Doc. 9553

21 September 2002

Campaign against trafficking in women

Recommendation 1545 (2002)

Reply from the Committee of Ministers

adopted at the 808th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies (18 September 2002)

1.       The Committee of Ministers has taken due note of the Parliamentary Assembly's Recommendation 1545 (2002) – Campaign against trafficking in women. It welcomes the Assembly's constant attention to matters connected with trafficking in human beings and its political will to combat this extremely serious problem, which undermines the very foundations of democracy and the rule of law.

2.       The Committee of Ministers shares the Assembly's concern and acknowledges the need for urgent concerted action in Europe. It nonetheless cannot concur with the Assembly's approach consisting in blanket qualification of trafficking in women as a crime against humanity. This designation has been accepted in international law only in certain circumstances, notably where the offence is "committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack" (Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court). Most trafficking cases do not fall within this category.

3.       The Committee of Ministers however recognises the international definition of trafficking given in Article 3 of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Trans-national Organized Crime (Palermo, 2000). Under Article 5 of that protocol, states parties are obliged to establish as criminal offences the acts set out in Article 3. These include trafficking in human beings for the purpose of exploitation, including forced labour or slavery.

4.       The Committee of Ministers would encourage the removal of any loopholes in the law which facilitate trafficking. It wishes to draw attention to the Council of Europe's work in this area from the points of view, firstly, of criminal law and judicial co-operation and, secondly, of equality between women and men, which has resulted in the adoption of a number of recommendations to member states on issues such as sexual exploitation, pornography, prostitution and trafficking in children and young adults1. The guidelines contained therein are largely consistent with the Assembly's recommendations.

5.       A number of activities in this field are undertaken in international fora, notably the European Union, the OSCE and the United Nations. The Committee of Ministers would further mention ongoing initiatives and recent activities carried out by the Council of Europe, namely:

-       the seminar to combat trafficking in human beings in South-Eastern Europe, held in Athens from 29 June to 1 July 2000 jointly by the Greek authorities, the Council of Europe, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the OSCE/ODIHR and the IOM;

-       the pilot project on reform of criminal law concerning trafficking in human beings in south-eastern Europe, being run in partnership with the Legal Affairs Directorate (DGI, PACO programme) in Romania and Moldova in the context of the Stability Pact Task Force on Trafficking in Human Beings, already mentioned by the Committee of Ministers in its reply to Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1526 (2001);

-       the recently launched regional LARA project (trafficking in human beings - criminal law reform in South-Eastern Europe), which aims to contribute to effective criminalisation of trafficking in human beings and the protection of victims' fundamental rights in south-eastern Europe in accordance with the Committee of Ministers' Recommendation No. R(2001)11 on action against trafficking in human beings for the purpose of sexual exploitation and the aforementioned United Nations Protocol;

-       the PACO (Programme against corruption and organised crime in south-eastern Europe) network project, which also focuses on trafficking in human beings, as well as on corruption. It deals in particular with international judicial co-operation and the link between corruption and trafficking, which is believed to reduce the effectiveness of measures to combat trafficking. A regional seminar on these issues was held from 19 to 22 June 2002 in Portorož (Slovenia) with the aim, inter alia, of producing a joint co-operation manual and country-specific guidelines on the two topics.

-       the creation this year of a Group of Specialists on the protection of children against sexual exploitation (PC-S-ES) whose task is to develop measures designed to ensure the protection of children against sexual exploitation and to provide effective follow-up to the Second World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (Yokohama, December 2001). In this context, account will be taken of the Regional Commitment and Plan of Action of the preparatory Conference for the Second World Congress in Yokohama, which took place in Budapest in November 2001, as well as of the Yokohama Global Commitment 2001 and the European Countries Declaration on the Yokohama Global Commitment 2001, Recommendation Rec(2001)16 on the protection of children against sexual exploitation, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and other relevant instruments dealing with the protection of children.

6.       Other regional and local initiatives carried out specifically by ILO, IOM and its agencies, OSCE/ODIHR, SECI Centre2, UN specialised agencies including but not limited to UNICEF and UNHCR, should be highlighted and encouraged. All these have shown a continuous co-operation among themselves and with the Council of Europe, co-ordination being assured and supported by the Stability Pact Task Force on Trafficking in Human Beings.

7.       The Committee of Ministers is convinced that trafficking can be fought only through multi-disciplinary, coordinated action, involving all the parties concerned, not only at the national, regional and international levels but also at the level of local authorities and NGOs, who are often the first concerned by this problem, especially in disadvantaged rural areas.

8.       Like the Assembly, the Committee of Ministers is conscious of the close link between the phenomenon of trafficking and migrations, pointed out in paragraph 5 of the Recommendation. Research on ways of combating the smuggling and trafficking of human beings, be it by imposing stronger punishments on traffickers or by helping the victims of such illegal migration, was among the key issues of the 7th Conference of European Ministers responsible for Migration Affairs, held in Helsinki on 16 and 17 September 2002.

