The Coalition’s scandalous opposition to EU anti-trafficking law

The refusal of the Coalition to endorse a European Union directive to combat the trade in sex slaves and child trafficking shows the weakness of the Liberal Democrat arm of the Government.

The refusal of the Coalition to endorse a European Union directive to combat the trade in sex slaves and child trafficking shows the weakness of the Liberal Democrat arm of the Government. The law in question is a draft directive on preventing and combating trafficking of human beings, and protecting victims; it is currently being dealt with jointly by the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs committee and the Women Rights and Gender Equality committee.

Although Parliament’s draft report has not been voted on, it is likely to be approved with a large majority.

It would establish common EU standards for the prosecution of traffickers and greater protection for victims, meaning that, for example, women trafficked for the sex trade could not be charged with holding false immigration papers given them by traffickers.

The directive also includes the protection of children from sexual abuse, exploitation and child pornography. The need for EU action is, in part, because many victims are trafficked through Europe. It would also allow suspects to be prosecuted for offences in other member states.

European treaties give the government the option to opt-in or out, but this right was not agreed for directives such as this. On August 4, the Home Office told the BBC that the directive offered no benefits to Britain, hence the decision to opt-out. In another instance, the Home Office spokesperson told the media:

“Human trafficking is a brutal form of organised crime, and combating it is a key priority for the government. The UK already complies with most of what is required by the draft EU directive.”

Working with our neighbouring member states to combat human trafficking was at the heart of a conference held by Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in Sheffield in 2005; Crown Prosecutor Mr Rankin said:

“At meetings such as these with our partners in the criminal justice systems across Europe, we discuss how we can work together to prevent and combat human trafficking through international co-operation, sharing best practice and improving the effectiveness of prosecutions.”

Britain’s record in tackling and convicting human traffickers has been criticised by grouns including Amnesty International, who stated in June that the UK’s new anti-trafficking measures were “not fit for purpose”. They added that the government was “breaching its obligations under the European Convention against Trafficking”.

Klara Skrivankova of Anti-Slavery International said:

“Without international co-operation, the government will lose the battle with the traffickers. By choosing not to opt in to the directive, the government is failing in its efforts to combat this transnational crime.”

New figures also show a failure to increase convictions of criminal gangs who have forced an estimated 2,600 foreign women into prostitution in brothels in England and Wales.

Only five people were convicted of human trafficking for sexual exploitation in the first six months of this year, according to the UK Human Trafficking Centre. This is compared with 33 and 34 in the previous two 12-month periods. A further nine were convicted of other offences, having been arrested on suspicion of trafficking.

Former Europe Minister, Denis MacShane has written to Nick Clegg to urge the ex-European Commission official that:

“Women in particular will be alarmed to learn that the Liberal Democrats are willing to support these efforts to weaken the directive. It is the wrong signal to send to the pimps and traffickers.

“I hope you can persuade the prime minister to drop his opt-out policy on this welcome effort to combat sex-slave trafficking.”

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