20 December 2001


ECOWAS Ministerial Meeting in Dakar Adopts Political Declaration and Plan of Action
Agreed in October by the Joint ECOWAS - UNODCCP/CICP Expert Group

VIENNA, 20 December (UN Headquarters) -- Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the ECOWAS*) countries meeting in Dakar, Senegal on 17 December, have adopted a Political Declaration and an Action Plan against trafficking in human beings in the West Africa region. Both texts, prepared by a joint ECOWAS and UNODCCP/CICP**) Expert Group which met in October, were adopted without discussion and by acclamation. The ECOWAS Ministers of Foreign Affairs recommended through a Resolution to the twenty-fifth ordinary session of Heads of State and Government, to be held in Dakar on 20-21 December 2001, the adoption of the Political Declaration and the Action Plan. The Political Declaration underscores the commitment of the Heads of State and Government to the eradication of the trafficking in persons, and in particular, the eradication of the trafficking in women and children. The declaration also sets out a series of measures mandatory in pursuit of this objective, among them the Plan of Action.

In West Africa today, trafficking in persons is a crime that is pervasive and growing. The involvement of organized crime has driven this growth and increased the number of the sub-region’s citizens who suffer its depredations. The crime preys primarily on the most vulnerable, that is to say women, children, the poorest and the least educated. Two main types of trafficking exist in the subregion: trafficking in children mainly for domestic work and for farm labour across and within national borders; and secondly, trafficking in women and children for sexual exploitation mainly outside of the sub-region. Poverty is a major driving force in the rise of trafficking in persons, and women and children are easily lured into trafficking networks by recruiters who promise lucrative jobs abroad.

During a meeting held in Accra last October by ECOWAS in cooperation with UNODCCP/CICP, Experts from ECOWAS member States***), covering the areas of justice, interior (law enforcement, immigration, border control), and social affairs worked together to develop the Action Plan. The meeting was also attended by intergovernmental organisations such as UNICEF, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and other interested countries. The responsible entity within ODCCP was the Centre for International Crime Prevention, carrying out this initiative within the framework of its Global Programme against Trafficking in Human Beings.

The Plan of Action commits ECOWAS countries to urgent action against trafficking in persons in 2002-2003, setting achievable goals and objectives. It calls for countries to ratify and fully implement crucial international instruments of ECOWAS and the United Nations that strengthen laws against human trafficking and protect victims of trafficking, especially women and children.

The Action Plan calls for new special police units to combat trafficking of persons. Training for police, customs and immigration officials, prosecutors and judges, is also an important aim. This training will focus on the methods used in preventing such trafficking, prosecuting the traffickers, and protecting the rights of victims, including protecting the victims from the traffickers. It will take into

account human rights and child- and gender-sensitive issues, and encourage cooperation with non-governmental organizations and other elements of civil society.

Under the Plan, ECOWAS States will set up direct communication between their border control agencies and expand efforts to gather data on human trafficking. The information gathered will be shared between all ECOWAS countries and the United Nations. States will create a task force or agency on trafficking in persons, as focal points to direct and monitor the ongoing implementation of this Plan of Action at the national level, and report, on a bi-annual basis, to the ECOWAS coordination structure set up within the ECOWAS Secretariat.

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*) ECOWAS – Economic Community of West African States
**) UNODCCP – United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention; CICP – Centre for International Crime Prevention
***) The 15 ECOWAS member States are Benin, Burkina Faso, Cap Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo.