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New approach to trafficking must consider minority rights dimension

8 November 2004

A ‘new approach’ to combating people trafficking called for by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, should consider the minority rights dimension to trafficking in order to address one of its most fundamental causes. By addressing broader issues of minority rights discrimination which leave members of minority communities with few life and employment choices and facing multiple discrimination and exploitation, much will be done to starve the traffickers of their key resource, highly vulnerable women, men and children, stated MRG. Louise Arbour has called for a ‘human rights and development perspective’ that acknowledges that many of the root causes of trafficking lie in development issues, poverty and inequality.

According to MRG, what is often overlooked is how trafficking is often based upon racial discrimination, both in terms of targeting of certain groups as the source of trafficked persons and of their treatment within their country of origin and destination. MRG suggests that trafficking of women is typically, and often mistakenly presented simply as an issue of gender and sex discrimination. The conditions that lead to all women being vulnerable to trafficking include discrimination, high unemployment, poor education and a lack of opportunities for women. However, it is minority and indigenous women who are most likely to experience such circumstances, and who become particularly vulnerable and susceptible to false promises of opportunities made by traffickers.

Trafficking of women and girls for sexual exploitation has become a major issue, for example in Albania, and in other states of South-East Europe, with many of the victims coming from minority communities. Albania is one of the main countries of origin and of transit for trafficking and traffickers themselves may come from minority or majority communities. In Estonia, where trafficking of women has become a very serious problem, Russian citizens comprise a minority group constituting 6.3 per cent of the population. High rates of unemployment especially in the region where most of the Russian-speaking population resides, and low levels of income force women to search for jobs abroad, which makes them increasingly vulnerable. MRG has conducted regional meetings in South-East Europe in which many of the causes of trafficking have been located in the reality of poverty, social and economic exclusion and lack of political participation facing minority communities.

Once trafficking has taken place, women may fear to seek assistance from the authorities in the country of destination, especially where there is institutional racial prejudice and abuse. They are commonly discriminated against as women, as foreigners and as prostitutes, and find themselves in a cycle of multiple discrimination and abuse. Women who do contact authorities may find that giving evidence against the traffickers is a condition for assistance. This puts the trafficked woman in a difficult position, fearing for her life should she inform on the trafficker, and risking being returned to her homeland where she may be ostracized or rejected by her community once people become aware that she was engaged in sex work.

MRG welcomed the appointment in November of Sigma Huda of Bangladesh as UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking of persons, who brings considerable experience in the enforcement of human rights and the field of trafficking and exploitation. MRG draws attention to the findings of its recent report ‘Gender, Minorities and Indigenous Peoples’ (link below) in which it highlights key issue of multiple or ‘intersectional’ discrimination. Such multiple discrimination adds to the risk of community members falling prey to traffickers and to other forms of violation of their rights and dignity.

Notes for editors

Download MRGs report ‘Gender, Minorities and Indigenous Peoples‘.

For more information, contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].