UN expert on trafficking in persons concludes first fact-finding mission to Australia

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, has concluded her country visit to Australia. Ms Ezeilo conducted her official visit from 17 to 30 November to examine the situation of trafficked individuals and anti-trafficking measures in the country. Ms Ezeilo is an independent expert mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to advocate for the prevention of trafficking in persons in all its forms and to encourage measures to uphold and protect the human rights of victims.

In her preliminary report, released on 30 November 2011, Ms Ezeilo said that “Australia has demonstrated strong leadership in combating trafficking in persons regionally and domestically, however it needs to devote greater attention to the rights and needs of victims.”

Ms Ezeilo highlighted the need to improve support services, including accommodation, legal assistance and counselling services, to suspected victims of trafficking and de-link government support from participation in criminal justice processes. She also praised the recent release of an exposure Bill to expand the definition of trafficking to better address labour exploitation and forced marriage.

During Ms Ezilo’s country mission, the Human Rights Law Centre provided a briefing paper on the application of people smuggling laws to persons who may have been trafficked. The briefing paper makes the point that where a person has been recruited by means of deception for the purpose of exploitation – as may be the case for many of those charged with people smuggling offences – they meet the definition of a trafficked person under the Protocol and should be provided with adequate assistance and protection, not criminalised and subjected to lengthy jail terms in Australian prisons.

On this topic, Ms Ezilo expressed her concern about “the possibility of trafficked persons including children being arrested, detained for long periods and deported for breach of migration regulations without proper identification especially given the strong migration control policy of Australian government.”

A full report of the Special Rapporteur’s mission will be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2012.