that affects every country in the world, since each is either a country of origin, of transit or a destination for trafficked persons. The special rapporteur is supposed to help incite action, foster leadership against human trafficking and make recommendations on how to combat it.

Human trafficking is often referred to as slavery. This sounds more like a term from centuries past than a current problem.

But sadly it still prevails. According to the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, from November 2000: "trafficking in persons shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons" for the purpose of exploitation. This includes sexual exploitation as well as forced labour or the removal of organs. I advocate adopting this definition at a national level, because to date the term "human trafficking" refers only to sex trafficking in some countries.

But isn't it true that the demand for women to offer sex services is the main reason for human trafficking?

Of course many women and girls are victims of sexual exploitation. But trade in persons for other purposes is also huge. Data from a 2005 International Labour Organization (ILO) study show that the number of forced labourers almost equalled those from sex trafficking. Domestic workers, for instance, are in high demand.

Domestic servants are mostly female, as are sex workers. Are women at greater risk of being trafficked?

My mandate says that I'm the "Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children". The protocol mentioned above also focuses on women and children. But this does not mean that men are not affected. Large numbers of men have already been trafficked in many countries, predominantly for labour exploitation. They have to work on fishing boats, farms or construction sites. Furthermore, men face their own specific problems: due to gender roles in society, they often feel even more ashamed and are less able to talk about their victimisation.

Has trafficking increased or decreased in recent years?

There is too little data available for in-depth analyses, but we can assume that it is not declining. During the economic crisis we observed that the vulnerability of victims increased. More and more people tried to leave their home countries in search of economic opportunities thereby easily falling into the hands of exploiters. The traders say they will bring them to Europe, but this never happens. Or they do smuggle them into Europe, but upon arriving there, submit them to forced labour.

So you are saying economic misery puts people at risk of being trafficked?

Indeed. Non-inclusive economic conditions make people vulnerable to being trafficked, as do armed conflicts or family problems. This is often the case in developing countries in Southeast Asia and Africa, and in West Africa in particular. The fundamental problems these nations face are the root causes of human trafficking as well: poverty, unemployment, gender inequality, discrimination, war and conflict. As long as these problems prevail, I don't think that human trafficking will decline.

What are the main destinations for these people?

Obviously Europe and North America. And since many people who try to make it to Europe get stuck along the way and end up in a North or West African country, the Middle East represents a third main destination. But there is also a lot of trading in persons inside the West African subregion, for instance. In Asia, among the preferred destination countries figure Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand. Furthermore, the dimension of internal trafficking is presumed to be huge, although we have almost no reliable data.

What about the traffickers – are they part of huge criminal organisations?

Sometimes they are, sometimes they are just a small group or even an individual. But they are never individuals in the sense that they have no business partners. They might be part of a corrupt agribusiness cycle, for example. The agro-bosses ask the traffickers to transport a certain number of people to a specific field and pay for the service. The traffickers are the ones who organise the recruitment and journey. Also traffickers increasingly use the internet for their purposes, to advertise and approach people in chatrooms. Child pornography and the mail-order bride industry are thus increasing on the internet.

Every country has its own laws and judicial procedures. How do they prosecute human trafficking?

It is the task of each state to criminalise trafficking in persons and make it punishable by enacting appropriate laws. Regrettably, punishment is often very light. Furthermore since many victims reside in the destination country illegally and are often involved in unlawful activities such as illegal work, they face the risk of being re-victimised: state authorities arrest and deport them or punish them for violating the law instead of recognizing them as human trafficking victims.

In your work, you point out the importance of caring for the victims. Isn't it difficult to identify them?

Identification is not that difficult, but it depends to a great extent on skilled personnel. Governments need to train law enforcement agencies, including the police and labour inspectors, enabling them to identify victims and instructing them on how to react. They need comprehensive criteria. If well-trained inspectors stumble upon a worker without a passport during a company check, they have the skills to recognise that this person might have been trafficked against his or her will. As this is not always the case, many victims remain misidentified.

What would be appropriate protection for victims in your opinion?

In my 2009 report to the General Assembly, I call on governments to provide shelter for victims of human trafficking. After what they have suffered, they need protection from their oppressors and a period to reflect with psychological, medical and legal assistance. Victims are sometimes treated as criminals and provided no assistance. But many of them are in danger of being re-trafficked when they return home. This is why some nations should consider giving temporary or permanent residence permits to victims. Furthermore, victims need to be given compensation, of course. I think one important guideline for measuring appropriate redress payments is how long they have suffered.

I can imagine that many victims are still afraid of their oppressors even after their liberation, and therefore keep silent.

They are often distrustful, and yet their right to choose if they want to cooperate with the authorities during the investigation has to be respected. This is why civil society organisations or a representative of a public service organisation must accompany them, protect them and give them time to talk. When this is the case, authorities usually discover that the victims are very willing and ready to cooperate.

Is it at all possible to address the global networks of traffickers at national level?

Not one of the many countries affected by human trafficking can fight this international crime on their own. They need to make a collective effort and intensify the coordination of their anti-human-trafficking measures. This may happen through cooperative police organisations like Europol, through bilateral agreements on the prosecution of traffickers and reintegration of victims, or through sharing intelligence.

What has been achieved since the introduction of the first special rapporteur in 2004?

The special rapporteur has enabled communication between the UN, governmental and non-governmental actors, gathered information on the experiences of different countries and thereby provided the opportunity to share good practices. Furthermore, our annual recommendations have become a practical guide for policymakers. The framework I presented in 2009, for instance, included the 5 "P"s for fighting human trafficking and the 3 "R"s for protecting victims and is very comprehensive. The 5 "P"s stand for the protection of victims, the prosecution and punishment of traffickers, prevention measures and the promotion of international cooperation. The 3 "R"s comprise redress, rehabilitation or recovery measures and the reintegration of victims. I have also convened several regional meetings, where all the institutions working on human trafficking got together.

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