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Countering Trafficking in Persons in Conflict Situations

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Executive summary Background and purpose

Trafficking in persons is a serious crime that affects every country in the world. Conflicts that arise in countries or other geographical areas can exacerbate vulnerability to trafficking, as well as its prevalence and severity. As State and non-State structures weaken, and as people turn to negative coping strategies in order to survive, not only does the risk of falling victim to trafficking increase, but so too does the risk of perpetrating it against others. At the same time, conflict also increases the demand for goods and services provided by exploited persons and creates new demands for exploitative combat and support roles. For these reasons, United Nations entities and other international actors active in settings affected by conflict have a crucial role to play in preventing and countering trafficking in persons.

Definition and elements of trafficking in persons

Trafficking in persons is addressed in the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (Trafficking in Persons Protocol). The Protocol provides a comprehensive framework for cooperation between States parties and sets out minimum standards for victim protection to complement the wider framework of international law, including international human rights law. The Protocol requires States parties to criminalize the offence of trafficking as defined in its article 3 (a). That definition comprises three elements:

(a) An “act” (recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons); (b) A “means” by which that action is achieved (threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or a position of vulnerability, or the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve consent of a person having control over another person); (c) A “purpose” of exploitation, regardless of what type.

The “means” element is not a requisite for the definition of trafficking in persons when the victim is a child; any act committed for an exploitative purpose is sufficient to establish the trafficking of a child as an offence.

Even though the forms of exploitation that occur in settings affected by conflict may also occur in other contexts, conditions of conflict are often more likely to engender such exploitation or to exacerbate its prevalence and severity. Some forms of exploitation, identi- fied through research on exploitative practices in conflict settings, have emerged as specific to the context of conflict, including but not limited to the following:

• Sexual exploitation of women and girls by members of armed and terrorist groups
• Use of trafficked children as soldiers
• Removal of organs to treat wounded fighters or finance war
• Enslavement as a tactic of terrorism, including its use to suppress ethnic minorities

Consent of the victim to exploitation is irrelevant in cases where any of the means have been used in relation to an adult victim, and is always irrelevant where the victim is a child.