Enhancing Criminal Accountability and Addressing Challenges in Prosecution Efforts

Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons


The TVPA defines “severe forms of trafficking in persons” as:

  • sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age; or
  • the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

A victim need not be physically transported from one location to another for the crime to fall within this definition.

The modern anti-trafficking movement commenced in earnest with the adoption of the Palermo Protocol in 2000, and since then has grown substantially. Governments have made progress and continue to work to pass and implement legislation criminalizing all forms of human trafficking, collaborate with civil society and human trafficking survivors to strengthen victim protections at the policy and grassroots levels, and take prevention measures and raise public awareness about the dangers and indicators of modern slavery.

While this progress is encouraging, traffickers around the world continue to exploit millions of victims in forced labor and sex trafficking. This multi-billion dollar industry destroys families and communities, weakens the rule of law, strengthens criminal networks, and offends universal concepts of human decency.

Although support from civil society and international organizations has led to more holistic and effective anti-trafficking solutions, governments bear primary responsibility for addressing human trafficking. That is why the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report annually measures government efforts across the 3P paradigm of prosecuting traffickers, protecting victims, and preventing the crime.

In the last five years, the Introduction to this Report has examined the protection and prevention elements of this paradigm to enhance understanding of the crime and highlight global trends and achievements in combating it. For instance, the Report has explained the importance of using a victim-centered approach to identify and protect victims, and also to effectively prosecute trafficking cases. It has taken a hard look at the journey from victim to survivor and at the support survivors need to reclaim their lives. And it has profiled a wide range of effective strategies to prevent human trafficking, including by examining vulnerabilities in global supply chains.

This year’s Introduction focuses on prosecution efforts—the distinct responsibility governments bear under the Palermo Protocol to criminalize human trafficking in all its forms and to prosecute and hold offenders accountable for their crimes.

Human trafficking is not analogous to migrant smuggling (a crime against a state by which an individual voluntarily enters into an agreement with another party to gain illegal entry into a foreign country) or employment-related wage and hour abuses (administrative violations of labor law). Under the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), an effective criminal justice response to human trafficking should treat the prosecution of cases as seriously as other grave crimes, such as kidnapping or rape, and impose consequences that are severe enough to be a deterrent.

Effective anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts are challenging. Human trafficking often unfolds in various stages and over extended periods of time, typically involving multiple actors. Human trafficking is a hidden crime, in which perpetrators take advantage of power imbalances and coerce and intimidate their victims into silence. Victims of trafficking may not know they are entitled to legal protection and may fear being prosecuted or punished for crimes or immigration violations committed as a direct result of the trafficking scheme. Even if a victim initially consents to enter into a situation in which exploitation later occurs, or to participate in criminal acts during such exploitation, such consent is legally irrelevant under the Palermo Protocol once that person is subjected to compelled service through force, fraud, or coercion. In all of these scenarios, law enforcement must collect evidence to enable prosecutors to prove suspects intended to exploit someone, often with few, if any, corroborating witnesses. Where the crime takes place across multiple countries, governments may face additional challenges securing international cooperation, as well as jurisdiction, to effectively investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes.

The pages that follow examine the importance of a comprehensive anti-trafficking law, the need for criminal accountability with strong deterrent effects, and some of the challenges governments face in investigating and prosecuting human trafficking crimes.

Scope and Efficacy of National Anti-Trafficking Laws

The primary tool needed for effective prosecution of trafficking cases is a comprehensive anti-trafficking law that clearly defines the crime consistent with international law—specifying the acts, means, and ends. Such laws set the framework for all national anti-trafficking efforts. They give authority to law enforcement initiatives and provide clarity to justice sector officials so they can use the provisions during the investigation and prosecution of suspected trafficking crimes.

As it relates to prosecution and law enforcement, a strong anti-trafficking law includes:

  • The criminalization of all forms of trafficking in persons.
  • A clear definition of human trafficking that describes the acts, means, and ends, as distinct from related crimes—such as migrant smuggling, prostitution, kidnapping, organ trafficking, or illegal adoption.
  • Penalties of imprisonment for the commission of trafficking crimes that are commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape or kidnapping.
  • A mandate setting forth clear roles and responsibilities for relevant government agencies or ministries, including with respect to inter-ministerial coordination of anti-trafficking policies.

Strong, comprehensive anti-trafficking laws signal governments’ commitment not to tolerate human trafficking and give law enforcement and prosecutors the tools needed to secure convictions and justice for victims.

