The adoption of the Palermo Protocol1 in 2000 mobilized enormous energies worldwide to eradicate trafficking in persons. The Protocol provided an internationally recognized definition of trafficking for the purpose of exploitation in all its forms, and filled critical gaps in pre-existing international instruments against slavery, slavery-like practices and forced labour, especially by introducing the concept of abuse of a position of vulnerability, in order to overcome restrictive interpretations of the slavery and forced labour definitions by Courts. Since then, legislation was passed – or revised – in the majority of UN member states worldwide, criminalizing all forms of trafficking and establishing identification and referral mechanisms. Importantly, civil society organizations have become even more active, establishing outreach activities, providing support to trafficked and exploited persons, and empowering them, with or without government funding.
The Protocol includes among its main purposes “to protect and assist the victims of such trafficking, with full respect of their human rights”. However, weaknesses and inconsistencies emerged during its implementation concerning the respect of trafficked persons’ human rights. Most of the provisions concerning victims are non-binding, including all assistance and protection measures, and residence status; the related decisions of competent authorities are not subject to an appeal; children’s rights are undermined compared to pre-existing international instruments.
According to this approach, primarily focused on the criminal justice response, the current identification model used worldwide depends mainly on police operations, aimed at identifying indicators of the crime of trafficking, which is a pre-condition to acknowledging a person’s victim status. This approach has been mostly applied in the field of trafficking for sexual exploitation, whilst other forms of exploitation were overlooked. In many countries anti-trafficking laws have been used to re- press prostitution and resulted in further violations of human rights including restriction of persons’ freedom of movement and migration.
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