Top Europe officials appalled by lack of compensation for trafficking victims

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2 July 2010

Top officials from Europe are demanding governments from across the continent meet their international legal obligations and provide compensation and other protection measures for people trafficked into forced labour and sexual exploitation.

Speaking at the launch of COMP.ACT, the European Action for Compensation for Trafficked Persons, they also call for governments to intensify efforts to confiscate the assets of traffickers, which can be used to help pay towards victim compensation and would also deter criminals from becoming involved in trafficking. The launch of the new campaign, led by human rights organisations, Anti-Slavery International and La Strada International, takes place in Prague on Friday 2 July 2010.

Trafficking in human beings is a serious human rights violation. People trafficked into forced labour or sexual exploitation are subjected to abuse, exploitation, physical and psychological violence, forced to work long hours with little or no pay, under inhuman working and living conditions. According to international human rights treaties, states have an obligation to ensure effective remedies for the harm done to trafficked people.

The United Nations estimate that the annual profits from the global trafficking industry to be $32 billion. According to the US State Department’s 2010 Trafficking in Persons report, across the world 49,105 people were identified as trafficked in 2009 but only a handful of individuals ever received compensation for their suffering.

Thorbjorn Jagland, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, the international organisation based in Strasbourg, said: “Trafficking is one of the worst violations of basic human rights. The Council of Europe’s Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings is the first and only international treaty that explicitly recognises the right of victims of trafficking in human beings to be compensated for the damaged suffered and the obligation of the States to guarantee this compensation in their internal law. I am therefore glad that the Council of Europe has lent its support to this important pan-European campaign on compensation for trafficked persons.”

“Compensation plays an integral role in the empowerment of trafficked persons, enabling them to achieve their life objectives,” said Dr. Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, OSCE Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings. “All relevant action must be taken to ensure effective compensation, including legal counselling and representation throughout criminal and civil proceedings, and access to appropriate State compensation funds.”

Across Europe it is extremely rare for trafficked people to receive compensation because the mechanisms that are in place for redress are seldom used and there are many barriers that discourage them form applying for compensation or obstacles that prevent victims from receiving compensation.

These include a failure to identify trafficked people, to provide them with support and legal assistance, and to inform them of their right to seek compensation or how to make a claim. In fact, most foreign trafficked people have no opportunity to even make a claim for compensation because they are not given residence entitlement for the duration of the proceedings.

Compensation acknowledges the extreme violation of rights and injustice inflicted upon trafficked people and their pain and suffering, as well as their material losses, and constitutes a first step towards overcoming the harm done. It is a very effective tool to help trafficked people rebuild their lives and ensures they receive wages which withheld as a consequence of exploitation.

Klara Skrivankova of Anti-Slavery International said: “Currently the criminal justice system across Europe delivers little justice to the victim. Many are often forgotten about if they are not able to act as witnesses or once criminal proceedings against traffickers have ended. It can not be right that a trafficker can make millions from the misery of others but governments are not able to guarantee victims redress. We believe that cash is an effective remedy – that is why we are launching this pan-European campaign.”

Marieke van Doorninck of La Strada International: “Compensation must become one of the key strategies to support trafficked people in Europe. Compensation empowers trafficked people to take their future in their own hands and greatly reduces their risk of being left financially vulnerable to re-trafficking.”

For further media information contact: Paul Donohoe, Anti-Slavery International: +44 20 7501 8934, +44 7779 624385 (London)

Jana Seidlová, La Strada International, +420 222 721 810, +420 731 286 654, (Prague)

Notes for editors

1. The COMP.ACT campaign is being formally launched on Friday 2 July 2010 at
Hotel Yasmin, Politickych veznu 913/12 in Prague, Czech Republic.

2. COMP.ACT is a coalition of NGOs, trade unions and legal practitioners from 14 European countries* that combines practical work, including research, test cases and the development of guidelines for professionals, with international advocacy and campaigning for access to justice and right to redress for trafficked people.

*(Austria, Belarus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Macedonia, Moldova, Poland, Spain, Ukraine and United Kingdom)

3. COMP.ACT campaign is institutionally supported by the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.