Criminal Accountability and Strong Deterrence

In addition to protecting victims from retribution or re-victimization, an effective criminal justice response brings traffickers to justice both to punish them for their crimes and to deter others. Yet, in many countries, governments struggle to hold perpetrators of human trafficking criminally accountable and, even when convictions are obtained, they sometimes impose suspended sentences, fines, or administrative penalties in place of prison sentences.

As noted above, a strong anti-trafficking response should recognize the serious nature of trafficking in persons and impose punishments commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes in a given country, such as rape and kidnapping. For example, in 2015, courts in Lithuania convicted 17 traffickers and sentenced all of them to time in prison, with terms ranging from three to eight years’ imprisonment, which are commensurate with penalties for other serious crimes. Lithuania also amended its criminal code in 2014 to ensure child sex traffickers tried on prostitution charges could not benefit from lighter sentences. That amendment increased the prescribed penalties for profiting from prostitution and removed a provision permitting judges to consider whether a child had consented, better reflecting the requirements of international law that children cannot consent to sex trafficking. In addition to offering justice to victims of exploitation, strict penalties can serve as a stronger deterrent for would-be traffickers.

Yet many governments do not impose sentences that include adequate jail time. Judicial officials in many countries frequently impose suspended sentences, fines, or administrative penalties on human traffickers. These less severe punishments can result from broader sentencing guidelines, lack of understanding regarding the crime of human trafficking, systemic inefficiencies in criminal justice systems, or socio-cultural considerations, among other reasons. In other countries, human trafficking laws allow judges to impose a fine in lieu of incarceration, a practice that can limit the potential for a true deterrent effect for the defendant and other traffickers. Traffickers who have exploited others for profit often have the means to pay fines, which become a mere cost of doing business.

While cultural perceptions of criminal justice may create disparities in the way countries assess and penalize suspected criminals, the Palermo Protocol, to which 170 States are party, does not allow for cultural variations. For example, access to justice should be extended to all victims regardless of age or gender, and to vulnerable populations that may typically experience discrimination. Similarly, the prosecution of trafficking cases should move forward regardless of the gender of the trafficker. The judicial system should prioritize both sex trafficking and labor trafficking cases, and adult and male victims as well as women and children.

For example, in recent years, the Government of Bahrain began to criminally prosecute potential labor law violations that rose to the level of human trafficking. In 2014, Bahrain’s Ministry of Labor referred 63 such cases for prosecution out of 427 pending labor violations. Previously, none of these types of cases were investigated under the criminal law but were treated administratively. This improvement in sanctioning labor traffickers is significant and provides a greater deterrent effect.

Ideally, and consistent with the Palermo Protocol, a victim-centered legal framework should also authorize court-ordered restitution or compensation to victims in conjunction with the successful conviction of traffickers. Several governments have gone further to make restitution mandatory to provide victims with monetary support for damages suffered. In 2015, a judge in Guyana sentenced a convicted trafficker to a three-year prison sentence and required her to pay the victim restitution—the first time a court ordered restitution by a trafficker in that country. In Switzerland, 28 victims received restitution payments from their traffickers following their 2015 convictions. In March 2015, a court in Australia ordered a convicted trafficker to pay the equivalent of $134,000 in back wages and interest to the Indian national he had subjected to forced labor. In many other instances, however, even in countries with well-developed justice systems, courts do not award restitution during criminal sentencing and, in some cases, prosecutors fail to request restitution on behalf of victims.

Common Challenges in the Pursuit of Justice

Effective anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts are inherently challenging and even the most effective governments struggle to address the crime comprehensively. Worldwide convictions of human traffickers listed in this year’s Report were fewer than 10,000, while estimates of the number of victims of human trafficking remain in the tens of millions. Even with the low numbers of convictions, however, many criminal justice systems around the world are faced with cases that exceed their processing capacity. Limited funding and poor training for personnel impede the investigation of many types of crimes, including human trafficking. Often, the time and resources that do exist are stretched across competing priorities. These challenges must be addressed head on.

Barriers to Building a Strong Case

Building a strong human trafficking case can be complex and unwieldy. In many instances, police officials begin an investigation with a single victim who often may be the only witness who can describe the force, fraud, or coercion experienced in the course of his or her victimization. Officials must then gather evidence to corroborate that testimony, which is often a challenging and time-consuming process. It is vital that law enforcement is sufficiently trained on how to corroborate the victim’s testimony and how to gather evidence to prove a suspect’s intent to exploit a person in forced labor or sex trafficking. In addition, investigators and prosecutors should work together during the investigation stage to ensure the necessary evidence is collected and any weaknesses in the case are addressed as early as possible. Inadequate or incomplete evidence is often to blame for the lack of successful trafficking cases around the world.

