ISSN 2330-717X

The United Arab Emirates: Applying A Comprehensive Approach To The Struggle Against Human Trafficking

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By Dr. Gyan Basnet and Mansoor Hassan Albalooshi

The trafficking of human beings has been subjected to a huge amount of attention in modern times. It is one of the fastest growing criminal businesses, second only in the world to arms and drugs trafficking. It has been called a kind of ‘international terrorism’ – a multifaceted problem that touches on issues of human rights, inequality, discrimination, the rule of law, crime control, law enforcement, corruption, economic deprivation and migration. It can affect all states whether they are countries of origin, transit or destination. As such it is clearly an international problem that requires a concerted response utilizing a multidisciplinary approach.

United Arab Emirates
United Arab Emirates

The UAE’s free market economy experienced a phenomenal growth in a very short time span. As a result of its socio-economic developments, it has become a main destination for traders, investors, recruiters, tourists, labourers (legal and illegal), and even for crooks and criminals. The increased labour demand of a prosperous state lured criminals to engage in the lucrative trade of trafficking individuals on a scale never experienced before. The UAE is a country of destination for many victims of trafficking; the majority being women who are trafficked for the purpose of commercial sexual and labour exploitation. According to the Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2009, issued by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes, the largest proportion of trafficking victims identified by the State authorities in the UAE between 2003 and 2007 were women. The Report claims that all women identified in the years 2005 and 2006 were trafficked for sexual exploitation.

In response to the growing national interest in the issue, and in the absence of an effective law directly addressing trafficking, the UAE government passed Federal Law 51: Combating Human Trafficking Crimes in 2006 and they established the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking in 2007. Thereafter the government began to pay special attention to the problem of trafficking, and they recognised the importance both of measuring its scope and of understanding the nature of victims’ experiences. A their national report on combating trafficking emphasized that ‘the UAE believes that the more informed we are about the victims of this terrible crime, the source countries, transit routes and methodologies of traffickers, the more the government can do to prevent the crime’. The UAE is party to the most comprehensive international legal instrument on human trafficking, the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, which came into force on 25 December 2003.

Reports talk of success in curbing trafficking, but the phenomenon does not appear to be reducing: rather it appears to be increasing according to various national and international data. What has gone wrong? Why are the existing mechanisms insufficient? The UAE must seek answers to these questions. Is it not time to re-investigate the problem and to establish alternative mechanisms? The counter-trafficking initiatives based on a law and order approach have yielded unsatisfactory results.

There is an urgent need, therefore, for new strategies and practices to fight against this atrocity and to provide care and support for trafficked victims so that they can more easily re-integrate into society.

An Alternative Approach

Human trafficking is a human rights violation, and it is one that can result in a series of further abuses such as debt-bondage, forced labour in slavery-like conditions, even rape, torture and murder. Treating human beings as commodities to be bought and sold is a violation of an individual’s most basic rights to freedom, autonomy and human dignity. Freedom and justice become the sweet dreams of all individuals who are forced or tricked into serving others against their will – in other words, who are trafficked for the purpose of exploitation. The problem, therefore, demands a solution that not merely punishes the perpetrator of the human rights violation but seriously addresses its root causes.

Human trafficking is a global phenomenon; it occurs at local, regional, and international levels. It should be seen as resulting from a combination of various political, social, economic and legal failings. It is a product of larger socio-economic and political forces that feed the phenomenon and automatically render trafficked people vulnerable to abuse and exploitation in the first place. To tackle the problem in an effective manner, it is necessary to take account of the wide range of circumstances and conditions that, in effect, victimize women (and children) and make them vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and trafficking. The trafficking of persons must be seen as more than simply a crime of trading human beings as commodities; it needs to be viewed equally as a labour problem, a migration problem, a human rights problem, a law enforcement problem, and a political problem. A human rights approach to the struggle is capable of providing mechanisms for a holistic analysis covering all these problem areas.

