Rights on Paper and Rights in Practice: Critical assessment of the implementation of anti-trafficking legislation in Bolivia, Colombia and Guatemala
Governments are responsible to tackle human trafficking and protect and assist trafficked persons. Civil society, for its part, is responsible for monitoring states’ compliance with their obligations and mandates as defined in national and international legislation. To do so, it is necessary to have accurate information how governments implement these policies.
In 2016, Fundación la Paz in Bolivia, Corporación Espacios de Mujer in Colombia and ECPAT in Guatemala, together with the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW), carried out an assessment of the implementation of anti-trafficking legislation in the three countries. What we found was that there was still a significant gap between the rights that trafficked persons are entitled to ‘on paper’ and the services that they receive in practice.
The assessment allowed us to systematise the available information on human trafficking in the three countries, giving clarity about the responsibilities of each governmental body and the degree of compliance. Although policies can be improved, it would be a good starting point for governments to at least fulfil their existing obligations.
In general, the authorities in the three countries were responding promptly and comprehensively to the information requests. Nevertheless, in Colombia there was reluctance to provide information about the budget allocated for anti-trafficking activities. In Bolivia the Ministry of Justice showed mistrust from the beginning, even questioning the relevance of such an assessment.
Although all three countries have enacted anti-trafficking legislation, assistance to trafficked persons is insufficient and, in some cases, non-existing.
In Colombia, trafficked persons do not receive clear information about the available assistance routes and there are no assistance and protection systems established in the law. Similarly, in Guatemala, there is no system for identification, protection, or assistance for adults and the one for minors is weak and does not have specialised protocols that take into account the specific needs of children. Additionally the Guatemalan government is not implementing the registration system for trafficked persons, nor has it established a compensation fund, both of which are set out in the law as a responsibility of the Secretariat against Sexual Violence, Exploitation and Human Trafficking. Equally troubling were the weak training and specialisation of public servants involved in the assistance to trafficked persons, prosecution of the crime and administration of justice.
All these factors, along with the excessively long duration of the investigation, undermine the rights of trafficked persons and fuel re-victimisation.
In Bolivia police officers in charge of investigating human trafficking crimes are heavily underfunded. This is not surprising, considering that in 2015 only 0.03 % of the state budget was allocated to fight not only human trafficking, but also the smuggling of migrants. In Colombia, part of the budget allocated to the Ministry of Interior for the implementation of anti-trafficking activities was used in agreements with IOM and UNODC to provide prevention and assistance services—services which these organisations in turn subcontracted to other actors. As per the Ministry of Interior 2015 Annual Procurement Plan, an agreement of around 150,000 USD was signed with IOM. Unfortunately, neither the Ministry, nor the IOM responded to our requests for information.
Specific recommendations to protect the rights of trafficked persons
The information collected through the assessment offers clear elements for advocacy and, since it is based in official data, allows us to make clear and strong recommendations to the involved actors. There are three concrete measures that governments should implement in order to protect the rights of trafficked persons: 1) provide ongoing specialised training for public servants involved in identifying, assisting and protecting trafficked persons; 2) allocate sufficient financial resources to ensure quality assistance and protection of trafficked persons and prosecution of traffickers, and 3) establish a comprehensive system for referral, assistance and protection to ensure efficient coordination between the public and private sector.
If only one thing from the legislation could be improved, the organisations are very clear. Corporación Espacios de Mujer thinks that the Colombian law is very good and that it was considerably improved last year when the requirement for trafficked persons to file a complaint in order to receive long-term assistance was removed. For their part, ECPAT in Guatemala considers that the law needs to be significantly changed to reflect all purposes of exploitation. The Bolivian law currently includes both human trafficking and migrant smuggling, which creates confusion and misinterpretations of these crimes. Fundación La Paz recommends making a clear distinction between the two.
In all three countries it is essential that all governmental bodies understand the concept of human trafficking and implement the relevant legislation in the same way.
What about civil society?
The three organisations, together with other stakeholders, have been working for years to address human trafficking in their countries. In Colombia, Espacios de Mujer trains public servants involved in the prevention of human trafficking and guides trafficked persons through the different assistance services. Additionally, in collaboration with the Colombian Alliance of CSO against Human Trafficking, it carries out research and organises debates to include the issue on the governmental agenda. ECPAT in Guatemala will carry out a consultation in 2017 to draft a law proposal which criminalises labour exploitation, begging, any form of slavery, servitude, sale of persons, recruitment of minors for criminal activities and forced and servile marriage as purposes of human trafficking. For its part, Fundación La Paz in Bolivia is actively strengthening the Bolivian Network against Human Traffic and the Bolivian Observatory of Human Trafficking to guide civil society advocacy.
It is necessary to carry out and publish this kind of assessment identifying the work done by the governmental bodies and documenting the current state of affairs. An annual assessment report will allow for the identification of the progress made in the implementation of the law and to plan an advocacy and monitoring strategy in accordance with the documented situation. To do this, it is crucial to stablish strategic alliances with CSO in order to strengthen the monitoring process and facilitate constructive criticism of the state.
GAATW knows that accurate information is essential to identify the gaps in the services that governments provide to trafficked persons and to plan advocacy actions to address these gaps. For this reason, in 2017 the Alliance will keep working with Fundación la Paz in Bolivia, Corporación Espacios de Mujer in Colombia and ECPAT in Guatemala to analyse the implementation of their national anti-trafficking legislations.