GAATW-IS reports back on the UNTOC Conference of the Parties

(15 to 19 October 2012)


The proposal for a review mechanism was first introduced by Argentina and Norway at the 4th Conference of the Parties to the UNTOC in 2008.  At that time, many governments were supportive of the requirements for formal treaty oversight as per Article 32 of the UNTOC and took information about how to proceed from a wide range of treaty oversight bodies. The negotiations for a review mechanism to the UNTOC and its Protocols were led by Mexico. However as negotiations proceeded in closed working groups, positions became increasingly polarized.

COPS 6th Session, Decision Time

When they met for five days in Vienna at the UN Conference of the Parties – after four years of negotiations – States were finally unable to agree on the terms of reference for a review mechanism for the UN Convention on Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) and its Protocols, which include the Protocol on Trafficking in Persons. The process would have reviewed States' implementation of the Convention and its Protocols and identified good practices and technical assistance needs.

GAATW has been calling for UNTOC to have an effective oversight mechanism since the adoption of the Convention in 2000. The States that are party to the UNTOC and its Protocols were deadlocked during the sixth session of the Conference of the Parties. The critical issue proved to be the funding model for the process, specifically whether a mix of regular UN budget together with voluntary contributions from States, or just the voluntary contributions alone. GAATW views the latter as unsustainable approach to what would have needed to be an ongoing process. (For UNODC’s statement see here.)

Throughout the negotiations GAATW maintained that any review mechanism needed to meet minimum requirements of transparency and inclusivity that would be necessary for it to be relevant to survivors of trafficking. Although some States stood up for meaningful realisation of these guiding principles, even under pressure to compromise to achieve consensus, throughout the process some governments have blocked any suggestion of civil society participation in a review mechanism or any release of reports from the review. 

Consequently, the proposal tabled at the UN in October did not meet GAATW's objectives of transparency and participation, in particular of survivors of trafficking, necessary for an adequate review process.  We have learned lessons from the similar process created for the UN Convention Against Corruption and are glad to see States not make the same mistakes again in the organized crime context.(For more on that process see here).

GAATW has documented how anti-trafficking initiatives do not always benefit survivors of trafficking and may harm migrant workers and workers in particular sectors, notably individuals who work in the sex sector. Furthermore GAATW has demonstrated that trafficked persons are almost universally excluded from evaluations of anti-trafficking initiatives. We need an inclusive process that would seek to learn from survivors and their advocates to ensure accountability and improve these initiatives. A bad review mechanism would not have addressed these sometimes bad laws, policies, and programmes or improved the efficacy of States’ anti-trafficking response.

GAATW delivered an intervention during the Conference of the Parties that detailed some of the times that UN human rights and criminal justice forums have recognised the need for civil society participation in the anti-trafficking response. In the majority of countries worldwide civil society not only assists governments in their implementation of the Trafficking Protocol, but also takes the lead in this regard. It is disturbing that governments would even contemplate designing a mechanism for its review that would have mostly excluded civil society. Victims of organized crimes, including human trafficking, deserve more accountability from States parties and the UN.

In the end, States agreed an amendment to the “omnibus resolution” (Ensuring effective implementation of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the Protocols thereto) encouraging everyone to continue working toward a review mechanism. However at this point GAATW does not expect to see any further work on this until the seventh session of the Conference of the Parties in 2014.

Side Events

GAATW was represented by an eight-person delegation from GAATW-IS, Fair Work (Netherlands), LSCW (Cambodia) and FIZ (Switzerland) during the sixth session of the Conference of the Parties in Vienna.

GAATW co-organised and spoke on four panel events – on lessons we can learn from NGO participation in other UN monitoring systems; the roles of NGOs in strengthening counter-trafficking operations; on learning from victims of crimes for a better criminal justice response, and the challenges and some examples of best practice of researching human trafficking. These were designed to support our argument for civil society participation in the review mechanism.

One way we sought to promote our assertion that the review mechanism for the Trafficking Protocol needed to be centred on the experiences and needs of the victims of trafficking, was by presenting an exhibition of photographs taken by nine young tribal women during a participatory photographic project in Orissa, east India, over a period of three weeks in winter 2008/9, a collaboration between the Irish-based SúilEile project and Orissa-based NGO PRAGATI. The images and stories explore perspectives and experiences of the women around human trafficking and issues faced by women in tribal communities in this region. The photographers are all women who have experienced trafficking and labour abuse. The material produced was initially used to create awareness of trafficking in the local villages as well as to help counter the stigma experienced by victims of trafficking on returning to their own communities.