We have robust international legal instruments as well as national act and action plan to work collectively to curb human trafficking where victim identification is the primary step
Even amidst the pandemic of Covid-19, serious incidents of human trafficking involving Bangladeshi nationals are taking place across the regions. The brutal murder of 26 migrants in Libya in the end of May of the year and most recent events in Vietnam are few to mention.
We are happy to see that stern actions are being taken against all the cohorts of perpetrators, including linchpins both in Bangladesh and the country of origin. We are delighted that against all odds the position of Bangladesh has been upgraded to from tier 2 watch list in the United States Trafficking in Person (US TiP) report, which is one of the most influential annual publication on human trafficking.
A major part of the US TiP report has dealt with identification of trafficking cases which also includes victim, perpetrators of the crime, and the witnesses. Identification of the cases are important in order to carry out prosecution of the crimes.
At the same time adequate protection for the victims and witnesses should be ensured. Unless traffickers are precisely identified, it is not possible to begin the prosecution, which is usually a lengthy process and globally the rate of conviction is still very low.
The list of traffickers may probably start with the close relatives or known persons of the victims, who could be residing in the country of origin, in transit or in destination, where the most part of exploitations take place. The narratives of the victims of Libya incident published in the media also support this claim. Based on the information the relatives provided, the law enforcing agencies have already arraigned some of the perpetrators.
The criminals of human trafficking may roam in our neighborhoods and appear as naïve as other ordinary people. But the human traffickers are smart and may dupe others very easily while avoiding identification. This is quite contradictory to the mass perception which portrays traffickers as alien, with a monstrous physique and long mustache. Actually, they are not as such.
Palermo trafficking in person protocol defines all the elements of the crime and narrated all the possible scenarios a victim may go through, and roles of different perpetrators of a trafficking network.
Trafficking can also take place without the involvement of the network. Proper understanding of the definition of human trafficking following the Palermo protocol may also help us to identify easily the victims and traffickers.
In accordance with article 3, sub-paragraph (a) of the Trafficking in Persons Protocol, if we pay close attention to the acts of trafficking such as recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons and recognize that the presence of any of these acts along with means and purposes, which are also mentioned in article 3 of the protocol, we will be able to identify the offences committed against the victims. At the same time, we can also figure out the different perpetrators involved in the whole cycle of the crimes.
Based on the definition of human trafficking many international organizations have developed indications to identify both the victims and the perpetrators. In many States, standard sets of 'indicators' are also being used to identify potential situations of trafficking.
Such indicators can be useful tools for training and capacity building of concerned stakeholders and may relate to particular aspects of the potential trafficking situation or to a particular form of exploitation such as forced labour and sexual exploitations. Practically, most victims of trafficking are identified once they are being subjected to exploitation and indicators relating to the exploitation phase are comparatively more reliable to identify the cases.
In case of a transnational human trafficking, identification process may begin either in country of origin or in the destination where most part of the crimes of exploitations take place.
To reveal and disrupt the whole vicious cycle, the investigation should also cover the transit countries. We need to keep in mind that for conducting an effective investigation, close cooperation among the origin, transit and destination nations is a sine qua non and without that, other processes leading to prosecution cannot take off smoothly.
Along with the law enforcement agencies, any conscious person in the community with sufficient knowledge about human trafficking can play a role in victim or potential victim identification process, particularly during the initial screening phase. Non-governmental actors including civil society organizations, medical professionals, workers' unions and recruitment agencies prove an invaluable source of information and can play a key role in identifying presumed victims of trafficking.
However, States have the primary responsibility for identification of trafficking incidents. Authorities including law enforcement, social service workers, local administrators, and embassy and consular officers are closely involved in identification and screening process.
The investigation process needs to be comprehensive in accordance with existing national law and should also cover investigation of financial crimes. There are evidences that human trafficking and financial crimes such as money laundering are inextricable phenomenon. One can't happen without other.
We can also utilize provisions of the article 19 of the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crimes (UNTOC) that facilitate the use of joint investigation teams and special investigative techniques in the investigation of trafficking cases which are transnational in nature. We should also keep in mind that all human trafficking cases are not transnational; it can also take place within the boundary of a country.
The investigation efforts on human trafficking should not be something like one-off effort; to make it more effective it needs to be regular, prompt, adequately resourced, and guided by long-term national action plan.
Though victims and their relatives may play important role in identifying the traffickers through their narratives and witnesses, they may come under constant threats and attacks by the traffickers and their associates. That's why in many cases victims do not come forward to identify themselves and show reluctance to reveal information about traffickers.
Therefore, in conformity with article 25 of the UNTOC, it is necessary to adopt measures to assist and protect victims, regardless to what extend they cooperated with the criminal justice procedures. Without sufficient protection measures in place, it is difficult to engage victims in the identification process.
Wherever the traffickers are identified, provisions within UNTOC and other relevant multilateral legal instruments allow their extradition to country of origin and face justice. There are also provisions for confiscation of the proceeds of trafficking in persons which can used for providing compensation to the victims and their family members. In addition, UNTOC also provides opportunities for information-sharing and the transfer of knowledge between the source and destination countries to identify the criminal networks and arrest the perpetrators.
In short, the identification of victims of human trafficking and the traffickers is a complex process which needs involvement of multiple stakeholders within the country and across the border. We have robust international legal instruments as well as national act and action plan to work collectively to curb human trafficking where victim identification is the primary step. Unless victim is identified effectively subsequent stages of actions leading to prosecution and conviction of the perpetrators is difficult to accomplice.