7 May . 2007

NATO's anti-trafficking coordinator explains priorities

Video interview with the Assistant Secretary General for Defence Policy and Planning, Mr. John Colston

INTERVIEWER: We're here today with Mr. John Colston, the NATO Assistant Secretary General for Defence Policy and Planning Division. Welcome.
You have just been assigned as NATO's special co-ordinator on combatting trafficking in human beings. We know that both allies and partners feel strongly about this subject, but why is this subject important for NATO?

JOHN COLSTON (Assistant Secretary General for Defence Policy and Planning, NATO): Well this subject is important for everybody. Trafficking in human beings constitutes a universally condemned crime and all nations and all international organisations, including NATO, have to do whatever they can to combat it.

Just to give you one or two facts and figures by way of example: this is an illegal industry, a criminal industry, which is estimated to generate some seven billion euros a year for the criminals who are engaged in it. We estimate that somewhere between 400,000 and 800,000 people, mostly women and children, are engaged in the trafficking of human beings. Nearly 130 countries are involved in this trade in some form or other. And I have to say unfortunately Southeast Europe, where NATO is engaged both politically and militarily, is one of the areas where this criminal activity is concentrated most. It is potentially de-stabilizing of nations and so it works against our interests in building stability and security in countries throughout the world, but particularly in Europe. There are also risks that illegal funds on this scale are potential sources of income for terrorism.

So both in political and in military, as well of course as in humanitarian terms, it's essential that NATO tries to do whatever it can to contribute to the response to this problem.

INTERVIEWER: Does NATO have a role in combatting human trafficking?

COLSTON: Yes it does and I think it has a very important role. There are two aspects in which NATO has a responsibility in relation to combatting human trafficking. The first is the way in which our military personnel behave when they are deployed on operations. We must make sure that they do not become part of the problem; that NATO, our peacekeepers, do not become part of the problem. And so we've developed a series of policies and a series of educational training practices to try to address this.

When NATO Heads of State and Government met in Istanbul in 2004, they agreed a zero tolerance policy in relation to human trafficking and that said that any of our personnel, military or civilian, deployed on operations must not act in a way which contributes to the problems of human trafficking. Our partner nations were fully involved in the development of this policy and our partner nations are also fully involved in its implementation. We working together, allies and partners, to ensure that we deliver our commitments to our relevant United Nations conventions in relation to human trafficking and that we undertake a series of actions to respond to these threats; that we review our national legislation and we report on national efforts to meet our obligations under the United Nations conventions; that we encourage nations who are contributing forces to operations to abide by the relevant UN and OSCE documents and that we provide appropriate training for all personnel who are serving on NATO-led operations.

But I said that there were two ways in which we can help. The way in which our own military and civilian personnel behave is the first of those reasons. The second is what we can do to help the host governments in countries where we are deployed militarily; what we can do to help those countries who are our partners within the Partnership for Peace, but who face challenges from organized crime in general and human trafficking in particular, to respond to those challenges.

So there is a political, as well as military dimension to what NATO can do in response to this problem.

INTERVIEWER: But what are your main challenges and priorities as NATO's senior co-ordinator on combatting human trafficking?

COLSTON: The challenges are considerable, not least since I've only just begun this role and I recognize how much hard work lies ahead in trying to assist the nations, allies and partners, in responding to this challenge. As far as what I will be seeking to do, I think it falls into three broad areas.

The first of those is working with allies and partners to encourage the necessary action to put the right legislation, the right national legislation in place, in each of our countries; and to put the right military procedures to ensure that the disciplinary codes, the codes of conduct, are there which minimize the risks that our military personnel will contribute to the problem, as well as working with partner nations where human trafficking may have become an issue in terms of organized crime in those countries.

The second area where I see myself having a role is working closely with colleagues inside NATO and working closely with the military commanders for the NATO operations to ensure that everybody understands what needs to be done, that everybody is putting in place the right procedures, the right training modules and so on, in order to ensure that service personnel are as well prepared as possible.

And the third and last area where I think I will have a particular responsibility is in liaising, is in talking to other international organisations. NATO has to recognize that other organisations, the United Nations, OSCE, have more experience and more understanding of these issues than we do. We're in a supporting role. We want to learn from them and we want to work closely with them to deliver our common aims.

INTERVIEWER: Can you explain more about the implementation of NATO's zero tolerance policy?

COLSTON: Let me try and do so. What we need in particular is to ensure that we have good feedback from the nations and from the military chain of command. It is one thing to say that we have a zero tolerance policy, but we need to know that it's working; we need to know that it's having a real impact on the way in which our personnel operate. Now we have asked our military commanders to report positively that all NATO personnel, including contractors, working in a mission or operation are aware of NATO's zero tolerance policy. So awareness training is a major element of our work.

But it must go beyond that as well and we're looking at the designation of focal point offices at each operational headquarters who would be responsible for this issue. We are looking at the content of the courses at the NATO school in Oberammergau and the NATO Defence College in Rome to ensure that they take proper account of the requirement to train personnel in relation to the risks of human trafficking. Training is primarily a national responsibility, but we want to make sure that each of the nations has the information that they need in order to implement this effectively. And we're also looking to see whether alongside or as part of the process of certifying troops as fit to contribute to NATO-led operations as part of that process. We're also looking to see whether there should be an element of certification specifically in relation to combatting trafficking in human beings. So a whole range of very practical things that we're trying to put in hand.

INTERVIEWER: Well obviously NATO cannot do this alone. What partners will NATO seek out to help?

COLSTON: Well indeed NATO cannot do this alone and nor should we be expected to do so, nor should we try to do so. There are a great number of national and international organisations who are actively involved in trying to address the challenges of human trafficking and close co-operation with those organisations is absolutely essential. NATO's policy itself is based on the experience of the United Nations and co-operation with the United Nations, both at headquarters level and in the context of specific operations, is going to be very important indeed.

We're also trying to develop regular contacts with other organisations involved in countering human trafficking, such as the OSCE, such as the European Union, to ensure that we can work with them and learn from them. And I should say that in our operational theatres where NATO forces are deployed operationally, there is already a very good pattern of co-operation and liaison with other international organisations working in that theatre.

So in summary we have still a big task ahead of us, but I am sure that NATO and NATO nations in close co-operation with all of those who are working so hard and so well, will really help to combat this terrible crime.

INTERVIEWER: Let's hope so. Thank you.