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European Ideas on Interview on Human trafficking in Europe

28th March 2012

Human trafficking is seen as a modern form of slavery and as the 3rd most lucrative form of business in the world, and the least risky. We ask Vera Gracheva, the OSCE  Co-ordination Adviser on Combating Trafficking of Human Beings, to share her expertise with us. The interview was conducted by Nadia Bonifacic, the European Ideas Ambassador at the University of Vienna and Cambridge.

 Tell us a bit about your career and your function at the OSCE Office of the Special Representative for Combating Trafficking of Human Beings.

 I spent twenty years working for the Russian Academy of Scienses as a researcher in the area of international relations. In 1991 I started my diplomatic career at the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affiars, at the Department on Humanitarian Issues and Human Rights, and remained in diplomatic service till 2004, at first in Moscow, then in Washington D.C., then in Croatia, and then, finally in Vienna at the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the OSCE. In 2004, after four intensive years of work as a senior adviser on human rights issues, plus functions of a co-chairperson of the Working Groop on Gender Equality and Anti-Trafficking, I joined the OSCE Secretariat, the newly established Office of the Special Representative for CTHB. In 2004-2011 I worked as a senior adviser in the preparation of the OSCE Ministerial Council Decisions related to the fight against human trafficking, including the OSCE Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings.

 Trafficking in Human Beings (TBH)

 At the beginning, it is necessary to bust some myths. What is the difference between human trafficking and sexual exploitation and how important is it not to limit the term human trafficking to only one form of exploitation?

Human trafficking is a much broader phenomenon than sexual exploitation (which may lack some of the elements of trafficking - it depends on the interpretation of sexual exploitation in the national legislation of the participating States).

Trafficking in human beings is always committed with a goal. And this goal (illicit profits) is achieved through exploitation, while the type, the area of exploitation does not matter for the criminals and depends on the market. It may be sexual exploitation, labour exploitation in a wide variety of sectors (construction, agriculture, fichering, food processing, garments, mines, doemstic work, hospitality sectors, etc.), in criminal-related activities (forced begging and pickpocketing, selling or transporting drugs, etc.). Trafficking may be committed for the removal of organs and illegal transplantations, for illegal adoption, for pornography, and so on and so forth. Areas of exploitation are really multiple.  Often types of exploitation are combined (sexual AND labor, or some other options).

Which European countries are main emission countries and which ones are the destination countries?

We have to change the simplistic perception of origin and destination countries. Nowadays it is really hard to find pure examples of such, and much more often we see a combination of all three features (origin, transit and destination), as well as the increased trend of internal trafficking occuring within the borders of one and the same country. Nevertheless, we can say that in Europe the countries to the East of Vienna are more affected as countries of origin due to socio-economic reasons. But the dymanics of THB is so fluent that nothing is fixed in terms of THB patterns or routes.

If we apply gender analysis to human trafficking, we will find that most victums to date are women and only a minority are men. What is the reason for this gendered gap and could there be statistical problems that lead to these differences?

This can be said only with regard to the gender of identified and assisted victims of trafficking. This proportion, if we talk about Trafficking in Human Beings for labour exploitation, shifts to the vast majority of men (who are usually recognised not as the Victims of Trafficking (VoT), but just as „illegal migrants“). Child trafficking has approximately equal numbers of boys and girls exploited in labour or sex business (or in forced begging). Actually the widely spread myths in this field come from the poor identification of cases and of victims.   

Has globalisation been the driving force behind human trafficking and has the freedom of movement within the Schengen Zone exacerbated the problem?

Globalization is a side-effect of human trafficking which existed for ages, actually since mankind. I have been reading a novel „The Pit“ written by a well known Russian author Alexander Kuprin in 1909. Frankly, I was shocked – the novel is dedicated to the sexual exploitation in brothels in a southern town in Russia, and you can see everything which is under research in 2012 – traffickers' modus operandi, ways of recruitment, social profiles of victims, their personal attitude towards exploitation (now we call it Stocholm syndrome), failures of assistance if attempted with good intentions but without any knowledge of the real needs of the victim, involvement and complicity of the police, corruption, deprivation of documents, vulnerability, everything is there and still it has been ignored for so many years by the societies!

The driving force has been and remains the same – it is the money gained with low risk and high profit.

The freedom of movement cannot be questioned because of human trafficking. Yes, it may have amended the routes of trafficking, and was abused by the criminals, but we should not sacrifice this fundamental human right. Stricter borders will just increase the profits of the traffickers and of smugglers who will find ways to make their business successful.        

Solving the problem

The key to this problems famously lies in 4 Ps - Prosecution, Prevention, Protection and Partnership. Have all four Ps been receiveing equal attention?Where does the biggest challenge lie?

I would say that Prevention has to be addressed much more efficiently. This also makes sense because if a country invests in prevention and it is appropriate, this country saves a lot of resources which otherwise would be spent on prosecution and protection. Furthermore, saving humans from enslavement through due prevention is crucial in terms of human development, rule of law, healthy economies and national security.

Protection may be considered efficient if there is no re-trafficking afterwards, Unfortunately, some data indicate that nealy 50% of those rescued and assisted get re-trafficked again and again.

Human trafficking is often confused with illegal migration. It is cheaper and easier for countries to deal with illegal migration than to deal with the victims of a form of work exploitation, because the international standards require an expensive system of prosecution and protection of victims. What is the incentive for these countries to embrace the problem and try to solve it?

