Human Trafficking as a Human Rights Issue

In the previous post, we indicated that human trafficking is unquestionably a human rights issue. We promised to make a post on human trafficking and human rights. This was prompted by the very inspiring speech by US Ambassador Luis CdeBaca at the Centre for American Progress on The US role in combatting human trafficking. The Ambassador stated that the greatest human right is freedom and human trafficking/modern day slavery is the complete and full antithesis of freedom.

A quick look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly shows that the arguably greatest threat to human rights is slavery. Below is the UDHR Articles which are violated by the heinous crime of human trafficking.

Article 3.

  • Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4.

  • No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5.

  • No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 13.

  • (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
  • (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 23.

  • (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
  • (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
  • (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
  • (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 24.

  • Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Victims of trafficking do not enjoy any of above rights. Anti human trafficking issues should therefore be squarely located within international and national discourse on human rights. The tendency is to talk about civil and political rights and view issues such as trafficking as a seperate issue needing seperate attention. Yet any successful confrontation of this problem should look at it as-first and foremost-a human rights issue and not-as is oft done-a social issue.

gilbert makore


The Role of the United States in Combatting Human Trafficking

This here is a great speech by Luis CdeBaca, who is the Ambassador-at-Large, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons at the Centre for American Progress on 12 May 2010.

Luis CdeBaca

Lusi CdeBaca

You can read the full speech here.Great takeaways from the speech for us include:

‘We cannot focus on one form of trafficking over another if we truly want to end this crime’

‘What we’re really talking about are the shadows: traffickers operate in the shadows and they take advantage of zones of impunity no matter why those zones exist. So, our global response must has to not just be to catch and punish those that we can find; we have to destroy their safe havens by fighting for rule of law, security, and economic empowerment.’

‘There has been a lot of progress made, but there is a lot to do – 10 years is really just a blip in any movement much less in our modern abolitionist effort.’

‘The Report is not a rebuke or reprimand to our fellow countries; it’s a real assessment on how countries are doing – or frankly, sometimes not doing – in the fight against modern slavery. It’s a smart power tool that leads to greater bilateral and multilateral partnerships. The Report might lead to tough discussions, but it has driven action worldwide.’

‘Because of the Report, countries have implemented legislation, trained law enforcement, raised public awareness, implemented protective mechanisms for victims, and in the end, what’s important: freed people from slavery.’

‘Usually working outside the protections of prevailing labor laws – and sadly, that’s the case in the United States today – and socially isolated in their workplace, domestic workers too easily fall into modern slavery.’

‘We’ll work with private business and corporations to leverage their resources, expertise, and talents against trafficking. Partnering with the private sector is essential to reduce the demand for commercial sex and cheap labor that traffickers rush to meet through violence. It means scrubbing modern slavery out of the supply chains that create our every-day products–food, clothes, and cell phones to name a few.’

‘As you know, much of international human rights work of the past decades has been largely about identifying a problem, naming, and shaming.” But as Secretary Clinton recently said:

“Calling for accountability doesn’t start or stop, however, at naming offenders. Our goal is to encourage – even demand – that governments must also take responsibility by putting human rights into law and embedding them in the government institutions; by building strong independent courts; competent and disciplined law enforcement. And once rights are established, governments should be expected to resist the temptation to restrict freedom.”

‘Freedom. It’s the greatest human right; slavery is its antithesis.’

We almost just reproduced the whole speech :). It was that great. The main points that we think are central to any strategy to combat human trafficking in Southern Africa and salient in the quotes above include the realisation that there is a need to combat all forms of trafficking. This includes domestic servitude, commercial sex trafficking and labour trafficking among other forms. Another key point is that there is need to destroy the conditions that allow the increase in trafficking. This may include addressing porous borders and issuing of identity documents in Southern Africa. The fact that the anti-trafficking movement has only just begun reaching at the core of the problems fueling trafficking. The importance of the Trafficking in Persons Report not as a shaming tool but as a tool to assess efforts against trafficking and trigger action against the same is also critical as some African governments may view the report as an emblem of the West’s continued negative perception of governance in Africa. Linked to this is the fact that the next report would now subject the United States to the same stringent metrics used across the world to assess governments’ efforts to combat trafficking. In essence, the idea of the U.S ‘leading by example. The need for partnerships in combatting trafficking was also elucidated. The fact that this crime requires ‘all hands on deck’. It is not something that can be tackled by law enforcement agencies alone or by NGOs alone. It requires a collective effort by private companies, government, civil society organisations, citizens, law enforcement agencies etc. Lastly he talked of slavery being at conflict with freedom, which is the greatest human right. And we will talk about human trafficking and human rights in the next post.

Get more human trafficking news: set up a google alert!

Google is really a great web tool. Not just in terms of search but they have had great innovations coming through gmail. If you want to have the latest information on a certain topic you just go to google alerts and type in the search item you want, for example, ‘human trafficking in southern africa’; thereafter you set whether you want a comprehensive/news/blog/video/groups alert for your search time. You then finally set the your prefered frequency in terms of receiving the updates, for example, once a day/ once a week/ as it happens (saahtt’s prefered choice) and its done. You can have up to 1000  different alerts per email address. Just another way to keep you up to date on all things human trafficking without having to enter a google search query or scouring through websites for information! If you did not understand this explanation there is a step by step guide here.