Retour 50th meeting of the Group of experts on GRETA

As delivered by Bjørn Berge, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe


Thank you, President,

Chair of the Committee of the Parties of GRETA, dear Maria,

Deputy Permanent Representative of Liechtenstein, dear Helen,

Former GRETA Presidents and Vice-Presidents,

Distinguished experts and guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

A very good morning to all of you.

It is a pleasure to mark two important milestones with you here today –

The 15th anniversary of GRETA –

And its 50th plenary meeting.

Certainly, GRETA’s work has been of fundamental importance –

Human trafficking is an appalling abuse that stands in direct violation of the European Convention of Human Rights –

Including Article 4, which states that “no one shall be held in slavery or servitude” or –

“Required to perform forced or compulsory labour.”

This has the force of law in all 46 of our member states.

So too does our Convention on Action against Trafficking, which has been ratified not only by the same 46, but also by non-member states –

And which was the first international instrument to take a human rights-centred approach to this fundamental challenge.

What was always clear, however, is that this important text needs to be accompanied by the work of an expert group –

And expert monitoring –

So that evolving or emerging issues, and gaps in governments’ responses, are identified and addressed –

And also that countries can help one another to tackle what is so often a cross-border issue.

This is where GRETA – and the Committee of the Parties – have proven vital.

Just look at the guidance notes that GRETA has issued on the entitlement of victims of trafficking, and persons at risk of being trafficked,
to international protection –

On preventing and combating human trafficking for the purposes of labour exploitation.

And, more recently, “on addressing the risks of trafficking human beings related to the war in Ukraine and the ensuing humanitarian crisis”.

In this context, GRETA’s country visits to Ukraine over the past two years have been crucial for collecting information on the steps needed to prevent and limit the risk of trafficking –

And help those Ukrainians who have fallen victim
to it.

You are right to say that the vulnerability of the millions affected by this appalling war of aggression might only get worse –

And that co-ordinated action, and the rapid exchange of information, will be needed to prevent such crimes, to protect victims, and to prosecute
the perpetrators.

We must do everything that we can to ensure that this is the case.

GRETA’s success over the years, and moving forward, owes a great deal to the rigour of
its monitoring work –

With reports that address all the pertinent issues from gender equality to the needs of the most vulnerable groups, including children and minorities –

And the three evaluation rounds that have been conducted –

Taking in more than 130 country visits –

Have helped paint a clear picture of the trends, practices and challenges that affect parties to the Convention –

So that action can be taken.

This is what we need.

I know that the fourth evaluation round, currently underway, will only build on this important work –

And by including issues such as the impact of information and communication technology on combating human trafficking, GRETA is showing its capacity and willingness to keep pace with change in our societies.

We also need to be able to offer our expertise and assistance to our member states.

And we know that this approach works.

The external independent evaluation commissioned last year confirmed it –

Laying out in plain terms that monitoring and
co-operation projects have helped governments to implement GRETA’s recommendations –

And have contributed to many changes in legislation, policy and practice in countries throughout the continent.

What does this change look like in practice?

The answer is wide and varied –

But I think of Armenia’s 2015 “Law on the Identification and Support to Persons Subjected to Trafficking” –

Which includes provisions drawn from GRETA report recommendations –

On the recovery and reflection period that should be granted to victims for their decision on future steps, on temporary residence and work permits for victims, and on state compensation for victims too.

And I think also of Portugal’s decision to open specialised shelters for male and child victims of trafficking –

As well as for women –

In line with GRETA’s recommendation that safe accommodation should be provided for all victims.

There are of course lots more examples –

Which many of you have had a hand in delivering.

Some of these are captured in the comprehensive document, “Practical Impact of GRETA’s Monitoring Work”, which has been updated for this 50th meeting.

Dear friends,

The changes that GRETA brings about are not only at the executive level in member states, of course.

They also stem from the influence its work has on other authorities.

There is the Committee of Ministers, which uses GRETA’s monitoring and guidance, including in formulating its own Recommendation on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings for the purpose of labour exploitation.

There is the impact of court decisions at the national level and from the European Court of Human Rights where GRETA has made written submissions –

Most recently in the case of Krachunova v. Bulgaria –

Delivered last November, and which found that member states have a positive obligation to enable victims to claim compensation from their traffickers for loss of earnings.

And then there is the fact that GRETA reports are used to inform the work of European Union bodies and other international organisations.

So, I believe that your work, has truly influenced change on a wide and positive scale.

Lastly, I want to draw attention to the strong role that you have reserved for civil society –

This is really fundamental – and I want to commend the extraordinary work NGOs and civil society organisations do throughout Europe.

In the implementation of the Convention on Action against Trafficking –

In the evaluation process, where GRETA holds meetings with civil society representatives during each country visit –

And in the organised hearings that you have held with NGOs involved in this field.

This is also very much in line with the Council of Europe’s recent reforms to further enhance our contacts and concrete co-operation with civil society and to open-up greater access for civil society –

Here, the Secretary General’s new roadmap outlining the ways in which civil society should be factored into all major areas of our work is key –

As well as the Reykjavík Declaration issued by European leaders at our Summit of Heads of State and Government last year –

Which was crystal clear about the added value that civil society actors bring.

In many ways, you have been ahead of the curve on this, and I can only urge you to maintain that pro-active approach, and always look for opportunities to do even more.

Dear friends,

GRETA’s story – your story – is one of commitment and delivery.

This would not have been possible without the hard work of so many experts – past and present – and I am happy to welcome so many former members –

Including past Presidents –

Here today.

Your expertise, insights and hard work –

Have led to real change –

Lives have been transformed, some even saved.

The innovative approach that you have taken has allowed you not only to follow the trends, but to counter them.

This we can build on in the years to come, and help GRETA continue its much needed work.

You have made a huge difference!

And that is truly something to celebrate!

Again, congratulations on this 50th meeting and
15th anniversary.

Thank you for your attention.

strasbourg 22 March 2024
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