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It is essential that national laws criminalize trafficking in human beings in order to bring to justice those responsible for trafficking in all its forms.  For example, the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings provides that States Parties are obliged to establish as criminal offences trafficking in human beings as defined in Article 4 of the Convention, either by means of a single criminal offence or by a combination of several offences which must cover at least all conduct likely to fall within the scope of the Convention’s definition. Trafficking in human beings is a combination of elements to be criminalised and not elements taken in isolation (Article 18).

The Convention also provides for the criminalization of the use of the services which are the object of exploitation with the knowledge that the person is a victim of trafficking (Article 19) as well as acts relating to travel or identity documents when they are used to enable trafficking (Article 20).

It is also necessary for national laws to criminalize any act of complicity or attempt to commit a crime of trafficking in human beings (Article 21). In this respect, it is important not to limit oneself to natural persons but also to recognize that legal persons may also commit this crime.

Article 22 of the Council of Europe Convention provides for the liability of commercial companies, associations and similar legal persons for criminal acts committed for their benefit by a person exercising a managerial position within the legal person. Article 22 also provides for liability when a person exercising a managerial power fails to supervise or control an employee or agent of the corporation, where such failure facilitates the commission of any of the offences by that employee or agent.

Effectively combating trafficking in human beings means that the seriousness of this offence must also be addressed by providing for criminal sanctions that are “effective, proportionate and dissuasive” (Article 23). For natural persons, these are custodial sentences that may give rise to extradition. For legal persons, these may be criminal, administrative or civil sanctions.

The Convention also provides for aggravating circumstances to be taken into account in determining the penalty for the offences established in the following cases:

  • If the offence endangered the life of the victim deliberately or through gross negligence
  • If the offence was committed against a child
  • If the offence was committed by a public official in the performance of his or her duties
  • If the offence was committed within the framework of a criminal organisation (Article 24).

Article 27 of the Convention also provides for the possibility for public authorities to prosecute offences established under the Convention without the need for a complaint by the victim. It is also possible for the victim to lodge his complaint with the competent authorities of his State of residence as well as the possibility for non-governmental organisations and associations to assist and/or support the victim during criminal proceedings.

Finally, it is worth noting the need to protect victims, witnesses and persons who cooperate with judicial authorities (Article 28) and to adopt judicial procedures in order to protect the privacy and security of victims (Article 30), as well as the measures necessary to promote the specialisation of persons or units in the fight against trafficking in human beings and the protection of victims (Article 29).

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