24 November 2003

Human Trafficking Issue of Growing Concern in Latin America

Concerted Action Called for at Regional Conference in Colombia

VIENNA, 24 November (UN Information Service) -- A regional conference on "Trafficking in Persons: Theory and Practice in Regional and International Cooperation", held in Bogotá, Colombia, from 19 - 21 November 2003, called for concerted action from Latin American countries. Human trafficking is an issue of growing concern for the Governments of Latin America, with cases of trafficking both within countries and the region as well as to destinations in North America, Europe and Asia.

At the conference, experts from the region as well as from Asia, Africa and Europe provided examples of successful strategies in the fight against trafficking in human beings and the involvement of organized criminal groups therein. The conference called upon countries to ratify and implement the new United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its protocols on trafficking in persons and on smuggling of migrants. These instruments provide a legal framework for international cooperation with special emphasis on extradition, mutual legal assistance, forfeiture of assets, joint investigations and special techniques to fight transnational organized crime.

Several countries of the Latin American region have already enacted new legislation criminalizing human trafficking and have taken measures to assist victims of trafficking. Experts stressed the importance of providing victims willing to testify with special protection and support instead of repatriating them immediately to their country of origin.  Similar to ongoing practices in the fight against drug trafficking, regional cooperation in the exchange of information and evidence will be of essence. This includes the need to prosecute immediately in the case of non-extradition of nationals involved in cases of trafficking. Countries have to review their own legislation to harmonise the definition of trafficking in accordance with the United Nations Protocol against Trafficking in Persons, in order to improve criminal prosecution's capacity. The experts also called for the creation of specialized police units and training in special investigative techniques.

The conference was attended by 11 Latin American countries including Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Jamaica, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela. Experts from the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, the Andean Parliament, the International Organization for Migration, local non-government organizations and from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) branches in Brazil, Senegal and Thailand also attended.  The Conference was jointly organized by UNODC and the Embassy of Sweden, in cooperation with the Government of Colombia.

This event marks the start of an anti-human trafficking project carried out by UNODC in cooperation with the Government of Colombia, funded by the Government of Sweden. The project will help to strengthen the national capacities and advance regional and international cooperation with destination countries. UNODC is also carrying out a project on human trafficking in Brazil. In response to requests from countries of the region, additional activities to assist in the implementation of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its protocols are under preparation.

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