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Open your eyes to trafficking!


© This photo exhibiton is an initiative by CoMensha, the Dutch centre against Human Trafficking, which is carried out by Open Mind Foundation and Ernst Coppejans Photography.

What is “modern slavery”?

In July this year Josephine Iyamu became the first person to be convicted under the UK’s Modern Slavery Act. With the help of a network, she trafficked five women from Nigeria to Germany, where they were forced to work as prostitutes, and charged thousands of euros. Unable to pay, they became “bound” to her. She also used juju ceremonies to gain psychological control over the women, by forcing them to eat chicken hearts, drink blood containing worms, and have powder rubbed into cuts. She was sentenced to 14 years in prison at Birmingham crown court on five counts of arranging or facilitating travel for sexual exploitation, and of perverting the course of justice by arranging for complainants’ relatives in Nigeria to be arrested.

© Council of Europe - Stop Human Trafficking! Council of Europe’s GRETA fights brutal trade in human beings

Trafficking in human beings is one of the fastest growing crimes in Europe. With the entrapment of its victims, it represents a modern form of the old worldwide slave trade. The term « modern slavery » is increasingly used to cover a wide range of human rights violations, including sexual exploitation, forced labour, debt bondage, domestic servitude, the sale and exploitation of children and forced marriage. Some think that the term « modern slavery » risks trivialising historical slavery, and the UN uses the term « contemporary forms of slavery».

According to statistics gathered by the Walk Free Foundation in Australia, in 2016 there were 16.3 million people worldwide living in conditions of « modern slavery », including nearly 25 million victims of forced labour and 15.4 million victims of forced marriage. Nearly 15 million of these « modern slaves » live in Europe, with 8 million of them in Russia.

One of the leading actors in combatting modern slavery is the UK government, which passed a Modern Slavery Act in 2015. It describes it as “a brutal form of organised crime in which people are treated as commodities and exploited for criminal gain”. Among the causes of this scourge are poverty, gender inequality, ethnic discrimination, social exclusion and weak protection for vulnerable persons such as asylum seekers, domestic and care workers or unaccompanied or separated children. Some cases of modern slavery involve businesses whose contractors and sub-contractors exploit trafficked workers. There is a growing trend towards recruiting victims on the Internet and social media.

© Council of Europe - Henriette’s story - How a woman got her freedom back through the European Convention on Human Rights

Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights prohibits slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour. In a landmark case in 2005 (Siliadin v France) the Court ruled that migrant domestic workers can suffer serious exploitation amounting to « servitude ». Siwa-Akofa Siliadin, a 15-year old female Tongolese national, arrived in Paris with Mrs D, who brought her into France on a tourist visa. Siliadin agreed to work at Mrs. D's home until the airfare cost was reimbursed. But Siliadin’s passport was taken away and she was forced to work as an unpaid housemaid and child carer, working 15 hours a day 7 days a week. Her nightmare eventually ended after a neighbour alerted the French authorities.

In another case, this time in Russia in 2010 (Rantsev v Cyprus and Russia) the Court ruled that trafficking in human beings for the purpose of sexual explotation falls within the scope of Article 4 of the Convention. Oxana Rantseva moved from Russia to Cyprus to work as a “cabaret artiste”, (it is well known that most women with this job title work as sex workers). After a few weeks she left, but was tracked down by her employer who took her to the police to have her detained and extradited, so he could employ someone else. But because she had a work permit, she was forced to go back with her employer. That night, she tried to escape but fell off the balcony and died. Her death was ruled as accidental. Oxana’s father brought the case to ECtHR, who found both Cyprus and Russia had violated Article 4 of the ECHR (prohibition of slavery and forced labour). The Court ruled that Russia and Cyprus were obliged to do more to investigate trafficking.

© This photo exhibiton is an initiative by CoMensha, the Dutch centre against Human Trafficking, which is carried out by Open Mind Foundation and Ernst Coppejans Photography.

The Council of Europe has a range of instruments to address modern slavery. In addition to the work of the European Court, GRETA, the monitoring body for the implementation of the Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, has identified gaps and good practices in different countries’ responses to human trafficking, and is seeking to improve the legislative, institutional and policy framework through recommendations and continuing dialogue. Only through such collective and coordinated action will the scourge of modern slavery be tackled so that cases like those of Oxana and Siwa Akofa become a thing of the past.

 Find out more about the Council of Europe’s work combatting human trafficking


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