The UN scam on human trafficking: No protection for the victims

On 8th March, United Nations agencies, governments and non-governmental organisations across the world celebrated “International Women’s Day”. But in the United Nations Human Rights Council there was silence about the lack of protection for the victims of trafficking.


At its sixtieth session in 2004, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in its decision 2004/110 decided to appoint a Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children to focus on the human rights aspects of the victims of trafficking in persons. The Special Rapporteur was invited to submit annual reports together with recommendations on measures required to uphold and protect the human rights of the victims. The Commission requested the Special Rapporteur to respond effectively to reliable information on possible human rights violations with a view to protecting the human rights of actual or potential victims of trafficking and to cooperate fully with other relevant special rapporteurs, in particular the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, and to take full account of their contributions to the issue.


On 19 April 2004, Ms Sigma Huda, a Bangladeshi national was appointed Special Rapporteur. When the Commission on Human Rights was closed down, the newly established Human Rights Council assumed the role of the Commission on Human Rights and its Special Procedures.


I. The trial and imprisonment of Sigma Huda


Following the declaration of the State of Emergency in Bangladesh in January 2007, the military led care-taker government arrested Ms. Sigma Huda under the State of Emergency Rules 2007 on 5 July 2007. [1] She was charged with aiding and abetting corruption, allegedly related to the illegal allocation of land by her husband, Nazmul Huda, a former Minister of the Bangladesh National Party. She has been tried and sentenced by a special court, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to a 3 year jail term and since been in jail. Although the High Court awarded bail, it was subsequently rejected by the Appellate Court. [2]


Given the nature of the charges, there was little public concern expressed for Ms Huda. United Nations Secretary General Ban KI Moon cleared the trial. He stated,


Special Rapporteurs enjoy the privileges and immunities necessary for the independent exercise of their functions as experts on mission under the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations. The responsibility to determine whether privileges and immunities apply in a given situation is vested in the Secretary-General.

Ms. Huda is now facing a criminal trial in Bangladesh for charges of corruption…… On the basis of the information provided by the Government, the Secretary-General has determined that the charges against Ms. Huda appear not to be related to, or otherwise fall within, her functions as Special Rapporteur. This information allows him to conclude that no immunity under the Convention is applicable in the present case. The Government of Bangladesh has been notified accordingly


II. No protection for the victims of trafficking


While the UN has ruled on Ms Huda’s lack of immunity, it has failed to address the gap left in the UN protection system.

Protection of the victims is the key function of the Special Procedures and effectiveness of the United Nations human rights mechanisms. During 1 November 2004 to 31 December 2005, the Special Rapporteur sent 29 communications to 23 countries and by 10 February 2006, the Special Rapporteur had received 10 replies from concerned Governments (E/CN.4/2006/62/Add.1. During 2006, the Special Rapporteur had sent 27 communications and by 31 January 2007 she had received 14 replies from concerned Governments. (A/HRC/4/23/ Add.1)


While Ms Huda is in jail, no communications can be sent to the governments on her behalf to protect victims of trafficking.


The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) does not intervene to protect victims. The OHCHR’s Strategic Management Plan 2008-2009 on human trafficking does not have protection strategy for trafficking but continues to rely on ever more studies of the issue. It states, “OHCHR’s human trafficking project for 2008-2009 will examine the connections between human trafficking globally, including its complex connections with migration, development, discrimination, denial of economic, social and cultural rights, and access to justice. It will also address the adverse effects that anti-trafficking measures have on the human rights of trafficked persons. The Office will focus on consolidating and improving its thematic expertise in the context of country, regional and sub-regional engagement. In this regard, preparation of user-friendly tools, compilation of good practices and lessons learned, as well as training to integrate human rights into anti-trafficking work will be undertaken.”


The UN Human Rights Council has not heard from the Special Rapporteur or held effective discussion. Ms Huda was not allowed to attend the UN Human Rights Council in May 2007 to present her report (A/HRC/4/23) of 24 January 2007. Indeed, there will be no report presented to the Human Rights Council at its ongoing 7th session from 3 to 28 March 2008.


Moreover, there appears to be no willingness to address the current protection gap. Ms Huda has completed her first term of three years and her second term has been extended. This is despite the fact that she will continue to remain in prison unless the sentence is overruled. The UN Human Rights Council has announced list of vacancies for the Special Procedures mandate holders for March 2008 and for June 2008 but there is no reference to the UN Special Rapportuer on Trafficking. 


ACHR is concerned over the failure of the Human Rights Council to address this protection gap for the victims of trafficking. The President of the Human Rights Council must address this lack of protection mechanism for the victims of trafficking. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and her Office must bring it to the attention of the Human Rights Council for taking appropriate decision to address this protection gap.


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