In this Report, the Committee considers human trafficking, one of the most serious human rights issues in the modern world. Human trafficking is first and foremost a criminal activity perpetrated against its victims, but it also engages a number of crucial human rights obligations which apply to the policies and practices adopted by Governments to combat trafficking and afford protection to victims.
In Chapter 2 the Committee explains the principal human rights standards and obligations which apply to the UK under the European Convention on Human Rights and other international instruments to which the UK is a party. The three main obligations are to:
- prohibit and prevent trafficking and related acts
- investigate, prosecute and punish traffickers
- protect victims of trafficking.
In May 2005 the Council of Europe adopted a Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. This Convention has not yet come into effect, and the UK has not signed it. In Chapter 3 of this Report the Committee describes the provisions of the Convention which relate to the protection of trafficking victims, and explains the arguments for and against signature and ratification of the Convention by the UK.
After examination of the evidence on the scale and nature of human trafficking in the UK (Chapter 4), the Committee considers, in Chapter 5, the effectiveness of the UK's fulfilment of its obligations to prohibit trafficking and enforce the law against traffickers. In Chapter 6 the Committee considers the effectiveness of policies in the UK for the protection of victims, and compares these with the approach adopted in Italy.
The Committee takes the view that, in acordance with human rights standards, the effective protection of victims must be the starting point from which all other policies relating to trafficking should flow (paragraph 138). In light of the evidence presented to it, the Committee concludes that, although the Government has started taking some significant steps to improve the protection of victims, the current level of protection as a whole is still far from adequate (paragraph 197).
The Committee broadly agrees that the current legislative framework to prohibit and criminalise trafficking complies with relevant human rights obligations (paragraph 115), and it applauds the Government's ongoing effort to improve investigation, and the bringing to justice of traffickers, welcoming in particular the establishment of the UK Human Trafficking Centre to provide further co-ordination and focus to law enforcement efforts (paragraph 133). However, the Committee argues that the protection of victims should be placed at the heart of the legislative framework to combat trafficking, and calls for the Government to review immigration laws and policies in the context of their impact on trafficking victims (paragraph 118). In relation to law enforcement, the Committee says that this must always make the interests and needs of victims a primary consideration (paragraph 134).
To improve protection of victims, the Committee recommends, among other proposed measures
- the establishment of a national identification and referral system, along with improved training in identification of victims (paragraphs 146 and 198)
- more comprehensive and securely financed support and assistance to victims once they have been identified (paragraph 198)
- more assistance to those returned or voluntarily repatriated to their country of origin to assist them in re-integrating into their society (paragraph 198).
The Committee considers the Government's argument that the provisions of the Council of Europe Convention relating to reflection periods and residence permits for trafficking victims could act as a pull factor for migration into the UK for those willing to make fraudulent claims of victim status. Taking into account the safeguards contained in the Convention and the evidence it received on the subject, the Committee concludes that there is no realistic likelihood of adoption of the Convention's provisions acting as a pull factor (paragraph 200). The Committee concludes that the Government should sign and ratify the Council of Europe Convention (paragraph 205). It also concludes that the standard length of time for reflection periods should be three months (paragraph 203), and residence permits should be of six months duration (paragraph 204).
A full list of the Committee's principal conclusions and recommendations is set out in Chapter 7.