The incentive should come from an accurate calculation of losses affecting the economies of such states in the long-run. These come not only from the unpaid taxes, or capitals moved away abroad, or corruption. This situation, if not addressed properly, leads to the intrusion of organized crime which may become influential in parliaments, in the government, in the law enforcement, in financial institutions, everywhere in executive and legislative structures. This is a real threat to the national security and to the independence  of any state. Furthermore, the deported migrants, in case they are actually the victims of THB for labour or other exploitation, get under the control of the same criminal groups, and the cycle of trafficking goes on and on. 

With the UNODC, UNICEF,  Council of Europe and EUROPOL all implementing anti-trafficking measures, isn't OSCE superfluous in the fight against human trafficking? What are its instruments?

The OSCE has a set of strong political anti-trafficking commitments adopted by all 56 participating States by consensus. Such Ministerial Council Decisions manifest the political will of the countries, the recognition of CTHB as a priority. Of course, it is for them – to implement these commitments, and the OSCE's role is the one of a catalyst or facilitator of actions in thsi direction. Besides, the OSCE approach to CTHB complies with the OSCE's concept of common and comprehensive security, and its three dimensions – politico-military, economic and environments, and human dimension. This is the basis for addressing the THB phenomenon comprehensively and pursue a human rights based approach in all Ps.

Besides, the OSCE has a broad field presence and, therefore, an opportunity to provide assistance to the host countries, upon request, in the reform of the legislation, in capacity building, in training for the law enforcement and other agencies, in the establishment of national referral mechanisms, in supporting hot-lines, in other words, in accomplishing practical measures which are in line with the OSCE commitments  and recommendations.

The Special Representative and Co-ordinator for CTHB has the mandate to engage in a high-level political dialogue with participating States, and provide our advice and expertise.

A new model of partnership has been introduced by international organisations to coordinate cross-national efforts that attempt to approach the global problem of human trafficking in a more holistic way (e.g. Alliance Against Trafficking in Persons). Is there too much talk and bureaucracy and too little action?

You won't believe it, but the Alliance manages to survive, develop and even get new members on board without any bureaucracy. There is none, at all! This is an innovative, informal partnership which has no funding, no budget of its own, no statute, no rules of procedure, no staff. It is more than alive because of the good will of the partners who believe in the validity of this initiative, and because of the leading role of the OSCE Special Representative for CTHB who is the driving force and the inspiration for this forum. Each organizations finds it justified to fund its own participation in the Alliance because our conferences provide them with an additional opportunity to bring the message to the countries concerned.

As for actions, I would recommend to take a look, for example, at the Joint Statement of the Alliance Expert Coordination Team on Child Protection, Especially among Migrant, Undocumented, Unaccompanied, Separated and Asylum Seeking Children, to enhance Prevention of Child Trafficking  (Warsaw, October 2010). This is not just talk. This is a position. 

Part of the problem of human trafficking is that it is closely connected to economic problems such as poverty, underdevelopment, unemployment, financial hardship and other „push factors“. The root problem is therefore the unequal distribution of wealth and life chances between European countries. What are the OSCE participating states doing to address this root problem?

The OSCE is not a development organization and has no funds to get rid of poverty and no job places to decrease unemployment. But – the OSCE provides ways to decrease the vulnerability by promoting better education, gender equality, non-discrimination, by implementing projects which result in the economic empowerment of vulnerable populations, by strengthening the capacity of States to address all these real problems. We believe in national ownership as the driving force, this is why all our projects have an exit strategy. We have to provide help in a way which will ensure sustainability in all our endeavours – otherwise all good intentions may collapse with the end of funding.  We are a political organization which raises awareness and stimutates the political will of the participating States to address modern day slavery and slowly but steadily eliminate the root causes of it. This is a very long process.

By focusing too much on transnational trafficking, are we sending a false signal to the traffickers that they may engage more freely in internal trafficking, which is even more difficult to detect?

Indeed, internal trafficking is more difficult to identify and prosecute. But we are not sending a wrong signal. We, the OSCE, stress on so many occasions that internal trafficking is increasing, that it has to be adequately addressed and the victims deserve the same level of protection and assistance. We hope we are heard.

Russian Federation and human rights

As an ex- Russian diplomat in Vienna, you must have been extremely well informed of the human rights situation in Russia. Could you comment on the latest citizens' demonstrations and accusations of election fraud in Russia?

My family and I participated in the Duma elections in December and in the Presidential elections in March being confident that obstaining would be wrong. We wanted to vote and we did it. And we will do it in the future. I cannot comment on the fraud because I had no chance to monitor myself, and I do not want to repeat opinions that were expressed by others.       

What will be the key to achieving protection of human rights in Russia? Are EU countries too incoherent in their foreign policy towards Russia to put the country under serious pressure?

I do not believe in the effectiveness of pressure. I believe in the political awakening of the Russian society, in the growth of political conciousness and civil activity, in the open political debate, in the new opportunities for the country to move forward. In human rights education. In the free media and Internet. Each country has its own rythm, its own way to democracy. In late 80-s I demonstrated in Moscow with those who supported perestroika, and I do regret that the sacred principles of democracy were compromised and that now many associate democracy with socio-economic hardships which brought umemployment, destruction of social protection, default, and so on. I am sure, these principles will be acknowledged and restored by the society quite soon.            

And finally, what is your message to young people interested in doing something to combat human trafficking in Europe?

Don't be ignorant. Every human life, your life matters for us all. You have a role in the fight against slavery. Don't permit, don't tolerate exploitation, humiliation, discrimination, violance, social injustice. Treat others like you would like to be treated by them and remember  that anyone can get trapped into slavery. I am sure you will find ways how to help and contribute to this noble mission.        

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