9.       The Committee of Ministers has the following comments on the measures recommended by the Assembly in paragraph 7 of the Recommendation:

-       it is important that any strategy to improve the economic situation in the countries of origin should go hand in hand with a policy for equality between women and men, so as to ensure that specific measures are taken to establish equal pay for women and to help women to pursue their own economic projects;

-       the nature of extraterritorial jurisdiction and positions on the subject vary considerably from state to state. The Committee of Ministers nonetheless notes that extraterritorial jurisdiction has been used in cases of sexual exploitation of minors and could also prove to be a useful means of overcoming jurisdictional obstacles in cases of trafficking in human beings.

10.       With regard to paragraph 8 of the Recommendation, the Committee of Ministers points out that the theme of the ministerial Conference on Equality between Women and Men will be "Democratisation, conflict prevention and peacebuilding: the perspectives and the roles of women" and the conference will discuss a draft resolution aimed, inter alia, at encouraging governments to raise public awareness of violations of women's rights during and in the wake of conflicts.

11.       The Committee of Ministers wishes to make the following observations on the Assembly's recommendations to member states set out in paragraph 10 of the Recommendation:

-       sub-paragraph i: it takes note of measures recommended by the Assembly in this sub-paragraph and would again draw attention to the definition of trafficking contained in the aforementioned United Nations Convention’ Protocol (see paragraph 3 of this reply);

-       sub-paragraph ii: the Committee of Ministers notes that national rapporteurs already exist in some member states and endorses the principle of co-ordinating action against trafficking in human beings at national level, particularly as regards assistance for victims and their families;

-       sub-paragraph v: the Committee of Ministers' Recommendation Rec(2001)16 proposes various awareness-raising and public information measures directly involving the tourism industry and its clientele; as regards use of the Internet, reference is made to the offences provided for in the Convention on Cybercrime, inter alia with regard to child pornography;

-       sub-paragraph vi: the Committee of Ministers recognises the key role played by NGOs in combating trafficking and, in this connection, refers to the seminar held by the CDEG in 1998 entitled "Action against trafficking in human beings for the purpose of sexual exploitation: the role of NGOs". It points out that in a number of countries co-operation agreements already exist between anti-trafficking organisations and the criminal justice system. The PACO networking project, referred to above, is looking into the lessons to be learned from such agreements;

-       sub-paragraph viii: the other co-operation issues raised in this sub-paragraph are also being dealt with under the PACO project. The Committee of Ministers moreover notes the importance of awareness-raising and information campaigns and of suitable training for all those involved. In addition, it draws attention to the approach adopted by the workshop on "good and bad practices regarding the image of women in the media: the case of trafficking in human beings for the purpose of sexual exploitation" held in 1998, at which journalists and media professionals from all over Europe sought means of avoiding sensationalism while informing people of the real situation;

-       sub-paragraph ix: Recommendation No. R(2000)11 goes beyond the measures recommended by the Assembly, since it provides that assistance for victims, whether or not required by law, should include information about their rights and psychological, medical, social and administrative support with a view to their reintegration in the country of origin or the host country. As regards the granting of residence permits to victims of trafficking, the Committee of Ministers points out that, on 11 February 2002, the Commission of the European Union submitted a proposal for a directive on temporary residence permits for victims of people smuggling or trafficking in human beings who co-operate with the competent authorities;

-       sub-paragraph x: mention can be made of the work done in the context of the pilot project on reform of criminal law in South-Eastern Europe, which stressed the need to distinguish between victims and traffickers. The Committee of Ministers endorses the recommendation that penalties should take account of the seriousness of the offence.

12.       With regard to paragraph 11 of the recommendation, the Committee of Ministers points out that discussions are currently under way as to the feasibility of a Council of Europe convention on trafficking in human beings, which would be based in particular on Recommendation Rec(2000)11 on action against trafficking in human beings for the purpose of sexual exploitation and on Recommendation Rec(2001)16 on the protection of children against sexual exploitation. Such a binding legal instrument would concentrate on the protection of the rights and interests of the victims of trafficking and, through a mechanism to monitor application of its provisions, make it possible to assess progress made by member states as regards legislation and practice to combat trafficking. The Committee of Ministers will not fail to inform the Assembly in an appropriate manner of future developments in this area.

1 . Recommendations Nos. R(91)11 sexual exploitation, pornography and prostitution of, and trafficking in, young adults, R(2000)11 on action against trafficking in human beings for the purpose of sexual exploitation and Rec(2001)16 on the protection of children against sexual exploitation.

2 . Southeast European Co-operative Initiative.