human development, social justice and sustainable social systems

A rights-based approach

against human trafficking

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Today we mark the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 by the United Nations General Assembly.

This Universal Declaration states that human rights are fundamental rights: they are at the core of the foundation of our societies and allow us to live in peace with each other, free from fear and poverty. While this document represents an unprecedented step forward in the history of humanity, it still does not prevent the worst violations of human rights today. As a matter of fact, we still witness dramatic examples of oppression, violence, injustice and inequality.

The Declaration is not just an old document that belongs to the past, instead it must be an inspiration for all of us – for political and social action to promote the respect of universal human rights. The article 4 of the Declaration states that “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade are prohibited in all their forms”. Despite this, human trafficking persists on all continents.

The non-respect of article 4 is considered as one of the most serious violations of fundamental rights. The interdependence of human rights means that when a person is a victim of human trafficking, almost all of his/her rights are simultaneously affected: dignity, freedom to come and go, physical integrity, the right to fair and favourable working conditions, the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to health…

On 29 and 30 November 2018, Caritas Belgium organised in Brussels the final conference of the European project “Strengthening multidisciplinary cooperation to ensure an effective reference mechanism for and assistance and protection of the rights of victims of human trafficking”. This project received support in the framework of the Justice programme of the European Union, with partners of different associations from Romania, Belgium, Sweden, Spain and Bulgaria. Other participants from all over Europe joined the final conference. As part of this project, relevant associations in different countries created a manual for professionals, social and healthcare workers to help them protect the rights of victims of trafficking and assist the victims in the best possible way.

This meeting underlined the importance of acknowledging the issue of trafficking in human beings within the field of humanitarian aid: something that has to be explored urgently. Sébastien Dechamps, Humanitarian Coordinator of Caritas Belgium said:

“Many humanitarian crises create favourable conditions for human trafficking networks. In particular, crises that generate significant displacement. It is certainly the case of the Syrian crisis: thousands of people, including children, have disappeared during their exodus, and have become victims of traffickers’ networks. This issue could be further taken into account in the development of our humanitarian programmes, in terms of prevention and protection.”

While we are approaching the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child in 2019, we need to use a human rights-based approach to fight against human traffickers.

The human rights-based approach has become a significant framework for the activities of the United Nations. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs 2015-2030) have extended this approach by giving human rights their place in the conceptual framework of development. Public authorities are invited to make a general and systematic use of the human rights-based approach. This approach initially presented itself as a response to the failures of development in the 1980s, focusing more on the technical reduction of poverty than on improving the rights and liberties of marginalised populations. It has led to a paradigm shift in development cooperation: the development approach, which initially was based on the needs of the people of the least developed countries, has given way to a rights-based approach.

From this point of view, people are no longer considered only as beneficiaries of aid programmes by decision-making bodies but as full-fledged actors of development. Public action is no longer designed just to assist people, but to implement fundamental human rights.

The full effectiveness of fundamental rights is based on the availability, acceptability, accessibility and adaptability of the rights concerned. The human rights-based approach for some years has also been applied to the issues of migration flows’ management, security issues or penal policies.

It is a matter of restoring the primacy of the human person and reaffirming the rightful place of human rights in public action: states must not only respect the human rights enshrined in international conventions they have ratified, but they must also be accountable for the implementation. Human rights cannot any longer be at the periphery of public action, they must be at the heart of it. States have to be accountable.

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Geneviève Colas

Caritas Europa expert in the field of human trafficking