x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Middle East urged to unite against human trafficking

UN initiative calls for better training, co-operation and resources for victims to address 'one of the most important humanitarian issues'.

Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, spoke at an anti-trafficking forum in Doha on Monday.
Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, spoke at an anti-trafficking forum in Doha on Monday.

Middle Eastern countries have been urged to work together more closely and better train their law enforcement agencies to fight people trafficking. "The idea was to strengthen co-operation between the Arab countries," Dr Saeed al Ghufli, the co-ordinator of the UAE's National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking, said after a regional anti-trafficking forum in Doha this week that focused on creating a unified regional front.

The Doha Forum 2010 was held on Monday and Tuesday under the patronage of Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned, the wife of the Emir of Qatar, and organised by the government of Qatar, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Arab League. A regional UNODC initiative to bolster efforts to combat human trafficking was launched during the forum. "I think the initiative from Qatar is good and it will add more to the efforts of the regional government bodies and NGOs," Dr al Ghufli said.

Julie Platou Kvammen, an anti-human trafficking expert with UNODC's regional office in Cairo, said the three-year initiative - which is expected to begin next month - will start with better training, especially how to identify and protect victims. "We are assessing the needs of each country," she said. "We also want to bridge the barriers between law enforcement agencies and NGOs [non-governmental organisations]."

During the forum, participants highlighted the need for more data on the crime to understand its extent in the region. "There were discussions on the need for a data centre to analyse all data from the Arab countries to find where the problems lie," Dr al Ghufli said. Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and chairman of the UAE's anti-trafficking committee, spoke on the opening day of the forum, outlining the country's efforts.

The UAE's Law 51 mandates harsh penalties for the crime, including life imprisonment, and has since resulted in dozens of cases of modern-day slavery coming before courts. Since the law was introduced in 2006, other countries, including Syria and Oman, have followed suit, according to Maryam al Malki, the general manager of the Qatar Foundation for Combating Human Trafficking. Qatar is currently considering a draft law.

Ms al Malki also highlighted the need to provide protection for victims, including safe places for them to receive care. In a speech, she cited several "promising" examples of sites in Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Damascus. At the end of the gathering, a set of recommendations was released including calls for Arab states to ratify international anti-trafficking treaties, such as the Palermo Protocol, a UN anti-trafficking convention that was ratified by the UAE last year.

Regional governments were also urged to establish special bodies within law enforcement agencies to tackle the issue, as well as to consider the establishment of national funds to support trafficking victims and provide them with legal assistance. Governments should also consider granting victims immunity if they committed the crimes as a result of them being trafficked. @Email:zconstantine@thenational.ae