The OSCE Special Representative for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, Eva Biaudet, urged OSCE participating States today to put victims' rights at the center when investigating and prosecuting human trafficking cases.
"The victim-centred approach means taking the needs of the trafficking victim to be protected, assisted and ultimately empowered to live a dignified life, as the fundamental starting point during all phases of criminal proceedings," Biaudet said at the opening of a high-level conference in Helsinki.
The conference, titled "Successful Prosecution of Human Trafficking" and co-arranged by Biaudet's Office and the Finnish OSCE Chairmanship, aims to enhance national capacities to prosecute cases of human trafficking. The high-level event, including Finnish President Tarja Halonen and Finnish Justice Minister Tuija Brax as speakers, brings together policy makers and experts from more than 40 OSCE countries.
"We need to find ways to ensure that traffickers can no longer operate with impunity and that victims are ensured easy access to justice in a manner that ensures a respect for the victims' human rights," Brax said.
Biaudet asked participants whether the low rate of victim identification is caused by a lack of resources for investigations and understanding of the seriousness of the crime.
"Are our societies indifferent or even becoming tolerant to trafficking and exploitation? To what extent is prejudice and blaming the victim still part of the problem?"
A high number of victims all over the OSCE region still are being treated as criminals, she added, saying that officials and others often blame the victims for the exploitative conditions they are facing.
Pietro Grasso, Chief Anti-mafia Prosecutor of Italy and a keynote speaker, proposed improving the criminal justice response:
"I believe a better future for international co-operation in this area will come only with the establishment of joint investigative teams and other forms of concrete collaboration between police forces and the judiciary. Without developing such co-operation between countries of destination and origin, we will continue tackling the small fish without reaching those who direct and organize the hideous trade in persons and without touching their huge profits."
Biaudet added: "There is a clear need to develop effective legislation that makes people accountable for exploitation. I want to remind all States present that they have committed themselves to introducing a thorough discussion on how to strengthen legislative, social and cultural measures for reducing demand. The criminalization of demand is of course only one measure - but can be a most effective measure in this regard."