It is an accepted fact that poverty, unjustly unequal educational and employment opportunities, and discrimination contribute to the vulnerability of persons to trafficking. A human rights approach to the struggle against human trafficking would aim to identify its root causes as part of a holistic approach, combining the insights and aspirations of all law enforcement bodies, the NGOs and INGOs, civil society, professionals, governments and international communities. It is pointed out, human rights law provides a conceptual framework for addressing the root causes of trafficking and for encouraging a more pro-active approach to dealing with this problem instead of relying on the traditional assumption that such issues are solely within the province of broader development policy. International human rights law provides an important normative framework within which new strategies can be drawn up. More significantly, the human rights environment offers legal and political opportunities for the disenfranchised to begin to claim their rights and thereby bring state responsibility in this area into sharper focus. Thus the concept of the human rights based approach is built on fundamental principles and values such as indivisibility, universality and inalienability, interdependence and inter-relatedness, non-discrimination and equality, participation and inclusion; and accountability and the rule of law. These principles and values, he insists, guarantee a human rights legal framework that can achieve ‘the criminalization of trafficking, the prosecution of traffickers, the assistance and protection of victims, and, most importantly, provide a greater attention to the root causes of trafficking’.

The Need for Integrated Policies in the UAE

Many national and international reports on trafficking in persons have estimated that thousands of women from sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe, South and East Asia, Iraq, Iran, and Morocco may be victims of sex trafficking in the UAE. These migrant women have often been brought into the country under false promises of working in the service sectors (hotels, night clubs, massage centres and hospitals) or as domestic servants. However, upon arrival, the traffickers have failed to provide the promised jobs, and instead they have confiscated passports and forced the women to work as prostitutes in order to meet their travel and living expenses. It is a heinous crime, and its perpetrators should be severely dealt with. Socio-economic reform is imperative demanding political will and international co-cooperation. A rights-based approach would seek to integrate the principles of the international human rights system into the processes involved in the struggle against trafficking. This will only happen, though, if human rights can be made central to policy-making and they are accepted as the political choice. Is it not time to re-think the methodology employed in the struggle against trafficking by integrating this holistic approach into policies and programmes?

The task of combating trafficking must be approached at several levels, all backed by strong national law enforcement. The UAE’s action to combat trafficking has so far concentrated on prohibition and prosecution. Protection of the victim has been only a secondary consideration, and the causes and the consequences of trafficking have mostly been ignored. In order to implement human rights approach prevention, prosecution and victim protection must be given equal emphasis. As critics suggest, measures to counter trafficking are needed in areas that lie beyond the criminal law so that violations of human rights are prevented. These other areas include labour law, migration law, external relations, and development policy. Generally understood as having a broad application within international human rights law, the non-discrimination principle could be well-suited to a human rights analysis of the root causes of trafficking, i.e. poverty, inequality in both educational and employment opportunities, violence against women, etc.

What they needed now in the UAE is a more fundamental review of counter-trafficking policy so that at long last the offensive can be taken against the traffickers. The review needs to be conducted alongside the NGOs, INGOs, civil society and the international community, with a rigorous independent assessment of the potential long-term effects of the current strategy. Having ensured that existing measures do not operate contrary to the desired goal of long-term prevention, attention can then be directed at deeper, systemic problems. However, efforts to combat trafficking in UAE will achieve little unless the fundamental root causes are adequately addressed. The cycle of trafficking and re-trafficking will only be broken once a holistic approach is adopted. Time is right, the choice is theirs.

Dr Basnet, who holds a Ph.D. and an LL.M degree in International Human Rights law at Lancaster University, U.K, is a Prominent Columnist, Researcher in International Human Rights Law and an Advocate in the Supreme Court Nepal. E-mail: [email protected]

Captain Mansoor Hassan Albalooshi is a Dubai Police Officer and PhD Candidate at Lancaster University Law School in the UK.

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