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International commitments and conventions on combating human trafficking

Besides national legislation, there are also international regulations on human trafficking. Because the nature of human trafficking is transnational, the phenomenon poses challenges that no country alone can respond to. Thus, the purpose of international agreements and related regulations has been both to include and to harmonise the contracting parties’ national legislation. This has been deemed important so that the victims’ special status, the help and support needed and the prevention of human trafficking can be taken into account in national legislation as well as possible.

Laki-vaakakupitInternational agreements and EU-level directives have had an impact on the current form of the Finnish legislation regarding the action against human trafficking. After the Supplementary Protocol to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (also known as one of the Palermo Protocols) entered into force in 2004, separate sections on trafficking in human beings and on aggravated trafficking in human beings were added to the Criminal Code of Finland. Pursuant to international agreements and EU-level legislation, more attention has been paid to the rights of the victims of human trafficking and how they are assisted.

Supplementary Protocol to the United Nations Palermo Convention (2000)

The Supplementary Protocol to the United Nations Palermo Convention is one of the most important internationally binding conventions on combating human trafficking. The purpose of the Supplementary Protocol is the prevention,   
suppression and punishment of trafficking in persons, especially women and children, which is why the Protocol focuses on crime prevention.

The most important parts of the Protocol are the definition of human trafficking and the criminalisation of human trafficking in the national legislation of the countries adopting the Protocol. The definition of human trafficking presented in Article 3 of the Supplementary Protocol is a widely used and accepted definition, and it has formed the basis for other agreements. Under the Supplementary Protocol, “trafficking in persons” means

the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.

Separate provisions on the consent of a victim are included in the Supplementary Protocol. Under the Protocol, the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a child under the age of 18 for the purpose of exploitation is considered human trafficking.

The Supplementary Protocol also contains other obligations for the contracting states, including the following:

  • to consider implementing measures, such as the provision of appropriate housing, to assist a victim of human trafficking (see Article 6);
  • to endeavour to provide for the physical safety of victims while they are within its territory;
  • to consider adopting measures that permit victims of human trafficking to remain in its territory, temporarily or permanently (see Article 7).

The Council of Europe Convention focuses on victims

Toiveikkaat-naiset-vapautuneet-ihmiskaupastaIn addition to the Palermo Convention, the Council of Europe Convention on action against trafficking in human beings (2005) is one of the most important international conventions on action against human trafficking that are being observed by Finland. The Council of Europe Convention differs from the Supplementary Protocol to the Palermo Convention in that it focuses more on the victim and that many of the articles have been written in a way that makes them strongly binding for a state. Under the Convention, a state must for example:

  • adopt such legislative or other measures as may be necessary to assist victims in their physical, psychological and social recovery (see Article 12 paragraph 1);
  • ensure that victims are identified appropriately, receive assistance during the identification process and are not removed from its territory until the identification process as a victim of human trafficking has been completed (see Article 10);
  • issue a residence permit to victims, if their stay is necessary owing to their personal situation or for the purpose of their co-operation with the competent authorities in investigation or criminal proceedings (see Article 14).
The Council of Europe Convention also includes provisions on a recovery and reflection period of at least 30 days for victims of human trafficking (see Article 13). During this period, a decision on removal from the country cannot be enforced.

EU directives complement the Council of Europe Convention

Some EU-level directives on human trafficking aim to harmonise the national legislation of EU Member States regarding trafficking. These include:


Below are some examples of the provisions in these directives:

  • The concept of exploitation related to trafficking in human beings has been defined in more detail.
  • Assistance and support must be provided as soon as the competent authorities have reasonable grounds to believe that a person might be a victim of human trafficking. Assistance cannot be made conditional on the victim’s willingness to cooperate in the criminal procedure.
  • EU Member States must establish appropriate mechanisms aimed at the early identification of, assistance to and support for victims.
  • Pre-trial investigation authorities must inform the injured parties of their rights regarding for example support services, advice and protection.