x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Call for co-operation on human trafficking

Former Unicef official stresses a need for countries to work together within the framework of international conventions.

DUBAI // Countries need to work more closely together to combat human trafficking, a symposium on the issue was told last night. Ghassan Khalil, an adviser on social policy and strategic planning at Dubai's Community Development Authority, stressed that the issue went beyond any one country.

"Human trafficking has a cross-border nature," he said. "There is a need to establish memorandums of understanding between countries of destination and countries of origin, in order to counter this crime." More interaction between countries could result in shared information about traffickers, potentially leading to arrests of criminals, he said. It would also be helpful in the safe repatriation of victims and efforts to prevent situations in which they could be abused again.

Mr Khalil, formerly the chief of child protection at Unicef in the Gulf region and director of the fund's camel jockey project, spoke about trafficking within the framework of international law, including the numerous conventions and treaties. He addressed the need to build the capacity of law enforcement agencies to deal with trafficking cases, stressing that training lawyers, police officers and others on the front line of the fight was key.

He also noted the Emirates' efforts not only in repatriating children previously involved in camel racing, but also in their rehabilitation and reintegration into their own communities. "There have been a lot of efforts made by the UAE in terms of countering human trafficking, and it should be noted that the UAE was the first country in the Arab world to develop anti-trafficking legislation," Mr Khalil said. "Law 51 is the cornerstone of national efforts."

The seminar was held at the Dubai Cultural and Scientific Association and organised by the Emirates Human Rights Association. It included an animated discussion by Dr Omar Abdul Kafi, an Egyptian Islamic scholar based in the UAE, who peppered his talk with parables from Islam and other anecdotes, which he related to the concept of human rights. He also spoke out against the exploitation or abuse of individuals, particularly women and children. Sharia law forbids the exploitation of vulnerable individuals for profit, he said.

"It's important to speak out against this; it is against Islam. "This problem can be solved. We can solve it through a religious approach and through religious law." Those found guilty of trafficking in the UAE face tough penalties, including fines of up to Dh1 million (US$270,000). Legislation and prosecution, victim support and awareness are all part of the strategy to combat trafficking, which has been identified as a priority by UAE authorities.

Earlier this month, the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking released its second annual report, which highlighted efforts made in the past year against the illegal trade. The report noted significant progress, including at least 20 cases of trafficking registered last year, compared with 10 in 2007, but concluded that "much more needs to be done". Also this month the Government expressed its "disappointment" with a US State Department report on trafficking, which downgraded the UAE's efforts, placing it back on a watch list of countries cited for their human trafficking records.

The report concluded that the UAE "does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking". Soon after the report was released, Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said it had failed properly to describe the country's anti-trafficking efforts over the last year. "The UAE Government is deeply disappointed by the subjective and inaccurate assessment in this report," said Dr Gargash, who is the chairman of the trafficking committee.

zconstantine@thenational.ae