Regional Law and Standards

At the regional level, the Council of Europe and the European Union are the two institutions that draft legally binding law on trafficking in persons, which would be applicable to some of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States.  In addition, both the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe create what can be termed politically-binding documents which form anti-trafficking policy and standards for the region.  More information about the European Human Rights system, human rights documents and enforcement mechanisms can be accessed from the International Law section of this site.a


The Council of Europe

The Council of Europe (COE) is a regional intergovernmental organization that focuses on issues emerging in the larger European arena.  The European human rights legal system is based on treaties and is elaborated and explained by other non-binding documents, such as resolutions and directives.  As is the case with the United Nations, the instruments serve as guidelines to member States on the obligation to protect women from violence, including trafficking in women.  The legal sources for the Council of Europe’s human rights obligations are contained in two treaties:  the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (European Convention) (ETS No. 5) and the European Social Charter (ETS No. 35).

The European Convention sets forth the principle of nondiscrimination (Article 14) and guarantees the right to life (Article 2), the right to liberty and security of person (Article 5) and the right to be free from torture, inhuman or degrading treatment (Article 3).  The European Social Charter includes the right to work, including the equal right to work, the right to just work conditions and the right to safe and healthy work conditions, and the right to social and economic protection.  The European Convention also sets forth a woman’s right to an effective legal remedy before a national authority if her human rights are violated.  (Article 13).

In addition to the Council of Europe treaties, recommendations by the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly also have the force of law for member States.  Both the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly have issued specific recommendations on the issue of trafficking in women and children, which articulate COE policy.  The Council of Europe reiterates many of the standards articulated by the United Nations on trafficking, but also promulgates specific recommendations for member States, related to trafficking in Europe.

In 1991, the Committee of Ministers adopted Recommendation No. R (91) 11 “on Sexual Exploitation, Pornography and Prostitution of, and Trafficking in, Children and Young Adults” which includes recommendations to Member States to take specific measures related to the problem of trafficking.  Such measures should include the ratification of international treaties, the introduction of legislation to allow the prosecution and punishment of traffickers and the improvement of information exchange across borders.  While these recommendations are important, it was not until 1997 that the Council of Europe articulated the extent of the problem of trafficking in Europe and the complexity and interconnectedness of the measures required to protect trafficked persons and prosecute traffickers.

COE Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1325 (1997) “on traffic in women and forced prostitution in Council of Europe member States” is a response to a “dramatic increase in recent years in the traffic in women and forced prostitution in Council of Europe member states . . . [and]  the deterioration of the treatment of trafficked women, bordering on slavery, which has resulted from this development.” 

The Parliamentary Assembly defines trafficking in women and forced prostitution as “any legal or illegal transporting of women and/or trade in them, with or without their initial consent, for economic gain, with the purpose of subsequent forced prostitution, forced marriage, or other forms of forced sexual exploitation.  The use of force may be physical, sexual and/or psychological, and includes intimidation, rape, abuse of authority or a situation of dependence.”  This definition of trafficking in women is narrower than the one later adopted by the United Nations in the 2000 Trafficking Protocol in that it equates trafficking in women with sexual exploitation, but it extends protection to women who consent to some of the activities present in a case of trafficking.  Recommendation 1325 also defines trafficking as “a form of inhuman and degrading treatment and a flagrant violation of human rights” and not merely a criminal act.  Finally, Recommendation 1325 urges member States to take specific actions, including the following: conducting awareness raising campaigns, training immigration staff, creating dedicated police structures, granting residence permits to victims of trafficking, organizing legal, medical and psychological assistance for trafficking victims, providing aid in reintegration, creating telephone help lines and support centers for victims and granting non-governmental organizations access to court to increase the effectiveness of prosecution efforts. 

Recommendation No. R (2000) 11 of the Committee of Ministers “on action against trafficking in human beings for the purpose of sexual exploitation” articulates a need to “establish a pan-European strategy to combat [trafficking in human beings] and protect its victims, while ensuring that the relevant legislation of the Council of Europe's member states is harmonized and uniformly and effectively applied.”  Thus, this recommendation urges member States to “review their legislation and practice with a view to introducing, where necessary, and applying the measures described in the appendix to this recommendation.”  The appendix includes a definition of trafficking substantially equivalent to that found in Recommendation 1325 (1997), above, and sets forth specific measures related to the following areas of concern: Prevention (awareness-raising, education, training); Assistance to and Protection of Victims (victim support, legal action, social measures for victims of trafficking in countries of origin, right of return and rehabilitation); Penal Legislation and Judicial Cooperation; Coordination and Cooperation (nationally and internationally).  Member States are also urged to take coordinated action using a multidisciplinary approach and to encourage cooperation between national authorities and NGOs, in countries of origin, transit and destination.

