Vatican criticises lack of prosecutions for human trafficking

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The dignity and rights of trafficking victims require the international community to do more to prosecute and bring down traffickers, a representative of the Holy See said this week.

Fr. Joseph Grech of the Permanent Mission of the Holy See to the International Organisations in Vienna, addressed an international conference July 20-22 on the prosecution of traffickers.

There are large discrepancies in the numbers of victims of human trafficking and the number of traffickers prosecuted each year. The 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report estimated there are 25 million trafficking victims around the world, but fewer than 12,000 traffickers were prosecuted in 2018.

These statistics “should make us indignant,” Grech said in one of four panel interventions. 

“We must wonder if, as an international community, we have done everything possible to reduce the discrepancy between the high number of estimated victims and the low numbers of court proceedings and convictions,” he said.

“Judges, prosecutors and other actors in the criminal justice system should try to seize every opportunity to ensure that victims are fairly treated in accordance with their inalienable dignity as persons,” Grech stated, “and, where possible, to guarantee that the criminal process aids in the victim’s healing.”

Speaking at the 20th Conference of the Alliance against Trafficking in Persons, held in Austria, Grech said there was no lack of national and international regulations to help those fighting trafficking, “however, a question arises: how much are these tools effectively applied?”

According to the Holy See representative, “despite the best efforts of the international community, resources are in short supply, especially when considering the continuous economic crises and the socio-political instability faced by many states.”

The coronavirus pandemic is also believed to have had a serious impact on human trafficking, making people more vulnerable to exploitation. Trafficking victims are also vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 without having access to adequate health care.

Grech pointed to measures that countries have taken to slow the spread of the virus, such as closing borders, restricting internal movement, diverting law enforcement resources, and reducing social and public services.

“All these provisions leave victims of human trafficking in more desperate conditions since they have even less chance to free themselves or to find help,” he noted.

“In this current situation, countries need to keep shelters and hotlines open, safeguard access to justice and prevent more people in vulnerable situations from falling into the hands of organized crime.”

Grech emphasised the danger in the principle “of profit maximisation, isolated from all other considerations.”

“The common good demands that access to justice, political representation, and the recognition of the dignity of others are not the privilege of the rich, but rather should be accessible especially to the weak and vulnerable,” he stated. “All people should enjoy the same universally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

He added that “today, however, access to these rights is complex and often uncertain. Indeed, most people around the world experience a contrast between the rights they are guaranteed by the law and the way they are treated, especially when considering the unequal distribution of goods.”

Grech said that his delegation “is convinced of the need to create a legislative system that focuses primarily on people and that takes into account and defends their inalienable human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

“Respect for human rights and the dignity of the person cannot be subordinated to any other purpose. They are the beacon to which political, judicial and administrative action must refer,” he underlined.