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Case Digest: Evidential Issues in Trafficking in Persons Cases

Case Digest: Evidential Issues in Trafficking in Persons Cases

The Case Digest arose from a need the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) identified among practitioners who fight trafficking, to be given tools to address typical evidential problems which arise in trafficking cases. Therefore, the Case Digest aims first and foremost to assist criminal justice practitioners worldwide in addressing the evidential issues typical to trafficking cases, under the assumption that there are particular issues which recur and are central to the success or failure of cases. It aims to equip these practitioners with an arsenal of possible creative solutions that have been tried and tested elsewhere in actual cases before courts. It is hoped that by using these tools, practitioners will be inspired to think “outside the box” when encountering problems related to evidential issues in human trafficking cases.

In the same vein, the Case Digest tries to alert practitioners that patterns which at first glance may appear to be weaknesses in the case, may actually strengthen it. For example, the fact that a victim does not flee when given an opportunity to do so, seems, at first glance, to be a weakness in the case, but may in fact be a strength in that it may point to the high level of control exerted by the trafficker; inconsistencies in a victim’s testimony may seem such as a weakness in the case, but may actually be a strength, in establishing that the victim has not been coached, but is making a genuine statement; a threat that may seem, on the face of it, to be irrational and too fantastic to believe, may be a particularly menacing threat in the cultural context and subjective world of the victim. The essential lesson is that, in building a trafficking case, one must examine the totality of the circumstances in order to gauge the significance of any one piece of evidence.

It should be noted, however, that the Case Digest, as much as it aims to assist criminal justice practitioners, would also be valuable to a range of other stakeholders, including viii policymakers and legislators, researchers, students and lecturers, service providers, labour inspectors and law enforcers from a variety of sectors, as well as other actors that are relevant to a comprehensive response to trafficking in persons and seek to better understand some of the challenges and opportunities in addressing trafficking.

As stated at the outset, this Case Digest has limitations. One of these is its subject matter, which is limited to evidential issues. Naturally, there are many additional aspects and dimensions, even in relation to this topic, that would be worth further exploration, but could not be included in this Case Digest. One such topic is victim protection measures which may impact upon the availability and quality of victim testimony. Another is the transnational dimension of many trafficking in persons cases, where the victim may be recruited in one country, transported through another and exploited in a third country, leading to special challenges that should be explored. In addition, the Expert Group Meeting convened to review a draft of this Case Digest in May 2014 in Vienna yielded suggestions to address, among other topics, discussions on organized crime, corporate defendants, public officials as defendants, and cases involving corruption. Unfortunately, these were beyond the scope of the present Case Digest, but we do hope that this is only the first of many such initiatives.

Most cases in the Case Digest are drawn from UNODC’s Human Trafficking Case Law Database. This database is freely available at Furthermore, relevant national legislation on trafficking in persons and allied crimes can be found in UNODC’s Sherloc (Sharing Electronic Resources and Laws on Crime) database on legislation Both are living tools that continue to grow, are easily searchable and can complement the Case Digest. Readers of the Case Digest are invited to make use of them.


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Marina Castro-MeirellesMarina Castro-Meirelles

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