In 2002, the Parliamentary Assembly adopted Recommendation 1545 (2002) “on the campaign against trafficking in women,” which includes strong language about the far-reaching harms of trafficking:

Trafficking in women is a phenomenon which is a violation of human rights and the basic principles of rule of law and democracy. . .  Trafficking is a human rights issue as it entails the violation of women’s dignity and integrity, their freedom of movement and, in some cases, their right to life.  As far as the individual is concerned, it affects the very foundations of human rights: the equal dignity of all human beings.  Trafficking should be considered a crime against humanity.

Recommendation 1545 (2002) broadens the previous Council of Europe’s definition of trafficking in the European context.  It states that “trafficking is a very complex subject which is closely linked to prostitution and hidden forms of exploitation, such as domestic slavery, catalogue marriages and sex tourism.”

This recommendation reiterates many of the specific measures mentioned in Recommendation No. R (2000) 11, above, calling on Member States to “develop common policies and actions covering all aspects of this problem: comprehensive statistics and research into the causes and mechanisms of trafficking, law enforcement, prevention, protection of victims, repression and awareness-raising and information campaigns,” but also includes other actions.  For example, the Parliamentary Assembly urges governments to appoint national rapporteurs on trafficking, to criminalize sex tourism and the mail-order bride industry, to remove legal restrictions on the movement of women to Western Europe, to penalize those who knowingly use the services of a victim of trafficking, to provide legal assistance to trafficking victims and to elaborate a European convention on trafficking in women.

The Stability Pact Task Force on Trafficking in Human Beings hosts a website with links to Council of Europe Basic Documents in the area of trafficking. 

The European Union

The European Union (EU), like the Council of Europe, has also addressed the issue of trafficking in women.  Since the European Union is based on principles of democracy, the rule of law and human rights, it creates law and policy on human rights issues for member States.  Most of the work of the European Union in the area of trafficking has focused on increasing international law-enforcement cooperation, through Europol, funding of anti-trafficking initiatives, through the STOP and DAPHNE programs, and the adoption of resolutions.  European Union resolutions, adopted by the European Parliament, are not legally binding for member States, but carry strong persuasive force. 

In 1997, the European Union issued the Council Joint Action to combat trafficking in human beings and sexual exploitation of children, a legally-binding document for member States.  The Joint Action defines trafficking as “any behavior which facilitates the entry into, transit through, residence in or exit from the territory of a Member State for gainful purposes with a view to the sexual exploitation or abuse of the adults or children involved  . . .”  Sexual exploitation of adults is defined “at least the exploitative use of the adult in prostitution,” indicating that trafficking in women is generally equated with forced prostitution, but could include other more severe forms of sexual exploitation.  The Joint Action specifies that EU member States are to ensure that national law views the acts set forth above as criminal, protect victims who serve as witnesses, assist victims and their families, coordinate and cooperate in investigations and judicial proceedings and exchange information useful to investigation and prosecution with other member States.

The European Parliament has issued a number of resolutions on the issue of trafficking in women, including the “resolution on the communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament 'For further actions in the fight against trafficking in women' (COM(1998) 726 - C5-0123/1999 - 1999/2125(COS)) of May 2000.  This resolution calls on the European Union to develop a clear legal basis for fighting all forms of violence against women, including trafficking, and to “decide on the full communautarisation of a European policy on the fight against trafficking in human beings and on the related issues of migration and asylum, in particular the right of asylum in response to gender related oppression and persecution.”  The resolution emphasizes the need for member States to improve criminal legislation, to improve coordination and cooperation at both the national and international level, to appoint national rapporteurs on trafficking and to provide victims with specific services, including legal counseling, housing and employment assistance. 

