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Webinar on ‘Trafficking Prevention and the Victims: New United Nations and Academic Perspectives’

Vienna, 11 December 2012, 3-5:30 p.m.
By Andrada Filip”




The purpose of this report is to inform about the content of the webinar and the input which was made by all the participant speakers. The webinar consisted of a pre-recorded lecture session which was followed by a question and answer session, chaired by Dr. Michael Platzer, Representative of the ACUNS Vienna Liaison. The speakers were university lecturers from various universities, representatives of UNODC and of the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Main Body

The webinar began with an opening address from H.R.H. Princess Bajrakitiyabha Mahidol, Chairperson of the 21st session of the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice and Dr. Janos Tisovszky, Director United Nations Information Service Vienna.  This introduction offered an insight into the topic of human trafficking and afterwards the two concepts of ‘trafficking’ and ‘smuggling’ were introduced. A framework for tackling these issues was identified, in order to employ effective measures of prevention and reduction. The various circumstances under which human trafficking occurs were also mentioned, and so were the series of actors which are caught in the interplay of this global phenomenon.

Video Presentations

To begin with, the importance of prevention measures was stressed, whereby the various circumstances in which human trafficking and smuggling take place were analyzed. Those responsible for such things take advantage of the situation of people seeking to migrate and there can be voluntary agreement to cross the border to a different country. The implication of consent however does not take away the victim’s status. Nevertheless this implies different law enforcement and prosecution procedures. Migrants are often forced to travel under rough and unsafe conditions.  Hence some may lose their life along the way. As such, investigators must be aware of the vulnerabilities which may arise, and thus improve prevention and effectiveness in terms of prosecution. The rights of the individual to be protected from human trafficking must be strengthened, yet different countries have different jurisdictions. Victims usually avoid reporting to authorities out of fear of deportation, especially when they cannot find any avenues to remain in the country lawfully. It is important to address these issues in a constructive manner and to take into consideration the needs of the victims, be it medical care, assistance or accommodation.

Afterwards, the topic of labour exploitation was tackled, thus seeking to identify patterns in the areas of victims, distribution and profits made out of such illicit activities. Statistics on forced labour exploitation point out towards the areas of agriculture, industry, services and sex work. This practice is prevalent in the Asia-Pacific region, Central-Eastern Europe and Latin-America. Future plans in this respect seek to study the economics of forced labour, offering an interdisciplinary academic perspective, hoping to remove biases and incorrect assumptions. It is also highly important to properly identify the two target groups, i.e. victims and perpetrators, in connection with recruitment practices and demographic groups. Media involvement, consumer behavior and corporate actions can also have a positive impact on combating human trafficking.

The necessity for a database on human trafficking was emphasized, in order to be able to collect and disseminate information on this topic. Acts, means and purposes of exploitation can be easily identified when reliance on research tools in a web data base is possible. The UNODC has developed such a programme, which is available in several languages, and also traces the prosecution track of cases on trial. A report commissioned by UNODC was briefly discussed, thus pointing out that over the past four years there has been an increase in the cases of trafficking for forced labour. This shows an increase in the awareness of local authorities to detect such incidents. In Asia and Europe sexual exploitation is the most common form of exploitation. Trafficking flows are complex and encompass different nationalities, yet the large part of the victims belonging to a trafficking flow usually originates from the same region.  A clear link between economic dynamics and certain trafficking flows was identified, this highlighting the need for adequate measurements. East Asia trafficking differs from other trafficking flows spanning on a regional level, because it has a global dimension.

Question and Answer Session

After the presentation section, the panel session was initiated, during which speakers also sought to answer questions raised by students across the world, who were watching the seminar online.  The need for a protocol that draws the line between various types of exploitation was highlighted, as this would facilitate prevention, investigation and prosecution. Countries offer different realities of human trafficking, and there is no overarching legal framework for case prosecution. The most important issue remains the protection of the victims, because trafficking is first and foremost an offense against the individual. Money and consent represent two variables which intervene in the human trafficking process, therefore clear lines for identifying exploitation have to be established. This is an important issue because interpretation falls under the sphere of national courts.

The root causes for trafficking lie in a number of reasons. It was highlighted, however, that victims most likely to be recruited by smugglers do not belong to the lowest social strand. Hence these have access to certain resources that enable them to relocate and access smuggling networks. The background of this social group however needs to be researched in depth.

Research in the field of human trafficking is in urgent need of transparency, clear sources and appropriate methodologies. From recent research it has emerged that most trafficking occurs at intra-regional level, each one having its on-spots, yet East Asia remains an exception, because victims originating from that region can be detected in many countries all over the world.

From the perspective of a migration researcher, migration itself benefits both migrants and societies. It is important to use adequate indicators when researching human trafficking. Cooperation between law enforcement authorities and civil society organizations has to be reached in order to combat this phenomenon. A broad approach that provides multiple legal channels is needed, so that it suits the distinctions between different contexts and demographic situations. Each country has its own legal framework to deal with instances of human trafficking, yet this is usually too narrow, and mechanisms for implementation are lacking. A wide range of actors, spanning from police officers to professionals can be involved in the investigation and identification process. The development of a formal set of procedures would bring more clarity upon this situation. Arrangements between countries must also be taken into consideration, because human trafficking needs to be combated at the regional level.

The victims must be empowered, so that they are able to stand trial and contact the authorities. At present most victims refrain from contacting the police because of physical and mental threat regarding their own safety or that of their relatives. On the other hand, police personnel expose a degree of reluctance to deal with such cases. It is also difficult to make a distinction between traffickers and smugglers, something that may hamper prosecution and investigation. It was also made clear that undocumented victims should not avoid contacting the police, because the victim status brings a series of victim rights. As such, residence, temporary or permanent in some countries is granted to such individuals and certain resocialization measures are also undertaken. At this point, specially trained police staff is needed in order to offer support to victims.

Towards the end, the issue of a need for consensus on the implications and understandings of human trafficking was raised, whereby intercultural dialogue is of immense relevancy. It is desirable to prevent human trafficking than to have to react to it, however for this to be possible the mechanisms used throughout this process must be analyzed further in depth. Human trafficking remains an omnipresent, global phenomenon, so that a more just society, free of this form of exploitation is absolutely necessary.


The webinar served as a platform for debate between academics, representatives of international organizations like the UN or the IOM and students. It represented a success because opinions on this topic could be exchanged and transmitted to a larger public by overcoming physical barriers. Intercultural dialogue was highlighted as a beneficial factor in combating human trafficking. The civil society, researchers, university professors and UNOC staff members were involved in the event have created a forum for discussion that gave individuals the chance to exchange views on this subject and have a constructive discussion. For the audience it was highly informative and interactive, nevertheless since the aspect of legislation was touched upon by several of the speakers, perhaps it would be useful to include representatives of the state apparatus and policy makers from various countries in upcoming events on the same topic.