According to the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, "everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person," "no one shall be held in slavery or servitude... no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment". Unfortunately, these fundamental rights are still violated today, far from public view, more than six decades after the Declaration was adopted.
The shadowy world of human trafficking is one area where such outrages still occur, with victims raped, imprisoned, held against their will and abused in a number of ways such that we can compare it to, and even consider it to be, a form of torture.
Consider the recent case of a West African girl who was trafficked to the UK at age 13 and held in domestic servitude. She was sold to a woman whom she was told to call "Auntie", who subjected her to physical and emotional abuse. She was expected to do all of the housework for the family, including cleaning and looking after the children. Her work was frequently criticised, and if there were any perceived shortcomings in her work she was physically assaulted, for example by being struck on the head, knocked to the floor or having her ears pulled.
She was repeatedly insulted and told that she was "lazy". Men who visited the house raped her and gagged her to stop her from screaming. "Auntie" did not help her and she remembers hearing her turning up the volume of the radio to drown out the noise. Later "Auntie" told her that when this happened, she "must try to relax".
As Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the world's largest regional security organisation, I have sought to highlight lesser-known aspects of the human trafficking phenomena, and cases such as the one outlined above have received very little attention.
In order to raise awareness of this terrible human rights violation, we issued a paper titled Trafficking in Human Beings Amounting to Torture and other Forms of Ill-treatment written in partnership with the UK's Helen Bamber Foundation and Austria's Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights two institutions of long-standing expertise and excellence on such an important topic. On Wednesday, we will hold the UK launch of this paper hosted by Wilton Park in London.
I see it as my responsibility to ensure that trafficking in human beings is understood in all its complexity, and to deepen this understanding by demonstrating how it is connected to other human rights violations, including torture and other forms of ill-treatment. In particular, it is my duty to denounce and condemn the practice of torture as a method used by traffickers to subjugate, control and exploit victims of trafficking in all its forms.
I am convinced that the findings of this paper will provide important guidance to state governments, civil society and the international community, contributing to the improvement of relevant policy and practice, and critically to afford justice to victims of human trafficking. In order to achieve this, I have included a series of recommendations in the OSCE paper. A few of the key points are as follows:
•Domestic legislation should contain a specific offence of torture which facilitates prosecution, and regulate a mechanism of professional monitoring and investigating of torture.
•Interpretative guidelines on the links between trafficking in human beings and torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment should be developed for law enforcement officials, judges and NGOs representing trafficked persons.
•Nations have an obligation not to deport persons who may face the risk of being tortured in the country of origin. In order to be able to fulfil this obligation, they have an obligation to make identification possible in centres for detention pending deportation and refugee centres and to grant NGOs providing services to trafficked persons access to these facilities.
Sincere efforts must also be made to improve medical and psychological treatment of victims. Some of the urgent steps include:
•The need for training and awareness-raising on complex trauma: Awareness-raising on complex trauma is needed for all professionals who encounter victims of trafficking in the general and mental health sectors. There is a need for the dissemination of information on trafficking issues from a clinical perspective, particularly victims' psychological and physical responses to complex trauma and effective routes to individual stabilization and sustained recovery.
•Assessment for, and access to, programs of therapy: victims of trafficking usually require a period of stabilization before they are able to effectively participate in a programme of therapy. Every victim of trafficking should have a clinical assessment tailored to include an evaluation of their particular readiness for therapy conducted by an experienced clinician.
•Training of healthcare professionals: practical guidelines on the identification of victims of trafficking should be issued for all healthcare professionals, including those who work in general medicine and in specialist centres and teams. Such guidelines and training should extend to all administrative, reception and other staff who may potentially come into contact with victims of trafficking.
If these steps are taken, I am certain that we will be able to make important progress towards eliminating torture, improving care for human trafficking victims and expanding their access to justice while also increasing conviction rates for the traffickers.
Maria Grazia Giammarinaro is the Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and a judge at the Criminal Court of Rome.