NATO policy on combating trafficking in human beings

  • Last updated: 23 Aug. 2021 18:11

The Alliance initiated a zero-tolerance policy on human trafficking, which was endorsed at the Istanbul Summit in June 2004. The policy commits NATO member countries and other troop-contributing nations participating in NATO-led operations to reinforce efforts to prevent and combat such activity. The issue is kept under regular review by the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC). The policy was also opened to the Mediterranean Dialogue and Istanbul Cooperation Initiative countries, as well as four partners across the globe (Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the New Zealand) and remaining operational partners (Colombia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Singapore, Tonga) in January 2011.


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NATO member countries are all signatories to the UN Protocol on Trafficking in Persons. The Allies are keenly aware that human trafficking fuels corruption and organized crime, and therefore runs counter to NATO’s stabilization efforts in its theatres of operation. These considerations led to the development of the NATO policy on combating trafficking in human beings.

NATO does not see itself as the primary organization to combat trafficking in human beings, but is working to add value wherever it can. The policy was developed in consultation with EAPC countries and non-NATO troop contributors, as well as governmental and non-governmental organizations.

The zero-tolerance policy calls for military and civilian personnel and contractors taking part in NATO-led operations to receive appropriate training on standards of their behavior during the operations. The Allies also agreed to review national legislation and report on national efforts in this regard. In theatre, NATO-led forces, operating within the limits of their mandate, support the responsible host-country authorities in their efforts to combat trafficking in human beings.

Much of the responsibility for implementing the policy was assigned to NATO’s Military Committee given that it is troops from NATO and non-NATO nations participating in NATO-led operations who are the most likely to come into contact with trafficked individuals and trafficking rings. Guidance was then issued by the Strategic Commanders.

The policy is kept under review to make sure that it’s effectively implemented by Allies and Partners as well as NATO as an organization. A regular comprehensive review is conducted to provide policy and practical recommendations. These include measures to strengthen policies and provisions in specific operations, to enhance training and awareness raising among NATO forces as well as the evaluation and reporting of all related activities.

A Senior Coordinator on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings (the NATO ASG for Defence Policy and Planning) coordinates all Alliance efforts in this field.

  • Developing policies and provisions in specific operations

    The Alliance is working to ensure that the entire chain of command in every operation is aware of the NATO policy. Within existing operations the Allies are developing specific policy provisions, which do not exceed NATO’s mandate, for the role of NATO-led forces in supporting the authorities of the host country in combating the trafficking of human beings.

    Specific policy provisions have been developed and incorporated into operational plans relating to the Balkans to reflect the NATO policy and relevant guidance, as well as to raise the awareness of personnel. The appropriate role for NATO forces in this area is to support activities to the local authorities and relevant international organizations. Maintaining close contact with the host country is vital.

  • Training and raising awareness among Allied forces

    Training and raising awareness among NATO forces is essentially the responsibility of the individual troop-contributing nation. Yet the Alliance is addressing the issue in a number of courses for the military personnel of both NATO and Partner countries at the NATO Defense College in Rome and NATO School in Oberammergau (NSO), Germany. Options for enhancing training in this area are being considered. The NSO also provides two Advanced Distant Learning courses related to combating trafficking in human beings, which are available to all those that may want to use them. Moreover, since 2008, the Turkish PfP Training Center organizes a bi-annual course on “Fight Against Trafficking in Human Beings”, which is open to military and civilians from NATO, PfP, MD and ICI countries.

  • Accountability under the zero-tolerance policy

    Nations contributing troops to NATO-led operations are required to ensure that members of their forces – as well as civilian elements –- who engage in human trafficking or facilitate it, are liable to appropriate prosecution and punishment under their national legislation. Senior NATO commanders could ask for the repatriation of any offenders.