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Fri. December 09, 2022
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Around the World, Across the Political Spectrum

A Global Plan of Action Against Human Trafficking

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By Ambassador Alyaksandr Sychov


The issue of human trafficking has been gaining increased prominence as is evidenced by the United Nations General Assembly thematic debate on the issue that was held on 13 May 2009. This event prominently featured the idea of a global plan (strategy) of action against human trafficking. So, what is this idea about?

A global strategy against human trafficking was first envisaged in the context of the Global Programme against Human Trafficking that was launched by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in 1999. However, while the Programme has been underway with success, its “strategy” component has never materialized.

The idea was again brought to life in 2006 by UN General Assembly resolution titled “Improving the coordination of efforts against trafficking in persons”. The resolution advised UN Member States to consider the advisability of a global strategy against human trafficking.

Belarus has been an ardent advocate of this initiative. It believes that there are three basic reasons behind the need for a global action plan. They may be identified as of structural, normative, and organizational nature.

There is currently a tendency in the world to tackle the problems that “do not recognize borders” in a comprehensive manner. It is surely the right approach. Since all those problems are multifaceted and interlinked with numerous other challenges, there is no way to deal with them with success other than to cover all their “angles” from the top down.

For example, this is the way how the problem of terrorism has been addressed. The UN General Assembly adopted a global strategy against terrorism in September 2006, which provides an overarching framework for the implementation of more than a dozen major conventions in this area.

Human trafficking structurally lags behind. There are some international and regional tools on human trafficking developed by UNODC, International Organization for Migration, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and others. However, each document is mainly covering some specific aspect of human trafficking or a specific region rather than the issue as the whole.

The recent discussion in the UN revealed that some states view the Human Trafficking Protocol that supplements the 2000 UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime as a global comprehensive document.

Yet many others disagree. The Protocol was drafted within UNODC – the agency that, in accordance with its mandate, puts a high premium on “law and order”. Therefore, it should not be a surprise that the Protocol, drafted by national crime experts within a “crime”-driven entity, is mainly about “law and order”.

Likewise, the Council of Europe – a rights-driven organization – has produced the Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, which, in line with the thrust of the CE, is primarily about protection of rights.

In other words, we have a global anti-trafficking structure that is “dispersed”. It seems only logical in this context to impart to this structure a higher degree of coherence and uniformity. That is where a global plan of action should come in. It should be drafted by the United Nations General Assembly as the only universal institution in terms of its membership and issues on its agenda.

As far as normative content is concerned a comprehensive document here would be one that puts an equal emphasis on each of the three traditional Ps – prevention, prosecution and protection.

A casual look at legal instruments drafted by specialized agencies would reveal that all of them have, in fact, addressed the three Ps. But a thorough analysis of these tools shows that neither treats each of the three aspects equitably.

There is good reason to believe that legal documents elaborated under the auspices of specialized agencies, were imbued with a preference for advancing a specific aspect that falls under the mandate of an agency in question. Thus, each tool, in essence, became “specialized”.

So it turned out that normatively the world is primarily equipped to deal with the consequences of human trafficking (prosecution and protection), rather than with its causes (prevention). The underlying factors of human trafficking, such as economic globalization and social construction of this phenomenon, which consistently trigger ever increasing flows of migrants have not been adequately addressed so far.

If history is any guide, we should know that “reduced” policies, in whatever global or national area, always fail. Therefore, a global plan of action is a proper place to address human trafficking in a comprehensive normative manner. Besides, drafting it within the universal (UN General Assembly) rather than a specialized body would ensure that specific “specialized” biases do not prevail.

The last, but by no means the least, rationale behind the need for a global plan of action has to do with how global anti-human trafficking work is organized in terms of actors.

Today, there are multiple players in the area of human trafficking that were not so visible on the global scene even a decade ago – states, international organizations, civil society, private sector, celebrities. Where do they all fit in? Do they work in a most efficient way as to bring to the common effort the highest added-value?

We do not know. All existing international treaties, conventions and other instruments in the area of human trafficking aim to harmonize appropriate national legislations. These tools do not prescribe precise roles for the increasing number of non-state actors. As a result, numerous NGOs, though committed to fighting human trafficking in principle, in practice may pursue policies that cancel each other out because they may hold to opposite views on some aspects of this issue.

That is why there is an urgent need for a global framework that would ensure effective co-operation, coordination, and pursuit of agreed upon policies among various stakeholders and multiple anti-human trafficking initiatives.


Mr. Alyaksandr Sychov, Permanent Representative of Belarus to international organizations in Vienna since March 2005, in 1994-2000 was the Permanent Representaive of Belarus to the UN in New York, in 2000-2005 – Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus

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