In response to certain issues in evidence collection, governments in some countries have increased coordination between police and prosecutors. In South Africa, the National Prosecuting Authority leads national anti-trafficking efforts, with prosecutors overseeing provincial anti-trafficking taskforces—allowing them to lead provincial law enforcement efforts and trainings for respective police and community personnel country-wide, further building the expertise and network of trained professionals.

Law enforcement and judicial officials need advanced training to develop appropriate investigation and evidence-processing techniques. In Ukraine, the Prosecutor General issued a directive in 2017 to give human trafficking investigations priority access to surveillance resources. In Cambodia, local organizations and even some officials acknowledge an urgent need for the law to authorize sophisticated evidence-collection techniques, including undercover investigations, wiretaps, and the ability to seek search warrants. These techniques can help law enforcement decrease reliance on witness testimony and adapt to the increasingly clandestine nature of human trafficking in Cambodia. Without such authority, law enforcement is limited in its ability to investigate these cases and is forced to close them when evidence cannot be obtained. In many other countries, the challenge lies in collecting and processing forensic evidence that can be lawfully admitted in court proceedings.

Delays in Prosecution

In many countries, backlogs in the courts or with over-burdened law enforcement personnel delay prosecutions and slow the delivery of justice. Many governments lack adequate personnel to handle time-intensive trafficking cases or face high personnel turnover of those officials with experience to prosecute them. Significant delays in prosecution can discourage victims from testifying or pursuing a case, or may have the practical result that the individual is no longer in the country or available to assist law enforcement or testify at trial. Worse, these delays can allow traffickers to continue exploiting, threatening, or intimidating victims, including survivors whose testimony is necessary to achieve a conviction.

With limited resources and staff, some governments have made efforts to designate specialized prosecutors to manage anti-trafficking caseloads, a step that facilitates the development of expertise on the investigation and prosecution of complex trafficking cases and allows for continued attention to combating this crime. For example, a specialized prosecutor would understand why a trafficking victim may initially lie to law enforcement about the facts of the crime or even describe a willing involvement in the trafficking scheme. An inexperienced prosecutor may see a reluctant or untruthful witness as an impediment to prosecution, instead of seeing evidence of the trafficker’s success in controlling the victim such that he or she does not feel safe confiding in law enforcement. Specialized prosecutors better understand how to navigate these challenges.

In Botswana, after the passage of the 2014 Anti-Human Trafficking Act, the Directorate of Public Prosecutions designated a prosecutor to specialize in building trafficking prosecutions. Such specialized staff understand the intricacies and issues that routinely arise in a trafficking case and can share this information with other judicial sector officials through routine trainings and case work. Specialized prosecutors also gain an understanding of the needs and demands on victim-witnesses and can develop specialized mechanisms to assist them.

Supreme Court of the Philippines instituted the continuous trial system pilot project in 2014 to significantly expedite human trafficking prosecutions. During its first year, the court completed seven trafficking cases in less than one year and it continued to expedite trafficking prosecutions in subsequent years, even though some cases remain pending prosecution. By comparison, in 2013, trafficking cases prosecuted in the Philippines took an average of three-and-a-half to five years to complete.

In some countries with a civil law system, trafficking is treated as a high crime, requiring trials at the high court level, which may not convene regularly or address trafficking matters given other critical caseloads and limited resources. To address this, governments should encourage high courts to hold routine sessions, fund special sessions to prevent or reduce case backlogs, or prioritize human trafficking cases when setting court dates.

Non-Criminal Resolutions

A criminal investigation and trial may be time- and resource-intensive, with no guarantee of a conviction or financial restitution. Lengthy judicial processes in turn can cause victims to become frustrated and discouraged with the legal system; victims who are traumatized and seek to move on with their lives may simply stop participating if the investigation or prosecution drags on too long. It is also often expensive for victims to travel to and stay in cities where trials are located. Defendants may seek to postpone or draw out a trial as a tactic, knowing that victims may be unable economically or emotionally to continue to participate and press their claims. Often the same realities that make individuals vulnerable to human trafficking, including economic pressures, discrimination, and a lack of agency, persist when the trafficking scheme ends. Support services and access to work authorization often allow victims to continue participating in long trials.

