Trafficking in human beings: the GRETA group of experts publishes its annual report
The Council of Europe Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) has published its annual report for 2021. During 2021 GRETA was able to pass a number of milestones despite the negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemicand continued to develop its co-operation with other Council of Europe bodies, other international organizations and civil society at preventing and combating human trafficking. It carried out ten country evaluation visits and adopted third round evaluation reports on six countries (France, Latvia, Malta, Montenegro, Romania and the United Kingdom). Israel has become the second non-member state of the Council of Europe to accede to the anti-trafficking convention.
In the report, GRETA’s President, Helga Gayer, points out that child trafficking has continued to increase despite the legislative and policy measures taken by States Parties to the Anti-Trafficking Convention. “The Covid-19 pandemic has made children even more vulnerable to trafficking, including online exploitation. All actors involved in the fight against human trafficking must step up their efforts to combat child trafficking and develop innovative approaches to protect children,” she said. The report contains the main findings and recommendations of a study on online technology-facilitated human trafficking, based on information provided by 40 States Parties to the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Persons human beings, 12 NGOs and two IT companies.
The study assesses the impact of technology on human trafficking, operational and legal challenges in detecting, investigating and prosecuting online and ICT-facilitated human trafficking offenses, and contains a set of recommendations. The study also explores the strategies, tools and good practices adopted by States Parties to overcome these challenges. These include internet monitoring, web scraping tools and social media analysis. The involvement and cooperation of a wide range of agencies and the sharing of knowledge is crucial, as is cross-border cooperation in securing electronic evidence.
Technological tools to identify victims of trafficking, such as facial recognition and web crawlers, can be useful in reducing data and processing large volumes of information; however, the study points out that they raise ethical concerns and should only be employed by well-trained operators with knowledge of human trafficking. Online self-reporting mechanisms and telephone helplines allow victims to seek help and disseminate information to at-risk communities. The study recommends improving confidential online reporting mechanisms and working with private companies to put in place mechanisms to report suspicious activity and advertisements. Countries should also develop data sharing procedures and cooperation protocols with companies holding the relevant data.
“The Covid-19 pandemic and ICT developments have produced structural changes in the modi operandi of human traffickers, requiring countries to adapt and resource their law enforcement and criminal justice systems capacity to cope with the changing environment. To combat the use of ICTs by human traffickers, it is essential that governments invest in the training of law enforcement personnel, provide adequate resources and strengthen their cooperation with private companies and with other national authorities,” said GRETA President Helga Gayer.