The European Union has also addressed the issue of trafficking from the standpoint of immigration policy and asylum law.  With increased cooperation between EU member States, the need arose to develop a common approach to immigration procedure, border controls and asylum policy.  European member States have been undergoing a process of harmonization of their asylum procedures, generally with the aim of tightening regulations and limiting the number of asylum seekers.  Some human rights activists have argued that the harmonization process has had a negative impact on addressing the problem of trafficking since decreased opportunities to immigrate legally lead to an increase in the need for traffickers’ services.  In February 2002, however, in the face of increased trafficking, the European Union drafted a Proposal for a Council Directive “on the short-term residence permit issued to victims of action to facilitate illegal immigration or trafficking in human beings who cooperate with the competent authorities,” COM(2002) 71 final, 2002/0043 (CNS).  The aim of the proposal is the creation of a directive that would introduce a residency permit to be issued to adult victims of trafficking or illegal immigration who are third-country nationals.  The victims would be granted a 30-day period in which to consider whether they will cooperate with national authorities in the prosecution of traffickers.  During this period, the trafficked person would be eligible for aid, in the form of housing, medical and psychological care and other forms of social assistance.  The proposal also calls for the possibility of issuing a short-term (six month) residency period for those victims who cooperate with authorities.  The purpose of introducing such a residency permit is to combat illegal immigration, and therefore the proposal does not include measures about victim protection, witness protection or combating organized crime.  Victim protection and witness protection are addressed as matters of European and national law. 

The issue of trafficking has also been raised in the context of the European Union accession process.  While all EU member States are affected by the problem of trafficking in women, labor migration patterns flow from Central and Eastern European countries, including EU candidate countries, to Western Europe.  Thus, it has become an important criterion for accession for candidate countries to bring their law and policy on the issue of trafficking in line with international and European standards.   Further information about the European Union accession process generally is available on this website in the section that discusses the European Human Rights system.

The European Union website includes a page with an overview of EU strategies and actions.  While the site does not include links to all EU resolutions on trafficking, it does include information about funding and work at the UN and Council of Europe levels.

The European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), an umbrella organization of 73 refugee-assistance agencies located in 30 countries, hosts a site on European Union documents related to trafficking and immigrant smuggling. 

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is not strictly a human rights body and therefore cannot create binding obligations for national governments.  Nevertheless, the OSCE recognizes the importance of ensuring human rights protection in order to achieve security in Europe.  The OSCE has recognized that the transition period in many CEE and CIS countries has brought about increased violence against women and the emergence of trafficking. 

The Moscow Concluding Document of 1991 creates political obligations, though not legal obligations, for OSCE Member States “to seek to eliminate all forms of violence against women, and all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women including by ensuring adequate legal prohibitions against such acts and other appropriate measures.”  

In 2000, the Ministerial Council adopted Decision No. 1, Enhancing The OSCE’s Efforts To Combat Trafficking In Human Being (MC(8).DEC/1), in which the OSCE agreed to strengthen its activities to combat trafficking and called upon all OSCE institutions to develop and implement anti-trafficking programs.  In addition, the OSCE committed to

take necessary measures, including by adopting and implementing legislation, to criminalize trafficking in human beings, including appropriate penalties, with a view to ensuring effective law enforcement response and prosecution.  Such legislation should take into account a human rights approach to the problem of trafficking, and include provision for the protection of the human rights of victims, ensuring that victims of trafficking do not face prosecution solely because they have been trafficked.

On the issue of the provision of victim services, the language used by the Ministerial Council is weaker, stating that the OSCE would “consider adopting legislative or other appropriate measures, such as shelters, which permit victims of trafficking in persons to remain in their territories, temporarily or permanently, in appropriate cases; . . . and developing policies concerning the provision of economic and social benefits to victims as well as their rehabilitation and reintegration in society.” 

The commitments of the OSCE were reiterated by a later Ministerial Council decision, Decision No. 6 (MC(9).DEC/6) of December 2001.

The OSCE has also created a number of working documents, which can be informative to advocates working on legislative change.  The OSCE background paper Trafficking In Human Beings: Implications for the OSCE, (1999/3), for example, defines OSCE commitments to combat trafficking and includes an overview of international standards, which obligate States to prevent violations of human rights, to investigate violations, to take appropriate action against the violators, and to afford remedies and reparation to those who have been injured as a consequence of such violations.  The background paper provides an analysis of the status of implementation of anti-trafficking measures in the OSCE region.  The background paper is also available in Russian: Проблема контрабанды людей: задачи ОБСЕ.

The OSCE Reference Guide for Anti-Trafficking Legislative Review, created in September 2001, provides a comprehensive view of the types of legislation necessary for an effective anti-trafficking policy.  The guide addresses prevention, prosecution and protection and assistance for victims, providing international standards, examples of national legislation and recommendations for legal initiatives that fall within each broad topic.  The Reference Guide is also available in Russian: Руководящие Принципы по Пересмотру Законодательства против Торговли Людьми. and in Serbian: Priručnik za Reviziju Zakonske Regulative protiv Trgovine Ljudima.

The trafficking unit of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights has a website, which includes links to key documents that address anti-trafficking policy and initiatives. 

The Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe: 
Task Force on Trafficking in Human Beings

The Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe was adopted by European Union initiative in 1999 with the aim of strengthening the countries in Southeastern Europe “in their efforts to foster peace, democracy, respect for human rights and economic prosperity in order to achieve stability in the whole region.”  The Stability Pact partners include the European Union member States, countries in the region (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, FYR Macedonia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Yugoslavia, Turkey and Moldova), non-EU members of the G-8 (U.S., Canada, Japan and Russia), Norway, Switzerland, other international organizations, such as the UN, OSCE, Council of Europe, NATO, and world financial institutions, such as the World Bank.  The work of the Stability Pact is organized under three Working Tables; the first addresses democratization and human rights, the second addresses economic reconstruction and the third focuses on security issues.  The Stability Pact addresses the problem of trafficking through the Task Force on Trafficking in Human Beings, whose work arguably fits under both Working Table I and III.

The Task Force on Trafficking in Human Beings is the division of the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe (SEE), which serves a clearinghouse function, gathering the expertise of different institutions and experts dealing with trafficking in human beings.  The Task Force is then able to provide governments with a comprehensive understanding of the inter-related challenges poised by the problem of trafficking as well as best practices for anti-trafficking activities.  While the Task Force does not create law, it has formulated important policy on national and regional counter-measures.  The focus of the work of the Task Force is on seven areas of concern: awareness raising; training and exchange programs; law enforcement co-operation; victim protection programs; return and reintegration assistance; relevant legislative reform; and prevention.  Although the Task Force on Trafficking works closely with the governments of southeastern European nations, its policy and recommendations provide useful guidance for the creation of anti-trafficking law and initiatives in other regions.

In December 2000, the Anti-Trafficking Declaration of SEE was signed at a Regional Ministerial Forum in Palermo, Italy by Government Ministers and representatives of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, Slovenia, Turkey, Montenegro and Kosovo.  The Anti-Trafficking Declaration creates no legal obligations but is a politically important document for the signatory countries.  By signing the Anti-Trafficking Declaration, the signatories “underline the responsibility of the States to address the phenomenon of trafficking in human beings by implementing effective programs of prevention, victim assistance and protection, legislative reform, law enforcement and prosecution of traffickers.”  The Anti-Trafficking Declaration also sets forth the commitment to coordinate national efforts and to exchange information about national actions. 

The Task Force on Trafficking in Human Beings issued guidelines for national action plans to combat trafficking in human beings in order to assist the signatory nations in addressing the problem of trafficking in each county.  Thus, subsequent to signing the Anti-Trafficking Declaration, the governments of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Moldova and Romania all created National Plans of Action which provide an analysis of the problem of trafficking in women in each country, an overview of existing legislation and set forth specific actions to be taken by government structures.

In 2001, the Task Force created the Multiyear Anti-Trafficking Action Plan for South Eastern Europe, which outlines a co-coordinated, multidisciplinary approach to combating trafficking in the region.  The Action Plan describes a core cluster of projects aimed at victim protection and intended to be implemented cooperatively by the Task Force, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and local NGOs.  These core projects include the creation of a regional clearing point to collect and analyze information and statistics about current trafficking cases and to monitor the response, the creation of a national referral system to assist trafficked persons, the establishment of shelters and safehouses, strengthening return and repatriation programs and conducting an inventory of the current situation of and responses to trafficking in SEE.  The goal of the Action Plan is to create a “regional network of counter-measures” to enhance the national action plans, with a focus on the protection of victims through the establishment and improvement of shelters and referral systems in the region.  In addition, the Task Force has recognized a need for improved legislation and law enforcement policies as well as the necessity of training and capacity building of relevant professionals. 

Recently, the Task Force and regional government ministers of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo agreed to adopt a victim-centered approach to trafficking..  Previously, they had focused mainly on law enforcement.  At the Third Regional Ministerial Forum of the Task Force, in December 2002, the above-mentioned countries signed a Statement on Commitments to Legalize the Status of Trafficked Persons in which they agreed to improve the protection of trafficking victims, through such actions as: improving the identification of trafficked persons; refraining from immediate deportation of victims of trafficking; referring possible victims to social assistance (shelters, health case, legal advice); granting victims of trafficking status to remain in state’s territory temporarily; issuing temporary residence permits until completion of legal proceedings or when appropriate; and developing witness protection programs. 

The Task Force on Trafficking in Human Beings maintains a website of Action Plans and Projects, all of which can be accessed electronically. 

Trafficking in Women: Law and Policy  The International Legal Framework  |  The Domestic Legal Framework  |  List of Law and Policy Documents

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