Press Release

On World Day Against Trafficking in Persons and in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the IACHR Urges States to Identify and Protect Victims of Human Trafficking, Particularly Women and Girls

July 29, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - On World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is concerned about the impact of movement restrictions to contain the COVID-19 pandemic on the comprehensive protection of the human rights of victims of human trafficking (particularly women and girls). The IACHR therefore urges States to identify and protect these victims and to integrate efforts to protect the human rights of mobile persons into all actions and policies designed to fight the COVID-19 virus.

The IACHR warns that—due to restrictions on access to certain areas and on the work of social and protection services—internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants are being directly and indirectly affected by this health crisis, in countries of transit and destination. This entails serious risks of exposure to various forms of human trafficking, including sexual and labor exploitation, practices that amount to slavery, debt bondage, and organ harvesting. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the risk of exploitation increases when precarious migration movements increase, and precarious migration movements are linked to poverty, low degrees of economic and social development, and inequality of opportunity. The IACHR further warns that migration dynamics in the Americas have their own specific drivers, including the situation in places of origin, transit, and destination, and intra-regional and extra-continental human mobility dynamics. This context stresses the need for cooperation, the exchange of information, and systematic data-gathering to protect human rights, including victims and displaced persons.

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the IACHR further observes that vulnerability is on the rise and means that several vulnerable groups—such as children and adolescents, indigenous persons, and LGBTI persons, as well as women—face greater risks of being subjected to exploitation. In order to prevent infections with COVID-19 and the spread of the virus, States in the Americas have restricted mobility by adopting curfews and keeping stores, factories, and borders closed, among other measures. This has led to the loss of livelihoods and jobs in both the formal and informal economy, as well as to the adoption of precarious lockdown conditions, which have also increased exposure to domestic and gender-based violence. In this context, fewer social exchanges and a reduced presence in public spaces have prompted additional triggers for individuals seeking to satisfy their basic needs—such as food, healthcare, accommodation, and safety—to be displaced within and outside States, which exacerbates their vulnerability to becoming victims of crimes including human trafficking.

In Resolution 04/2019, concerning the Inter-American Principles on the Human Rights of All Migrants, Refugees, Stateless Persons, and Victims of Human Trafficking, the IACHR notes that any efforts to fight human trafficking need to adopt an intersectional approach to protection that incorporates a gender perspective, the principle of a child’s best interests, and a differentiated approach that takes into consideration age and other factors. This is in line with the contents of Resolution 63/156 on trafficking in women and girls, issued in 2008 by the United Nations General Assembly.

The IACHR further stresses that State actions to combat human trafficking must adopt a human rights perspective to protect anyone affected by the ongoing health crisis who are being exploited (or risk exploitation). In this context, the Commission urges Member States to take into consideration these Inter-American Principles, which (among other things) call to prevent and fight human trafficking by identifying and dissolving transnational networks and confronting risks that aid human trafficking. The IACHR also urges States to take into consideration its Resolution 01/20, Pandemic and Human Rights in the Americas, and refrain from implementing migrant detention measures that increase the risk of infection with COVID-19. States also have an obligation to act to prevent and fight xenophobia and the stigmatization of mobile persons, and to ensure that these persons are taken into consideration when implementing policies and measures for economic recovery in the context of the ongoing crisis.

On World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, in order to prevent human trafficking and protect victims of this crime—mainly in the context of the pandemic caused by the COVID-19 virus—the IACHR stresses that States must: i) strengthen and prioritize their efforts to implement comprehensive policies aimed at fighting human trafficking with a human rights approach; ii) address the specific vulnerabilities of women and children and include the relevant differentiated perspectives in the design of any policies, legislation, and practices; iii) refrain from taking action that criminalizes migration; iv) monitor the effects of lockdown policies at a time of crisis; v) strengthen the capacity of criminal justice and social welfare institutions to fight human trafficking and protect the human rights of its victims; and vi) provide mechanisms for comprehensive reparation.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 183/20