On 5 April 2011, the European Parliament and the Council adopted the European Union Directive 2011/36/EU on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims (hereinafter the Directive), repealing the 2002 Council Framework Decision (hereinafter the Framework Decision) and setting minimum standards for EU Member States. The six United Nations (UN) agencies – UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), International Labour Organisation (ILO), and UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) – welcome the comprehensive approach the Directive takes, the recognition of trafficking in human beings as both a crime and a violation of human rights, and the placement of the human rights of trafficked persons at the centre of the actions to prevent and combat trafficking and to protect its victims. Recognizing the importance of the Directive as part of the European Union’s overall set of norms and legal instruments to address trafficking, the agencies particularly value the objective of the Directive to strengthen the standards for victim protection and its focus on prevention.
It is very difficult to assess the real magnitude of human trafficking and related forced labour practices because these crimes often take place in the informal economy and are not necessarily identified as gross human rights violations. According to ILO estimates there are 12.3 million forced labour victims worldwide, of whom around 2.4 million were trafficked. Based on data gathered by UNODC, the total number of victims detected in West and Central Europe was 7,300 in 2006. If about one victim in 20 were detected, the number of trafficking victims in Europe would be around 140,000.
Under general European Union law, the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union establishes that Directives are binding as to the result to be achieved, but Member States have the discretion to establish the means to obtain that result. Thus while the Directive sets common standards, through their legislative process Member States are able to introduce or maintain more favourable standards in so far as those standards are compatible with the Directive. As per Article 22 of the Directive, Member States are now required to transpose this instrument into national legislation by 6 April 2013.
This joint UN Commentary on selected provisions of the Directive (hereinafter the Commentary) has been prepared by the six UN agencies in the framework of their respective mandates and builds on their June 2010 joint UN submission on the European Commission Proposal for a Directive, and their engagement with the European Institutions in this field. The Commentary aims to support Member States in the transposition process by providing guidance from a human rights-based perspective in a manner consistent with State obligations under regional and international law, particularly the 2000 UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (hereinafter the UN Trafficking Protocol) and well-established international human rights law.
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