Human trafficking

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NATO’s new human trafficking policy: they go where no defence rooted policy has gone before

Today we welcome as our guest blogger Dr Julia Muraszkiewicz, who is Head of Programme for Human Trafficking and Human Rights at Trilateral Research, a company dedicated to providing Ethical AI solutions for complex social problems. An international legal expert, Dr Muraszkiewicz describes herself as working 'at the crossroads of human trafficking, human rights, human security, and criminal law.’ Here she reviews recent changes to NATO’s human trafficking strategy.

Dr Julia Muraszkiewicz, Head of Programme for Human Trafficking and Human Rights at Trilateral Research

Somewhat slow to update its 2004 Human Trafficking strategy, the countries in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation known as NATO finally bit the bullet, and in July 2023 approved the decision to strengthen their Policy on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings.

The 32-paragraph document, which brings to the table coherence and commitment regarding the organisation’s role in addressing and understanding human trafficking, makes for encouraging reading. And this is not said lightly. As an academic one is trained to critically analyse every policy and to find room for improvement in any document under scrutiny, and so on opening the document I was ready to critically examine it. I was pleasantly surprised.

As was to be expected the document sits within wider human security considerations, with paragraph two outlining that a ‘human security approach allows a more comprehensive view of the human environment, consequently enhancing operational effectiveness and contributing to lasting peace and security.’ The link between human security and human trafficking is indeed a strong one. With the concept of human security placing focus on an individual’s freedom from fear, want, and indignity, it goes beyond traditional conceptions of security by viewing individuals, rather than states, as the key object of attention. Human security also advances a normative agenda that places a premium on the survival, livelihood and dignity of the individual. In doing so human security mandates the addressing of factors that negatively impact on a person’s freedom from fear and want, with human trafficking being an obvious one. Human trafficking, a crime that is both a product of conflict and a fuel for it (e.g., through providing revenue), is often found at the intersection of all other threats to human security. Unsurprisingly, the links between the two concepts have been made many times, and though the new policy re-affirms it, this is not where its modernisation lies.

What is most progressive is that the document acknowledges that NATO Member States and their troops (para. 14 states that this policy applies to all NATO personnel in all Alliance operations) may be the only ones present in situations of conflict where human trafficking is happening, and that the responsibility to do something lies with them. Paragraph 26 states:

In extremis, when and where other actors in the mission area are not able to access victims and survivors, NATO will, within the given mandate and where possible within means and capabilities, provide emergency first response to victims and survivors, including medical assistance, and refer victims and survivors to local services, international and civil society organisations, as appropriate.

NATO Policy on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings: Paragraph 26

Despite the presence of customary disclaimers such as 'given mandate' and 'where possible' - phrases often found in international policy to account for political complexities - the shift towards placing human trafficking in defence's lap marks a significant departure from the prevailing status quo. Previously, defence stakeholders were relegated to the fringes of discussions surrounding anti-human trafficking efforts, with some themselves staunchly opposing military participation. However, the current stance represents a monumental leap forward, reflecting a growing recognition of the urgent need for defence actors to actively engage in addressing human trafficking. Incorporating this provision serves as a testament to the drafters' responsiveness to the input and advocacy of non-government organisations (NGOs), academics, and subject matter experts whom they consulted, all of whom steadfastly advocated for a victim-centred approach.

I have consistently advocated for military involvement in tackling human trafficking, whilst acknowledging that their role of course is not to construct safehouses or take on the role of the police and other stakeholders in prosecuting and preventing this crime. Instead, the military can help identify victims, particularly as in some situations they may be the only ones present to do so. Some victims only exist in contexts that military troops are attuned to, as in the case of child soldiers or soldier brides. As such, what truly stands out for me is the transformative focus on supporting victims, epitomising the essence of human security. This humanistic perspective recognises the imperative of safeguarding individuals, underscoring the symbiotic relationship between protecting human rights and ensuring lasting peace and security. Such a breakthrough marks a significant milestone in the pursuit of comprehensive and effective measures against human trafficking.

Moreover, the military's unparalleled access to conflict zones allows them to bear witness to first-hand accounts, which can be transformed into crucial data, urgently required for combating this pervasive issue. Therefore, it is both gratifying and significant to observe an entire section dedicated to Reporting and Information Sharing in the policy, underscoring the importance placed on this aspect. An example of this is found in paragraph 27 (emphasis added):

Within the given mandate, all personnel in NATO missions, operations and activities must report any incidents of trafficking in human beings that they observe, or that a victim or survivor reports to them, in accordance with established reporting mechanisms, through the NATO chain of command and to relevant actors with a legal mandate to action on the reporting.

NATO Policy on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings: Paragraph 27

This paragraph is commendable. Now the imperative lies in effectively operationalising this commitment and translating it into practical action. To achieve this, the establishment of a centralised system capable of securely storing, processing, and extracting insights from the collected data becomes crucial. Leveraging advanced technologies such as ethical artificial intelligence (AI) could further enhance the effectiveness of this system, enabling the identification of patterns, trends, and potential interventions; see for example the STRIAD analytics platform developed by Trilateral Research. The use of such a comprehensive framework would signify a significant stride towards effectively combating human trafficking and upholding the principles enshrined in the policy.

The policy encompasses several other noteworthy elements, including a commendable emphasis on advancing education and training, a dedicated commitment to due diligence in NATO procurement, and a thoughtful approach to addressing human trafficking through gender-responsive, age-sensitive, victim-centred, and trauma-informed lenses. The policy comes at a time when conflicts around the world continue to erupt, and thus human trafficking continues to pose a serious risk for populations, and a concern for the international community. Let's see how policy turns into practice, though, because recognising the risk of human trafficking by NATO is only the first step. Now they are obliged to act.

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