posted on Fri 10 Mar 2017 4:14 PM
Open Debate on Forced Labour, Slavery and Other Similar Practices

On Tuesday (14 March), the Security Council will hold a ministerial-level open debate on “Trafficking in persons in conflict situations: forced labour, slavery and other similar practices”, held under the Council agenda item “Maintenance of international peace and security”. The open debate will be presided over by the UK Secretary of State for International Development, Priti Patel. The three briefers will be Secretary-General António Guterres, UK Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner Kevin Hyland, and Ilwad Elman, a Mogadishu-based Somali human rights activist who will brief by video teleconference. Several member states are expected to be represented at ministerial level, including by ministers who will be in New York for the opening of the Commission on the Status of Women.

The Council has been intensifying its focus on the scourge of conflict-related human trafficking and the often-resulting forced labour, slavery and similar practices. It initially addressed the issue in a briefing held in December 2015, organised by the US during its presidency, at which the Council adopted its first decision on human trafficking in the form of a presidential statement. In December 2016, the Council held a ministerial-level open debate on the issue, presided over by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, resulting in resolution 2331. In the concept note for the open debate on Tuesday—which comes less than three months after resolution 2331 was adopted—the UK poses several questions related to the implementation of the earlier decisions both by member states and by the UN system (S/2017/198).

Council Decisions

In its presidential statement adopted on 16 December 2015 (S/PRST/2015/25), the Council condemned instances of trafficking in conflict-affected areas; expressed concern that in some regions terrorists benefit from transnational organised crime, including from the trafficking in persons; called on member states to hold accountable those who engage in trafficking in persons; and expressed its intent to continue to address trafficking in persons with respect to the situations on its seizure list, among other things.

Resolution 2331 of 20 December 2016, among other elements, condemned all acts of trafficking, particularly by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and condemned violations and other abuses committed by Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, the Lord’s Resistance Army, and other terrorist or armed groups for the purpose of sexual slavery, sexual exploitation, and forced labour. It recognised the need for accountability and in this context, the importance of collecting and preserving evidence. The resolution expressed the Council’s intention to “integrate the issue of trafficking in persons in the areas affected by armed conflict and sexual violence in conflict into the work of relevant sanctions committees … and to ensure that sexual violence in conflict expertise, including when it is associated with trafficking in persons in the context of armed conflict consistently informs the work of sanctions committees”, and to consider targeted sanctions for individuals and entities involved in trafficking in persons in areas affected by armed conflict.

Both the 2015 presidential statement and the 2016 resolution stressed the need to ensure that persons who have been trafficked are treated as victims of crime, and are not penalised or stigmatised for their involvement in any unlawful activities in which they have been compelled to engage.

The Open Debate

No outcome is expected from Tuesday’s open debate. In addition to highlighting several provisions of resolution 2331, the concept note places particular emphasis on two aspects of the worldwide problem of human trafficking. First, rather than focusing on the process of trafficking as such, it looks at its outcomes, such as different forms of slavery, forced labour, and forced recruitment into armed groups. Second, it highlights the role of transnational organised crime in conflict-related human trafficking and these groups’ ability to adapt in targeting newly vulnerable groups such as displaced populations.

The debate on Tuesday will afford the Secretary-General his first opportunity to address the Council on the range of issues related to human trafficking and share his thoughts about the role of the UN in the implementation of resolution 2331 and, more specifically, on how the efforts by existing subsidiary bodies of the Council and Council-mandated peacekeeping operations and special political missions, could be strengthened in this context.

Hyland is likely to share his experience as Commissioner working to ensure that modern slavery is tackled by the UK in a coordinated and effective manner, including through international collaboration.

Elman may choose to share her experience working with the victims of trafficking into sexual slavery, forced labour, and conscription of civilians by Al-Shabaab. She may also speak of her work on de-radicalisation and rehabilitation of former child soldiers and with survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.

Some members may want to take stock of measures being taken domestically in the aftermath of the adoption of resolution 2331, or share their national best practices in addressing issues resulting from conflict-related human trafficking, leading up to slavery, forced labour, or other similar practices.

Some Council members may choose to reflect on the visiting mission undertaken in early March to the area of operation of Boko Haram, one of the armed groups most notorious for trafficking in persons and using different forms of slavery to advance its goals. Visiting Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria, Council members heard first-hand testimonies about the devastating impact the results of trafficking have on the affected communities, including from women whose children were abducted by Boko Haram, and children who were unlawfully detained on the basis of suspected association with a terrorist group. (For details regarding the 3-6 March Council visiting mission please refer to our What’s in Blue “Dispatches from the Field”.)