A Russian career diplomat, Mr. Sergey Kapinos is currently the Regional Representative at the UNODC Regional Office for South Asia. In this post, he serves as the Chief Official of UNODC in six South Asian countries, namely Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Mr. Kapinos brings over 39 years of distinguished experience in the areas of diplomacy, crime prevention, security, justice and management.
Mohammad Golam Sarwar, from Law Desk, talks to him on the following issues.
Law Desk (LD): How does the UNODC assess the prevalence of human trafficking in South Asia and particularly in Bangladesh?
Sergey Kapinos (SK):Every year, thousands of men, women and children fall into the hands of human traffickers and almost every region is affected by this crime, including South Asia. According to data reported by countries, victims from South Asia have been detected in over 40 countries around the world. Bangladesh also faces a heightened risk of this crime. The global demand for low-skilled workers, deceptive offers of employment, fake marriage or promises of a better life, and little to no awareness of trafficking risks, result in many Bangladeshis making perilous journeys abroad, facilitated by traffickers, predominantly to the Gulf region. Many become victims of trafficking, most commonly for the purpose of forced labour, sexual exploitation, debt bondage etc. The economic adversities related to Covid-19 has further exacerbated the inequalities and vulnerabilities of people to this crime.
LD: Bangladesh has recently acceded to the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and PunishTrafficking in Persons, Specially Women and Children, supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. According to the UNODC, what is the significance of such accession? How can the UNODC support the Government of Bangladesh to implement the Protocol?
SK:The accession of Bangladesh to the Protocol is reflective not only of the Government's commitment to tackle this crime, but also of its strong intent to promote and protect the freedom and dignity of its citizens. The Government's efforts have been acknowledged internationally, as indicated in the US 2020 Global Trafficking in Persons report which reflects the improved ranking of Bangladesh from Tier 2 Watch List to Tier 2. The UNODC is supporting the Government's efforts through the implementation of a flagship project titled "The Global Action against Trafficking in Persons and the Smuggling of Migrants - Bangladesh (GLO.ACT-Bangladesh)": a joint initiative by the European Union and the UNODC, implemented in partnership with International Organization for Migration (IOM). The GLO.ACT-Bangladesh focuseson developing evidence-based information on trafficking and smuggling patterns and trends, legislative review and harmonisation, capacity-building of criminal justice actors, and promoting international cooperation. The project also provides direct assistance to victims of human trafficking and migrants in vulnerable situations.
LD: How is the Covid-19 pandemic impacting the human trafficking prevention efforts?
SK: The root causes and drivers that cause people to fall victim to human trafficking have been exacerbated because of the pandemic. For instance, given the confinement measures and economic hardships, some trafficking forms – like those involving the commercial sexual exploitation of children and the exploitation of those in domestic servitude are reportedly increasing. The economic crisis is also hitting low-skilled workers, undocumented migrant workers and workers in the informal sector very hard, particularly those with little to no labour and social protections, making them even more vulnerable to human trafficking. In some cases, survivors may find their repatriation process interrupted by the lockdown measures.Traffickers are also exploiting children's vulnerabilities online taking advantage of their increased digital presence during the lockdown. The surge in domestic violence has escalated women and girls' vulnerabilities. In some countries, children and women living in overcrowded camps for refugees and migrants are not only facing huge health risks but are also being very vulnerable to sexual exploitation.
In trafficking rings, criminals are likely to quickly adjust their modus operandi and routes. With law enforcement agencies taking on new responsibilities for the enforcement of lockdowns, traffickers are taking advantage and preying on the vulnerabilities of people. Justice systems have been similarly affected and international cooperation becomes difficult on account of various imposed restrictions.
LD: We understand that human trafficking and migrant smuggling can occur along the same routes and smuggling can sometimes lead to trafficking. Against this background, what is important to distinguish between the two crimes and how does the UNODC consider the crime of Smuggling of Migrants in the efforts to prevent and address trafficking in South Asia?
SK: Human trafficking and migrant smuggling are complex phenomena that affect people in different ways. While sometimes linked, these are separate crimes. Human trafficking involves the recruitment, movement or harbouring of people for the purpose of exploitation - such as sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery or organ removal. Victims are trafficked by the use of improper means such as the threat or use of force, fraudulent schemes, deception, or abuse of power. It can occur within a country or across borders.
In contrast to human trafficking which can take place both domestically and internationally, migrant smuggling is a crime that takes place only across borders. It consists in assisting migrants to enter or stay in a country illegally, for a financial or material gain. Since migrants give their consent to the smuggling venture, mostly due to the lack of regular ways to migrate, they are not considered victims in absolute terms. However, smuggled migrants are often put in dangerous situations by smugglers (such as a hazardous sea crossing) and therefore become susceptible to other crimes during the smuggling process, including severe human rights violations.
LD: What are some of the key recommendations to address trafficking in persons from a regional perspective in South Asia, and from a national perspective in Bangladesh?
SK: I believe that any organised crime can only be countered through an effective, organised and multi-stakeholder response. There is a need to build capacities of public officials and law enforcement agencies, including better information and intelligence sharing and cross-border cooperation and coordination between countries of the region.
This year, the Government of Bangladesh has pledged to establish divisional-level Special Tribunals dedicated to trafficking in persons cases. The full activation of these tribunals needs to be prioritised to ensure protection of and access to justice for trafficking victims, and to increase prosecutions and convictions for trafficking offences, particularly of labour traffickers and complicit public officials, while strictly respecting due process. Guidelines on provision of adequate victim care and standard operating procedures for victim referrals should be developed and disseminated. There is an urgent need to establish the National Anti-Human Trafficking Authority under the Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act, 2012 in order to effectively oversee and coordinate the implementation of the Act and the corresponding National Plan of Action.
LD: What is the key message that you would like to convey on behalf of the UNODC ahead of the World Day against Trafficking in Persons scheduled to be observed on the 30th July.
SK: The 2020 theme is "Committed to the Cause -Working on the Frontline to End Human Trafficking",under which the UNODC acknowledges and supports the first responders to human trafficking. The first responders come from different sectors –law enforcement, health, criminal justice, NGOs, and social welfare who identify, support, counsel and seek justice for human trafficking victims, and challenge the impunity of the traffickers. During the current crisis, the critical role of first responders is even more important but their essential contribution is often overlooked and unrecognised. This, in particular, needs to change.