Given all of these challenges, human trafficking victims sometimes choose to mediate or settle their cases out-of-court, rather than participate in criminal proceedings. These alternative venues are seen as speedier and more likely to secure a positive result—in the form of financial compensation, including monetary payments for back wages or labor law violations. NGOs may even advise victims in some countries to seek mediation over criminal investigations to avoid the financial and emotional drain that may result where criminal proceedings are not likely to result in a conviction. In other instances, victims may prefer agreements on back wages or damages through an out-of-court settlement rather than risk the exposure and uncertainty of a criminal trial that, even if successful, will fail to compensate the victim financially.

For example, in Laos, the government has encouraged victims to cooperate with prosecutors, and the Lao Women’s Union has made efforts to familiarize individual victims with the criminal court process; however, in previous years, an overall lack of incentives, resources, and lawyers made it difficult for victims to fully participate in formal legal proceedings, which could be lengthy and unlikely to include restitution awards. Rather than support prosecution efforts in the courts, this situation led some victims to choose traditional out-of-court mediation for faster closure and financial redress.

Mediation procedures, however, fall short of the Palermo Protocol’s standards, which defines trafficking in persons as a crime to be prosecuted, not a civil wrong to be remedied by damages. In addition, terms of imprisonment commensurate with the heinous nature of the crime are expected to serve as a more effective deterrent than monetary damages or penalties alone. Even in countries in which legal systems allow for both civil and criminal cases to be brought against alleged traffickers, the civil claim ideally occurs in addition to a criminal case, not as an alternative. Governments must work to instill confidence in criminal justice systems and hold perpetrators of human trafficking accountable. Without prison sentences, human traffickers will likely not be deterred effectively.

Complicity and Corruption

Those who enforce the law are not above the law. Official complicity is a problem that plagues many criminal justice systems. In some countries, law enforcement personnel ignore clear signs of exploitation or actively participate in or facilitate human trafficking. Some police officials work when they are off-duty as security guards at brothels or other establishments where sex trafficking victims are exploited, making them potentially complicit with traffickers and reducing the likelihood victims would trust police enough to report such crimes. At borders, some officials take bribes to allow illegal crossings of trafficking victims or smuggled migrants who are vulnerable to trafficking and may later face exploitation; others may produce fraudulent documents for traffickers or their associates. Still other government officials are culpable for using their positions to facilitate or commit trafficking crimes for their own financial gain or even exploit victims themselves, such as by subjecting their household workers to domestic servitude or knowingly purchasing commercial sex from trafficking victims.

Because of law enforcement officials’ unique position in government, they are also able to obstruct investigations. At times prompted by bribes or pressure from suspected traffickers or complicit officials, some law enforcement officials intentionally delay investigative efforts by slowing down evidence processing and requesting adjournments, among other practices. This can lengthen or delay the process and the commencement of a trial. As noted earlier, delays increase the burden on victims, including the financial burden, and may discourage their continued participation in criminal trials. These delays also allow traffickers and complicit officials more time to intimidate witnesses and their families.

It is vital that governments investigate vigorously any signs of official complicity and prosecute government and law enforcement officials both for any involvement in the crime and for related corrupt acts. Complicit government officials should face criminal accountability and stringent sentences, not merely reassignment or other administrative measures. Accountability creates a strong deterrent for any other potentially complicit officials. Publicly prosecuting corruption also builds trust in government in general and law enforcement in particular, and it can encourage victims and witnesses to report human trafficking cases.

Many governments are taking locally appropriate measures to respond to corruption and complicity. For example, in 2015, Antigua and Barbuda’s Royal Police Force passed a new standing order prohibiting police officers from engaging in secondary employment at night clubs and strip clubs. This type of secondary employment is common practice in the region, but the government passed this order to avoid the appearance of police protection for these establishments. In 2013, Nepals anti-corruption commission indicted 46 officials from the Departments of Foreign Employment and Immigration for issuing fraudulent documents, a deterrent to others who might be tempted to facilitate human trafficking.

Governments can also encourage transparency as a means to uncover or deter official complicity and corruption, and empower independent officials to investigate or report cases of official complicity in trafficking, as with anti-discrimination ombudsmen in Finland and France. Dedicated anti-trafficking police units not only encourage the development of specialized skills among law enforcement but can also serve to inoculate against broader corruption and complicity. Such units have been established in Chile, Cyprus, Ukraine, Thailand, and South Africa, to name a few. Vetting members of such units through background checks and security clearances provides additional safeguards against corruption and complicity.

