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RIGHTS: Activists Demand that Spain Sign Convention Against Human Trafficking

Alicia Fraerman

MADRID, Feb 13 2008 (IPS) - Spain is among the countries most heavily affected by human trafficking, yet it has still not signed the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, although the socialist government has promised to do so.

Susana Fernández, head of social mobilisation at the non-governmental organisation (NGO) Médicos del Mundo (Doctors of the World), told IPS that “Spain is one of the leading destination and transit countries for women enslaved in prostitution, agriculture, domestic employment, construction and hotel work, among other sectors.”

She added that “although a change of attitude can be seen thanks to current legislation, the work of NGOs specialised in trafficking issues and the training of some public employees, improvement remains slow in a context in which international standards are not fully enforced.”

The activist argued that the country should sign and ratify the Convention as soon as possible.

The United Nations Forum to Fight Human Trafficking is taking place in Vienna from Wednesday to Friday. Fernández is part of the delegation representing the Spanish Network to Combat Human Trafficking (RED), to which Médicos del Mundo belongs.

The RED said that their main goal at the Vienna forum is to present their experience of working with victims of trafficking, and to learn about positive initiatives in other countries like Italy, where measures and resources exist to protect victims.

Other international bodies like United Nations agencies, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), are also participating in the Vienna meeting.

The RED’s member organisations include the Spanish Catholic Commission on Migration (ACCEM), Projecto Esperanza (Project Hope) and the Federation of Progressive Women, all of which are represented at this week’s meeting.

Fernández said OSCE estimates that there are more than 50,000 victims of human trafficking in Spain, only five percent of whom have received government assistance.

Of the 47 states that make up the Council of Europe, 37 have signed the Convention, which was approved on May 16, 2005 and came into force on Feb. 1, 2008. And while 13 countries have already ratified it, Spain has not yet even signed the treaty.

Signing and ratifying the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings obliges countries to develop a “zero tolerance policy” against human trafficking, and a national plan to combat it which includes civil society.

It also requires an integrated system for detection and protection of all trafficking victims, whether or not they cooperate with the authorities by pressing charges against the criminals involved. In addition, special measures must be adopted for minors who are victims.

Gentiana Susaj, coordinator of the RED, said it is important for Spain to sign and ratify the Convention because it is one of the foremost European destination and transit countries for human trafficking. The victims are mainly women aged between 18 and 25 from Bulgaria, Ukraine, Russia, Romania, Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia and Nigeria.

These women are recruited in their countries of origin and taken abroad by mafias who deceive or coerce them. They are usually promised jobs in Spain, and when they arrive, most find themselves locked up in brothels.

Eva Biaudet, OSCE Special Representative and Co-ordinator for combating trafficking in human beings, told the RED on Jan. 29 that she would write a report on the situation of trafficking in Spain during 2008.

Susaj said that when they have asked the government why it has not ratified the Convention, they have received no reply. Government sources told IPS that the issue will be addressed in the next legislative period, after the Mar. 9 general elections.

In 2003 Spain did, however, sign and ratify the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, adopted by the U.N. in 2000.

Although Susaj recognised that there has been a shift in mindset in recent years, she called for more positive changes in Spain. Members of the RED are demanding that the political parties participating in the forthcoming elections commit themselves to accelerating improvements for trafficking victims.

The U.N. protocol signed by Spain in 2003 encourages cooperation between security forces, migration authorities, social services and NGOs, and protects all victims of trafficking, not only those who can prove that they were forced to perform certain tasks or to travel against their will.

The protocol states that “the consent of the victim of trafficking is irrelevant.”

A large number of crimes are associated with trafficking in persons. Not only use of force, coercion, abduction, deception or abuse of power, but also more subtle methods, such as “abuse of a position of vulnerability,” are spelt out in the protocol.

Proyecto Esperanza was created in 1999 by the Congregación de Religiosas Adoratrices, an order of nuns founded in Madrid in 1856 to work with streetwalkers.

The project’s main goal is to develop intervention programmes that promote the liberation, personal and social integration, personal development and social reinsertion of women victims of every kind of slavery, as well as to protest situations of injustice, defend women’s rights, and research social problems.

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