The UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons embarks on a unique fact-finding mission in Thailand

On August 8, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children (2008-2011), Ms. Joy Ngozi Ezeilo from Nigeria, officially commenced her special counter-trafficking mission in Thailand.

Photo by Kaptan Jungteerapanich

Ms. Ezeilo is an experienced lawyer and professor who has, among other things, served the Nigerian Government as Honourable Commissioner for Ministry of Women Affairs & Social Development in Enugu State. She is also the founder of several human rights NGOs including the Women’s Aid Collective and the West African Women Rights Coalition, illustrating her expertise and dedication to the promotion of human rights.

From August 8 to 19, the UN expert on trafficking will direct her focus on Thailand in a special counter-trafficking mission. She is destined to visit Chiang Mai, Mae Sot, Samut Sakhon and Songkhla to meet with representatives from the Government, judiciary and civil society. Special attention will also be paid to trafficking victims; “It is important to meet with the victims themselves, to give them a voice”, Ms. Ezeilo told Prachatai in an informal press gathering on Tuesday.

The Special Rapporteur had agreed to meet a few representatives from the media at the start of her mission in order to answer questions about her mandate and outline the aims and objectives of her official country visit to Thailand.

As the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, Ms. Ezeilo is the independent expert under the UN Human Rights Council responsible for the promotion of anti-trafficking laws and regulations throughout the world.

She conducts country visits in order to see the situation in different countries with her own eyes and will thereafter compile a country report that will be included in her annual report presented before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva as well as the General Assembly in New York.

When asked why the visit to Thailand takes place in the period between two governments, Ms. Ezeilo says that the invitation from the Thai Government was received last year but that it required extensive planning to find a suitable time for the visit. That it turned out to take place during the transition period just happened, she explains. She also adds that by the time her full report will be issued in June 2012, she believes the new Government will be “fairly stabilized” and ready to deal with the recommendations from this mission.

As a feminist engaged in many women’s rights issues, Ms. Ezeilo is hopeful regarding the contribution the first female Prime Minister in Thailand could make in the struggle against trafficking; “She can bring her leadership to this issue, not just in Thailand but also within the South East Asia region”.

During her visit in Thailand, Ms. Ezeilo explains that she will not focus on any particular kind of trafficking but will look at all forms; sex trafficking, forced labor and domestic servitude to name a few. The report will thus deal with many wide-ranging issues and groups of victims in order to provide an extensive overview of the situation in the country.

When discussing different approaches in combating trafficking, Ms. Ezeilo underlines the importance of looking at the root causes, “if you don’t deal with them, then you may not eradicate and prevent human trafficking”.

She points to the valuable contribution her UN mandate makes in terms of creating tools that help governments address these root causes and then guide them on how to deal with these in order to tackle trafficking in an effective manner.

Regarding the general impact of these types of country visits, Ms. Ezeilo explains that the process is “an opportunity to share good practices around the world as well as receive complaints against governments that are not on the right track”.

Trafficking is a crime that can take many forms and therefore many different perspectives are involved, such as human rights, crime-prevention, criminal justice and migration. According to the Special Rapporteur, a victim-centered and rights-based approach integrating all the different angles of trafficking is therefore imperative.

As trafficking is a crime that both tears within and cuts across borders, close cooperation between anti-trafficking agencies and organizations is also crucial. Ms. Ezeilo continues to underline that both regional and international coordination must be promoted as one government cannot solve a transnational problem without close cooperation and partnership in the region.

One of the most problematic issues across the borders in South East Asia is the ever increasing networks of labor trafficking, which Ms. Ezeilo describes as “migration gone wrong”. The Special Rapporteur asserts that stricter labor policies are not the solution but only reflect increased tension and negative attitudes towards migrants. Instead she calls for an open and transparent system.

Especially regarding migrant labor, the Special Rapporteur tells Prachatai that there is a challenge in defining what is and what is not classified as trafficking within a country. The problem many times she says lies in a lack of capacity, tools and coordination to indentify trafficking victims.

Another challenge that Ms. Ezeilo recalls from previous experiences, is the lack of resources for recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration of victims. During her visit in Thailand, the Special Rapporteur will visit shelter services for trafficking victims both in Bangkok and the provinces in order to compare and evaluate their approaches to rehabilitation and care.

An official press conference involving the release of a preliminary country report will take place on August 19 at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bangkok. At this press conference, the primary conclusions from the fact-finding mission will be presented and will lay the foundation for the full report to be presented before the UN Human Rights Council in June 2012.


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