Prosecution of All Criminally Culpable Parties

Given the far-reaching nature of many human trafficking schemes, cases often involve multiple actors—intermediaries and recruitment agencies who entice people to leave their homes with promises of employment; truck or taxi drivers who transport potential victims; smugglers who help people cross borders; enforcers who monitor and control victims; those who financially benefit from the exploitation; and those who oversee the exploitation itself—the club, brothel or hotel owner, factory or farm manager, mine operator or ship captain, among others.

All such persons, if knowingly involved, are criminally culpable. Human traffickers are not only the individuals overseeing the exploitation of victims or the chief conspirators orchestrating the scheme. Any intermediary involved in the recruitment or transportation process, if aware of the intended exploitation of victims of sex or labor trafficking, is responsible and should be held criminally liable. Similarly, those who knowingly purchase or procure a commercial sex act from a victim of sex trafficking are also human traffickers.

For example, intermediaries in some areas recruit women with offers of ostensibly legitimate work abroad, only to later force them into labor or sex trafficking. These recruiters, however, often act in concert with traffickers in destination cities or countries and know what conditions await the women. When the exploitation is uncovered—usually in the destination country—victims can only identify the recruiter who originally deceived them and not the main trafficker and organizer. Worse yet, victims who are repatriated from exploitation abroad often return to the same places where they were recruited and may experience intimidation by intermediaries who were directly involved in their trafficking but were not held accountable. The lack of investigation and prosecution leaves the victim susceptible to retaliation, and also inhibits some victims from reporting their exploitation to authorities and participating in trials against their traffickers.

Governments should improve efforts to detect and prosecute all who are knowingly involved in perpetrating trafficking crimes and exploiting victims, including through robust investigations that reveal the tactics of the scheme, track the individuals in the criminal organization, and follow the monetary payments.

In many instances, officials may assume that intermediaries are not conspirators or are unaware of what will happen to the workers they recruit or transport, and thus that the intermediaries are not liable for prosecution. Careful investigation of all those in the trafficking network is essential to ensure perpetrators at all levels are held accountable for their involvement in trafficking crimes and as a deterrent measure to discourage others from assuming these roles.

Regardless of whether law enforcement officials can establish an intermediary had knowledge of the intended exploitation, they should question such intermediaries as part of an investigation to understand the larger scheme, and to ensure justice and security for victims. In a case in the United States, New York state authorities charged several defendants with sex trafficking and money laundering in 2012; they also charged six cab drivers for their role in transporting the victims and finding new customers, pursuing every intermediary responsible for supporting the sex trafficking operation, as well as the purchasers.

Authorities can also raise awareness in communities where recruiters frequently operate, by alerting those likely to be targets of the false promises that can lead to their victimization. Being active in vulnerable communities may also help law enforcement identify victims who can help establish a pattern of behavior by recruiters and prove the requisite intent to support a criminal conviction. The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration undertakes robust awareness-raising efforts so Filipino overseas workers can identify warning signs of illegal or unscrupulous recruitment practices. Well-informed overseas workers, in turn, provide information to the Agency that enables it to identify and investigate proactively suspicious recruitment activities. In 2015, the Agency investigated 98 cases of illegal recruitment involving 231 complainants. This resulted in the closure of 12 non-licensed establishments and the referral of 84 cases for criminal investigation.

Undertaking robust efforts to investigate and prosecute all intermediaries and actors knowingly involved in the perpetration of trafficking crimes is essential to deterring trafficking crimes from taking place and holding all perpetrators accountable. Many countries’ trafficking laws have provisions penalizing collaborators and accomplices, specifically outlining different punishments for those involved to varying degrees in the separate portions of the crime. Thus, governments should look to use anti-trafficking laws to prosecute all those knowingly engaged in the full range of offenses covered by these laws.

Need for Bilateral and Multilateral Cooperation

Human trafficking occurs in virtually every country in the world and often crosses borders. While the crime of human trafficking does not require movement either within or across borders, cases often involve movement between source, transit, and destination countries. This is especially true in an increasingly interconnected global economy, with migration on the rise. People seeking opportunity or fleeing conflict frequently transit several countries and face vulnerabilities to human trafficking along the way. Others, recruited from their homes, are moved by intermediaries and exploiters, sometimes including migrant smugglers, en route to third countries where they face exploitation. Traffickers often capitalize on the lack of cooperation between governments to hide the full scope of their criminal enterprise. The transnational nature of many trafficking crimes requires increased efforts by governments to cooperate with each other. Governments must adhere to their obligations under Articles 2 and 10 of the Palermo Protocol, which require cooperation and information-sharing among governments’ law enforcement, immigration, and other relevant authorities to investigate and prosecute trafficking.

