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A temporary residence permit for victims of the people trafficking

Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe, says the new European convention against trafficking in human beings, in preparation at the Council, must meet two major challenges: improve protection of the victims and set up effective monitoring machinery.

Council of Europe (26.01.2004)

Question: Why has the Council of Europe decided to go into top gear by producing a European convention against trafficking in human beings?

Maud de Boer-Buquicchio: We don’t have very reliable statistics, but we’re convinced that the people trade is very much on the increase. We want to have an instrument with more binding force than mere political recommendations, which in legal terms are obviously not as effective as an international treaty. The purpose of this convention is to deal with the different aspects of the people trade: by taking preventive action, but also by protecting victims, introducing criminal proceedings against traffickers and developing international co-operation. At the same time, it’s important to heighten awareness among police officers, social workers, teachers and all the other players who can help curb this trade, because the victims are much closer to us than we think.

Question: You said this European convention would go further than the United Nations protocol (Palermo-2000). On what specific points can we expect progress?

Maud de Boer-Buquicchio: We hope to move forward in terms of victim protection and in setting up monitoring machinery that will allow a committee of independent experts to report on developments in the situation in the signatory states. They could also make visits to assess the application of the convention.

Question: By introducing measures to protect victims, isn’t the Council of Europe undermining the European Union’s tougher stance on migration?

Maud de Boer-Buquicchio: Yes, that’s one of the trickiest problems we have to face in our negotiations. I think we can still reach a consensus by recognising that victims of the people trade aren’t willingly illegal migrants; most of them are victims of deceit. In that case, the usual views on illegal migration should give way to recognition of their status as victims. Offering victims the protection of a temporary residence permit would be a way of countering the people trade more effectively because it would make it easier for them to denounce the traffickers.

Question: The Council of Europe includes countries of origin of the people trade, transit countries and receiving countries. Don’t their interests conflict too much for you to hope to reach more than a minimal consensus?

Maud de Boer-Buquicchio: That’s one of the challenges facing the convention. The negotiations won’t be easy, but all the same, we have the case-law established by the European Court of Human Rights, which our member states recognise, of course. Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits torture and degrading treatment, is highly relevant to this issue.

Question: What stage has the current committee’s work reached? When do you hope to have the final text?

Maud de Boer-Buquicchio: We’ve already worked on preventive measures and measures to protect victims. The February meeting will deal with criminal proceedings against traffickers and international co-operation. The next difficult stage will be reaching an agreement on the monitoring machinery. We hope the convention will be completed for the next summit of heads of state and government of the Council of Europe, which is scheduled for the first half of 2005. It’s a tough timetable, but we need to act fast.