The 48th Session of the Human Rights Council
13 September - 8 October 8 2021
ITEM 3 – Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development
Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Slavery, including causes and consequences
17 September 2021
By: Amie Sillito/GICJ
The 9th Meeting of the 48th Regular Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council focused on the renewed mandate of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, with emphasis on displaced persons in the global pandemic. The report highlighted obstacles governments face in the fight against modern slavery and provided mechanisms to strengthen national and international policies related to the topic.
The Special Rapporteur reaffirmed his commitment to monitoring the issue of displaced persons and their vulnerability to exploitation and trafficking. He welcomed input from non-governmental organizations, states and various organizations on improving mechanisms to tackle the issue of trafficking and exploitation.
The worst forms of child labor were assessed in light of 2021 marking the international year for the elimination of Child Labor. Inadequate access to education and resources were identified as constituents making displaced children vulnerable to exploitation and abuse which has worsened in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Effective practices have been implemented by states to aid displaced persons through access to employment, education, health care, legal protection and access to justice. In turn, displaced persons are sheltered from becoming victims of contemporary forms of slavery. The report specifically highlights the integration of displaced persons holding medical qualifications into medical facilities to help fight COVID-19. The special rapporteur emphasized the vital role which Humanitarian Agencies, Civil Society organizations and other non-state actors have played in protecting vulnerable persons from contemporary forms of slavery. However, more must be done to enhance displaced persons rights and opportunities.
The report of the Special Rapporteur was submitted in accordance with Human Rights Council resolution 42/10, in which the Council decided to renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences.
The report examines the main causes and factors rendering displaced persons vulnerable to exploitation and contemporary forms of slavery. The special rapporteur highlights persisting issues in the fight against slavery and mechanisms that states, businesses, civil society, members of academia and humanitarian actors may use to better combat slavery. The report also includes best practices which numerous states implemented in the fight against modern slavery and how these may be further improved upon.
Report of the Special Rapporteur
Report A/HRC/48/52 on the nexus between displacement and contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences.
2021 Marks the seventieth anniversary of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, the sixtieth anniversary of the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and the twenty-third anniversary of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. With this in mind, the Special Rapporteur assessed the situation of displaced persons, refugees, stateless persons and internally displaced persons, regarding contemporary forms of slavery.
The General Assembly declared 2021 as the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labor. Accordingly, the report included a section on the worst forms of child labor experienced by displaced children. In conducting research into the issue of displacement, the Special Rapporteur utilized information provided by a wide range of stakeholders including Member States, national human rights institutions, civil society organizations, United Nations entities and regional human rights bodies. With this data, the Special Rapporteur was able to reach the following conclusions.
Structural discrimination was identified as a root cause of slavery, facilitated by states, employers and society through limitations placed on access to formal employment and education, increasing risk of destitution. Displaced women were pinpointed as being disproportionately affected by underemployment or unemployment, attributable to gender inequality. Consequently, displaced women are reported to engage in transactional sex and other exploitative practices in order to survive.
Displaced women are typically restricted to performing work in the household and end up being subjected to domestic servitude, simultaneously suffering sexual abuse at the hands of their employers. Displaced women are also exposed to forced marriages and in recent years the threat of abduction for the purpose of forced marriages, has been an underlying cause of displacement for women and girls all over the world. Disturbing reports recently emerged, of women in Nigeria being forced to work in baby factories as sex slaves to bear children without medical assistance.
Child labor was found to be one of the most prevalent and persistent forms of violence and exploitation faced by displaced children. It was noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the position of families living in poverty, forcing many to rely on their children to secure a livelihood through harmful practices. Stateless or displaced children who do not have access to birth registration and have no identity documents, make official confirmation of age more difficult or impossible. Consequently, child labor, child marriage and similar practices become more difficult to identify and prevent. Forced recruitment of displaced children into criminal groups including terrorist groups was identified in countries such as Mali, Mozambique and Somalia. The limited protection in refugee settlements and camps, coupled with poverty, insecurity, and a lack of access to education and training leaves displaced children in such settings particularly vulnerable to forced recruitment.
The report made note of good practices implemented by various states, civil society organizations and intergovernmental organizations, in preventing displaced persons from being subjected to contemporary forms of slavery. Numerous states have provided access to legal and formal work for displaced persons. The Temporary Relocation Program of Malaysia is identified as providing Syrian refugees with access to employment. Concurrently, the Philippines has provided stateless persons with full access to employment without the need for work permits. The Special Rapporteur also noted that employment opportunities were extended to displaced persons in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Latin America and Europe, refugees with medical qualifications have been allowed to join medical personnel in host states to fight the pandemic.