Source-country governments report challenges in investigating and prosecuting trafficking crimes in which victims encounter exploitation on the other side of the border. Destination- and transit-country governments report an inability to collect evidence proving fraud or coercion in the initial recruitment scheme. In addition, jurisdictional questions often pose significant challenges to law enforcement efforts. However, there are promising efforts to cooperate internationally. In 2016, with support from Sri Lanka, Nepal sent a team of police and other officials from the ministries of labor, foreign affairs, and social welfare to Sri Lanka’s capital city Colombo to investigate allegations that human traffickers and migrant smugglers were increasingly using Sri Lanka as a transit point for Nepali women to be exploited in other countries. In collaboration with the Sri Lankan police, the Nepali team found and helped send home 19 stranded migrant workers.

The government of Kazakhstan jointly investigated 17 cases related to trafficking in cooperation with several foreign governments, including the Kyrgyz Republic, Uzbekistan, Russia, and Tajikistan during the 2016 reporting period. In St. Lucia, police investigators cooperated with the United States, Bangladesh, and the United Kingdom in the course of investigating three men from India and one from Bangladesh who were charged with subjecting nine individuals to forced labor in the hospitality industry. The government recently initiated prosecution of all four defendants. In a sex tourism case involving the United Kingdom and India, a state-level law enforcement agency in India cooperated with law enforcement in the United Kingdom to prosecute a British defendant. Similarly, law enforcement authorities from the United States and Mexico conduct coordinated, bilateral law enforcement actions under the U.S.-Mexico Bilateral Human Trafficking Enforcement Initiative to dismantle human trafficking networks operating across their shared border. In 2015, the two governments simultaneously apprehended eight defendants in both countries and charged them with operating a sex trafficking enterprise. The governments then collaborated to secure the extradition to the United States in 2016 of the five defendants apprehended in Mexico.

Many trafficking laws also include provisions allowing for extra-territorial jurisdiction, allowing governments to investigate their citizens responsible for trafficking crimes abroad. For instance, in the United States, Portugal, Qatar, and Sweden, laws prohibiting sexual crimes against children have extra-territorial reach allowing for the prosecution of suspected child sex tourists who are those countries’ nationals for offenses committed while abroad.

In addition to leveraging member state expertise and resources, multilateral organizations generate momentum to develop global, regional, and domestic strategies to help dismantle trafficking networks and empower vulnerable populations. INTERPOL publishes notices requesting cooperation or issuing alerts to member countries that allow national police to share critical crime-related information. For instance, a green notice provides warnings and intelligence about persons who have committed criminal offenses and are likely to repeat these crimes in other countries. UNODC, charged with promoting implementation of the Palermo Protocol, convenes government experts to collaborate on emerging human trafficking issues, and provides technical assistance to governments upon request. Additionally, UNODC maintains a public case law database with more than 1,400 human trafficking cases from around the world as well as a case digest to assist criminal law and other practitioners interested in how evidentiary issues are addressed in other jurisdictions.

Multilateral and regional organizations also work to foster consensus among their member states on common goals, commitments, and norms; and they can help standardize research and data collection methods at the regional and sub-regional levels. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is one example of multilateral leadership where consensus-building led to the development and adoption of a new legally-binding regional instrument. The ASEAN Convention against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, which entered into force on March 8, 2017, provides a framework for Member States to enter into direct law enforcement cooperation on human trafficking cases. Multilateral fora also frequently provide a venue for member states, civil society, academia, the private sector, and survivors to exchange information on experiences and challenges, including identifying new and emerging issues related to human trafficking.

As with every aspect of combating human trafficking, collaboration can leverage expertise, resources, and capacity, which lead to better overall outcomes in law enforcement and victim protection.


Human trafficking is an assault on human dignity and should be penalized accordingly. No government can hold human traffickers accountable or address the needs of victims without stringent and comprehensive human trafficking laws, strong law enforcement and prosecutorial capacity funded with adequate resources, and an informed judiciary. Victims of human trafficking deserve timely and meaningful access to justice through a system that respects rule of law and due process rights. Without these measures, human trafficking will continue to flourish.

While governments cannot undo the pain and indignity victims face, they can seek to right those wrongs through official acknowledgment of injustice and by prosecuting, convicting, and sentencing traffickers and those complicit in human trafficking. In taking these measures, governments provide justice for victims, create more stable societies to keep the vulnerable safe, and work towards a world free from modern slavery.