Trafficking in human beings

Trafficking in human beings

Trafficking in human beings (THB) is a serious and fast-growing crime area that affects millions of innocent people around the world and involves the severe violation of fundamental human rights. Human traffickers control and exploit vulnerable victims and make use of threats, force, fraud, deception or abduction. Traffickers predominantly capitalise on sexual and labour exploitation, often targeting individuals with limited education or financial means.

The fight of the national authorities against THB can greatly benefit from the unique structure of Eurojust. Since each participating EU Member State has a National Member at Eurojust, the Agency is able to effectively coordinate parallel investigations in several countries where victims are recruited, exploited and transported through or moved.

Challenges

The many sensitivities around THB cases, combined with the often complex nature of these activities, present clear challenges to national authorities during the investigation and prosecution stage. The crimes are typically committed by organised crime groups (OCGs) who may have ample resources and sophisticated ways of working, and whose profits may be hard to track and confiscate. Furthermore, THB activities are, by their very nature, transnational, often taking place across multiple jurisdictions, while the involvement of non-EU states may create additional difficulties for national authorities in the Member States. Identifying, locating and convincing victims to cooperate with law enforcement/judicial authorities in order to bring perpetrators to justice remains an important challenge in many proceedings.

Eurojust’s role

Human trafficking is a growing issue within the Member States, and national authorities are increasingly aware of the need for multilateral judicial cooperation to tackle this serious form of crime. In June 2018, the heads of 10 EU agencies, including Eurojust, renewed their commitment to work together to fight against trafficking in human beings, stressing the need for consolidated and coordinated approaches to combat this growing phenomenon.

Eurojust, for its part, has strengthened its approach to human trafficking, positioning the Agency as a hub for combating human trafficking in Europe. Eurojust assists the national judicial authorities inter alia in the following areas:

  • Gathering evidence and sharing information: Eurojust’s coordination during THB cases allows national authorities to work together to build cases against suspects, find links with other jurisdictions or investigations, clarify legal requirements and decide together on a prosecution strategy, by allowing effective information exchanges and evidence-sharing.

  • Joint investigation teams: JITs are considered a highly effective tool for cooperation in THB cases. Eurojust offers a forum to discuss the suitability of JITs, clarifies relevant legal queries, supports the drafting of JIT agreements, participates in JITs and provides funding to JITs.

  • Swift execution of judicial cooperation tools: Eurojust facilitates the issuing and swift execution of European Arrest Warrants (EAWs) and European Investigation Orders (EIOs) and enables the issuing and execution of freezing and confiscation orders during criminal proceedings and, in urgent situations, even during joint action days.

  • Identification, localisation, protection and welfare of victims: Eurojust helps authorities coordinate their efforts to identify, locate, protect and support victims of THB in several countries during criminal proceedings and common action days, and also assists in clarifying requirements for the hearing of victims according to the different Member States’ legislations.

  • Coordinating with third States: THB cases often require EU investigators and prosecutors to work with authorities in otherStates outside the EU. Eurojust’s cooperation agreements with third States, as well as its worldwide network of Contact Points, allow it to liaise between Member States’ authorities and non-EU States, to enable effective cooperation.

  • Sharing expertise on THB: Through regular participation in projects, meetings and conferences, Eurojust helps to advance the response to THB within Europe’s judicial community. Eurojust also leads strategic projects to develop understanding and identify good practices in this fast-evolving crime area.

 

Supporting the victims

Trafficking victims are subjected to various forms of exploitation, including forced labour, especially in the construction industry and in mining, fishing and agriculture. Domestic servitude, commercial sexual exploitation, child soldiers, child brides and forced marriage are also forms of human trafficking.

While trafficking in human beings affects people all over the world and from all walks of life, traffickers typically target society’s most desperate and vulnerable. For example, the victims of THB are often afflicted by other challenges, including poverty, unemployment and lack of education, as well as war and natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods. Meanwhile, women and children make up the vast majority of victims: according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, globally, 51% of trafficking victims are adult women, while a further 20% are girls.

In many instances, people forced into activities such as prostitution and slave labour are not immediately identifiable as victims and may be afraid to speak out and reveal their status due to fear of reprisals by the perpetrators. Furthermore, the action of forcibly moving people between countries means victims are not known to the authorities in the locations where they end up. By supporting national authorities in different ways to enable surveillance and other investigatory techniques, as well as effective information exchanges between the involved authorities, Eurojust helps authorities identify and locate victims more quickly.

As well as the support provided indirectly to victims during cases, Eurojust works closely with other EU and international institutions, including the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), to support the protection and welfare of victims of trafficking. For example, in October 2018, Eurojust participated in the EMPACT THB ETUTU meeting in Stockholm to discuss strategies to better support Nigerian victims in Europe subjected to trafficking.

 

Protecting children

Child trafficking is one of the criminal trends that has increased most sharply in the Member States in recent years while, worldwide, almost one-third of all reported victims of trafficking are minors, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Eurojust plays an active role in fighting criminality related to children, including trafficking in human beings. The Agency has established a dedicated response to these challenges, which includes the appointment of a Eurojust National Member to be the Contact Point for child protection.

The Eurojust Contact Point is mandated to represent Eurojust in child protection and related matters, offering advice and supporting the use of tools and measures such as the INTERPOL database on missing children. The role of the Contact Point also includes

  • ensuring Eurojust has access to best practice in the field;

  • following the work of national authorities, law enforcement organisations and other bodies in the field of child protection; and

  • maintaining statistical overviews of all cases related to the topic handled by Eurojust.

The Contact Point has also been nominated as the Eurojust contact for the Missing Children Europe Project, which is designed to reduce (re)trafficking of unaccompanied migrant children.