Labor and social protection laws and regulations have also been applied to persons in several states, to protect displaced persons’ rights in the workplace. Germany has notably introduced apprenticeship schemes for asylum seekers including persons holding rejected asylum applications who are unable to return to their country of origin. Canada, Malta and Sri Lanka further created mechanisms to support access to justice through helplines and labor inspectorates as well as ombudsmen who have played an imperative role identifying, investigating and addressing forms of exploitation and slavery involving displaced persons.
The special rapporteur concluded that more needs to be done to improve security and opportunities in camp and settlement settings to prevent slavery. In these settings, displaced persons’ freedom of movement is often restricted, making it difficult for them to find employment, leaving them reliant on humanitarian organizations for survival. In regard to access to justice, structural barriers faced by displaced persons are similar to the barriers they face in accessing justice for other human rights violations. Armed conflict, violence and weak institutions and infrastructure frequently result in a breakdown in the rule of law and access to justice and remedies. Interlinked factors such as impunity, language barriers, irregular migration status, and a lack of awareness about their rights further hamper access to justice and remedies.
Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur
Geneva, 17 September 2021.- At the 9th meeting of the 48th Regular session of the Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur held an interactive dialogue with stakeholders, regarding the issue of slavery under Item 3 of the Agenda.
Special Rapporteur, Mr. Tomoya Obokata, opened the interactive dialogue by presenting his report on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences. Mr Obokata emphasized the nexus between displacement and contemporary forms of slavery with 82.4 million people forcibly displaced at the end of 2020, ever increasing with mass displacements recently taking place in Afghanistan.
The Special Rapporteur highlighted that the majority of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons are children under the age of eighteen, with one in three displaced persons deemed stateless. He expressed that the report attempts to shed light on the numerous factors which render displaced persons vulnerable. These include poverty, discrimination on multiple grounds, migration status, informality of employment, camp settings and exposure to criminal groups as well as traffickers and people smugglers. Mr Obokata revealed that these factors are exacerbated by emergency situations such as armed conflicts, disasters and the effects of health crises such as COVID-19.
President of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Nazhat Shameem Khan then opened the floor to interested delegations to make comments on the Special Rapporteur’s report.
The European Union alongside Australia, South Africa, the United Kingdom and various other states provided video statements whereby they reiterated their commitment to supporting the Special Rapporteur and his mandate. The EU elucidated its concern over the gender dimension in slavery with over seventy percent of victims being girls and women. The delegation went on to state that it welcomes the attention the report gave to the role of businesses in the eradication of forced and child labor. The EU stated that in response to this issue, it recently published guidelines to aid companies in combating this form of slavery. In conclusion, a question was posed to the special rapporteur on how states can better combat this heinous crime as well as tackling the gender dimension of slavery.
China proceeded with their video statement on behalf of a group of countries, in which it highlighted nearly 100 000 people are trafficked to the United States every year with 240 000 to 225 000 women and children being victims of sexual slavery. China went on to berate the US government for its connivance, indifference and inaction which it labelled the root cause of rampant human trafficking and forced labor in the country. The Chinese delegate emphasized that the US must take immediate action to ratify core human rights treaties such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
The United States returned China’s critique, highlighting its concern over extensive forced labour practices against Uyghur Muslims and members of other religious and ethnic minority groups in the People’s republic of China. The US reaffirmed its commitment to working with the international community, private sector and civil society in combating slavery. The US urged the international community to do more to promote respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms of those susceptible to slavery and hold accountable all perpetrators who violate or abuse their human rights. The US’s concluding remarks questioned the Special Rapporteur on how government, civil society and businesses can work cohesively to protect vulnerable populations against slavery.
Liechtenstein and Namibia shared their concern with the Special Rapporteur over the vulnerability of displaced persons to exploitation and contemporary forms of slavery. Both states relayed their approaches to tackling the issue of slavery, with Liechtenstein granting refugees and asylum seekers full access to the country’s labor market. It has also focused on integrating children into its education system and offering further assistance to displaced persons through housing and health care, aiming to empower these persons and strengthen their position in society. Liechtenstein also launched the Finance Against Slavery and Trafficking Initiative, which equips the financial sector with tools such as anti-monetary laundering programs to fight modern slavery and human trafficking.
