Friday 10. July 2020
#134 - january 2011


The fight against trafficking in human beings: a new step in the EU

Last March, the European Commission launched a Proposal for a new Directive on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting victims.

As John Paul II said in 2002: "The trade in human persons constitutes a shocking offence against human dignity and a grave violation of fundamental human rights. (…) (It) is an affront to fundamental values that are shared by all cultures and peoples, values rooted in the very nature of the human person."

The current EU legislation in this field is mainly based on the Council Framework Decision of 19 July 2002 on combating trafficking in human beings, which has been an insufficient tool inconsistently implemented. The Council Directive of 29 April 2004, which foresees the issue of a residence permit to a third-country national who is a victim of trafficking or who has been the subject of an action to facilitate illegal immigration (if he or she cooperates with the competent authorities), does not work properly either, because only a small number of residence permits are issued to victims of trafficking.


With the Treaty of Lisbon, new developments are taking place. It refers to the fight against trafficking in human beings in its Article 83 (setting the legal basis for establishing minimum rules concerning the definition of criminal offences and sanctions in this area), and in Article 79 (under the common immigration policy). Article 82 of the Treaty is relevant to the issue because it facilitates the mutual recognition of judicial decisions, as well as police and judicial cooperation in cross-border’s criminal matters, and requires minimum rules on the rights of individuals in criminal procedure and those of victims of crime. Moreover, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights expressly prohibits trafficking in human beings in its Article 5.3.

For these reasons, the European Commission launched in March 2010 a Proposal for a Directive on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting victims; repealing the above-mentioned Framework Decision. At the end of November, the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission arrived at a political agreement on the Proposal, which was adopted by the Parliament last 14 December.


The future Directive demands Member States to act on three fronts: prosecuting criminals responsible for trafficking human beings, protecting the victims and preventing the offences.


Its definition of trafficking in human beings is extensive: sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, including begging, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude, the exploitation of criminal activities, and the removal of organs. The Directive foresees aggravating circumstances and higher penalties, the liability of legal persons, and the non-punishment of the victims for unlawful activities such as those which they have been compelled to commit.


The prosecution of the crime - including extraterritorial jurisdiction - pays due attention to the protection of victims of trafficking in human beings in criminal investigations and proceedings, giving them access to legal counselling and to witness protection programmes. It tries to keep them away from secondary victimisation avoiding, for example, visual contact between victims and defendants, and aims to enable victims to claim compensation. Child victims (specially unaccompanied ones) are given particular protection.


The future Directive emphasises the prevention of trafficking and the responsibility of Member States to take appropriate measures (education and training, information and awareness-raising campaigns, promote regular training for officials, etc) to reduce the risk of people, especially children, becoming victims of trafficking in human beings.


In order to contribute to a coordinated strategy of the European Union, Member States shall facilitate the tasks of an Anti-Trafficking Coordinator (ATC) and, in particular, each national rapporteur (or similar institution) will transmit to the ATC information on the phenomenon, on the basis of which the ATC will contribute to a report by the Commission every two years on the progress made in the fight against trafficking in human beings.


We still need time to see the results of the new future Directive because Member States have 2 years to implement it in their domestic legislation from the moment of its adoption. Maybe by next 18 October 2013 (when the EU Anti-Trafficking Day is celebrated) we will be able to check its first outcomes.


José Luis Bazán

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Note: The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Jesuit European Office and COMECE.