Namibia shared how it has prohibited slavery, forced labor and economic exploitation of children under articles 9 and 15 of the Namibian Constitution. Namibia has demonstrated its commitment to the prevention of forced labor in line with international obligations through legislative measures such as the Child Care and Protection Act 2015, the Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act 2018 and the Labor Act 2007. The government also implemented social programs to mitigate child labor including, the School Feeding Program, social grants for orphans, National Youth Service for Unemployed Youths. It also offers shelters for women and children who are victims of trafficking, sexual assault, domestic violence and worse forms of labor.
UNICEF implored Member States to ensure the protection of displaced children and provide them with equal access to free education and social protection regardless of migration status. UNICEF stressed the importance of states providing families with access to safe migration, to establish robust protection systems including identification mechanisms and support services and to ensure universal birth registration including children born in the context of displacement. UNICEF concluded by reiterating its commitment to supporting states in their efforts.
Indonesia raised its concern that the Special Rapporteur’s report did not sufficiently examine the burden and responsibility sharing placed on transit and destination countries. A transit country itself, Indonesia emphasized the various points which require further examination regarding this issue. Firstly, expanding access to third-country solutions for resettlement, secondly, encouraging voluntary repatriation and lastly, supporting countries with inadequate capacity to address the impact of refugees. The special rapporteur was questioned as how to better increase the coherence of UN agencies present in transit countries, in order to curb exposure of displaced persons to exploitation and contemporary forms of slavery.
Ecuador demonstrated its humanitarian mission by being the Latin American country to take in the most refugees, reaffirming its concern over displaced persons and refugees who are victims of slavery. The state has provided additional aid to displaced persons with free health care and education as well as access to safe jobs and labor. Ecuador has also adopted a new plan against trafficking, which includes comprehensive intervention in the prevention of trafficking and the promotion of human rights based on the Guiding Principles of the United Nations.
The Russian Federation highlighted that it did not agree with all of the recommendations laid out in the report, as some seemed excessively intrusive.The delegation affirmed that rights of displaced persons must be upheld however, this does not nullify the obligation to abide by the law and the regulations of the country accepting such persons.
After all delegations, unions and intergovernmental organizations provided their statements, Mr. Obokata delivered his final remarks and responses to questions posed by member states. He emphasized that gender mainstreaming, in relation to anti-slavery strategies and measures, must be universally implemented at regional, national and international levels. He stressed the importance of states working together to enhance anti-slavery policies to implement in emergency situations as well as providing equal access to formal employment, which is a key factor in reducing and preventing exploitation and slavery.
Position of Geneva International Centre for Justice
Geneva International Centre for Justice supports the Special Rapporteur’s mandate and advancements made by various states and NGOs in the fight against contemporary forms of slavery.
GICJ encourages states to work together to share best practices and strategies to improve and strengthen efforts to combat slavery in the modern age. We further commend the Special Rapporteur’s recommendation for resources to be channeled into anti-slavery policies specifically during times of emergency. It is key that states refocus their efforts, focusing on preventative measures to reduce the burden placed on respective states when dealing with established routes of slavery and trafficking.
GICJ is also gravely concerned by the vulnerability of displaced persons with irregular or uncertain migration status. States such as Australia have implemented harmful policies to deter itinerant asylum seekers, subjecting them to indefinite detention once they reach Australia’s shores. These policies lead to surge arrivals via plane and bridging visas which render displaced persons vulnerable to forced labor and exploitation. We implore Member States to improve restrictive domestic laws and regulations hindering displaced persons rights and opportunities.
An appeal is lodged to private sector businesses to implement the UN Guiding Principles and anti-slavery policies to act as an ally to the UN and uphold human rights for all. NGOs, IGOs, cultural and religious organizations, the private and public sector as well as academia are encouraged to increase global awareness of modern slavery and hold governments accountable to their commitments to the UN and the anti-slavery movement.
Global organizations and governments must keep up to date with policy advancements to anticipate changing methods used by traffickers. The ratification of the Refugee Convention and the Stateless Persons Convention is indispensable in upholding universal human rights and all States should ratify such conventions. Modern slavery must be made an urgent priority by all governments around the world and GICJ reiterates the crucial role they play in preventing, investigating and holding accountable those who abuse basic human rights.
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Previous Reports from the 48th Session of the UN Human Rights Council