Due to translations, the other language editions of NATO Review go online approximately two weeks after the English version.
About NATO Review
Submission policy
Editorial team

Combating human trafficking

Captain Keith J. Allred examines NATO policy on countering trafficking in human beings.

Victims of human trafficking: More needs to be done to reduce one of the great evils of our day that destroys thousands of lives(© UNMIK)

One of the lesser-known outcomes of NATO's 2004 Istanbul Summit was the adoption of a NATO Policy Against Human Trafficking. The Policy calls human trafficking a crime meriting universal condemnation, describing it as a "modern day slave trade that fuels corruption and organised crime" bringing with it the potential to "destabilise fragile governments". The Policy was adopted by all heads of state and government, and applies to all nations contributing troops to NATO operations. Two years on, progress is beginning to show and the initiative has led to many efforts to tackle the problem of trafficking.

It may seem odd for NATO to have decided to make a security issue of what appears to be a social or police problem, but the initiative reflects a growing awareness that human trafficking poses a threat to NATO operations, which themselves can create or increase the demand for trafficked women. Various international organizations have estimated that hundreds of thousands of victims are trafficked each year. Human trafficking is a significant source of revenue for criminal organisations whose activities may destabilise legitimate governments and undermine the NATO mission. Hence, human trafficking should be viewed as a security threat that merits NATO's attention.

While the Policy addresses all aspects of human trafficking, it specifically recognises the impact that deployed troops can have on the demand for women trafficked for the sex trade. When deployed forces patronise prostitutes, they are often purchasing services from organised criminal enterprises and are creating the "demand" for trafficked women. NATO troops engaged in such activities are often patronizing sex slaves and filling the coffers of organized criminals in countries where NATO operates. Neither of these outcomes is worthy of NATO or its members.

NATO's decision to address human trafficking coincided with other incidents that demonstrated the role of deployed troops in the illegal sex trade. Allegations of sexual offences by UN peacekeepers surfaced in Congo in 2003 to the embarrassment of the United Nations. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was outraged to learn that UN peacekeepers were accused of raping and molesting Congolese women and children.

Similar accusations over the previous decade made the reports credible. In a 2002 UN Development Fund for Women study entitled Women, War and Peace: The Independent Experts' Assessment of the Impact of Armed Conflict on Women and Women's Role in Peace-Building, authors Elizabeth Rehn and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf substantiated UN peacekeepers' involvement in sexual offences, including human trafficking in Angola, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, East Timor, Kosovo, Liberia, Mozambique, Sierra Leone and Somalia.

When peacekeepers deployed in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, they brought with them a demand for sexual services that was promptly met by an increase in women trafficked there for the purpose. Brothels sprang up almost overnight outside these compounds, with club names and atmospheres that appealed to the nationality of the troops in the nearest base. When bases closed, the brothels closed as well. Many of the women employed in these brothels had been trafficked to the former Yugoslavia expressly to serve UN Peacekeepers. The relationship between deployed troops and the demand for trafficked women was unmistakable.

The United States also suffered an embarrassing incident that demonstrated the overly close relationship between troops and trafficked women. In May 2002, a Fox News television report suggested that US troops in South Korea carried out "courtesy patrols" to protect brothels that exploited trafficked women. The broadcast of this television exposé in the United States caused 14 Congressmen to write to the Department of Defense Inspector General urging him to investigate what appeared to be official participation in or support for human trafficking. While the Inspector General concluded that there was no overt military support for human traffickers in South Korea, he did find an "overly familiar" relationship between US forces there and the sex trade. US forces in South Korea were embarrassed by these findings and took swift steps to prevent US soldiers from any further involvement.

NATO policy

In part as a result of incidents such as these, the Norwegian and US ambassadors to NATO initiated consideration of a wide-ranging NATO policy on the issue of human trafficking in March 2004. The Policy, finally adopted at Istanbul, set NATO on a course that should prevent Allied troops from engaging in activities that facilitate or support human trafficking.

Human trafficking threatens to destabilise governments and embolden criminal networks

It requires member states to take a variety of actions to reduce human trafficking. These include reviews of national legislation; ratification, acceptance or approval of the UN Convention Against Organised Crime and its Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children; training of all personnel taking part in NATO-led operations; contractual provisions that prohibit contractors from engaging or facilitating human trafficking; and a commitment to evaluate implementation of their efforts as part of ongoing reviews carried out by the competent authorities.

All NATO nations had signed and many had ratified both the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime and its Protocol long before the Istanbul Summit called for it. Since the Summit, two more NATO nations - Belgium and the United States - have ratified the Convention on Organised Crime and the Protocol on Human Trafficking. Nine have yet to ratify either treaty: the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom.

Much recent progress in combating human trafficking has come via enacting new laws; building the capacity of non-governmental organisations, law-enforcement agencies and the judiciary to provide services to trafficked persons; and learning best practices for investigation and prosecution.

Norway, for example, put in place a National Plan of Action to Combat Human Trafficking in 2003 and published a revised plan in June 2005. This plan provides for identification of victims and increased efforts to identify and prosecute traffickers, and will be implemented between 2006 and 2008. The Norwegian Armed Forces Code of Conduct prohibits the purchase of sexual services and relations that might otherwise weaken confidence in the impartiality of the force. Norwegian military personnel who violate the code are subject to punishment.

The United States has implemented a new article in its military code, effective on 15 November 2005, which prohibits members of its armed forces from patronising prostitutes. The new article will allow military commanders to punish soldiers who pay for sexual services. US Forces in Korea have a robust and far-reaching programme to prevent American Soldiers deployed there from patronizing establishments where trafficked women may be kept.


The US Agency for International Development (USAID) and Romania have collaborated on a regional anti-trafficking "best practices" training manual for law enforcement officers . The manual is the result of two years of intensive cooperation between USAID/Romania, the UN Development Programme, and Romania's Ministry of Administration and the Interior.

Written for border police officers, specialised police units, and prosecutors, the manual was officially adopted by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime at the regional law enforcement senior officials meeting in Vienna in December 2003. The regional anti-trafficking training strategy has been endorsed by 13 Southeastern European countries - Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Serbia and Montenegro, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,* Moldova, Romania, Slovenia, Turkey, and Ukraine, as well as the UN Mission in Kosovo - and is projected to be the most advanced anti-trafficking training programme for law enforcement in the world. Several hundred police officers in the region have already received specialised anti-trafficking training based on this new manual, and police academies in several countries have adopted its modules in their student curricula. The manual includes a legislative compendium and a contact directory specific to Southeastern Europe. The best practices section, which includes an overview of trafficking methodology, practical suggestions for international cooperation, specialist investigative techniques, and tactics for disrupting trafficking, can be adapted throughout the world.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), USAID and the Turkish government have implemented an anti-trafficking in persons project initiated by the IOM office in Ankara. The project takes a comprehensive approach to combating human trafficking, increasing the prosecution of traffickers, protecting trafficked individuals and preventing trafficking through public awareness and intervention. The $600,000 project included funds for a "157 Helpline". Passport inserts given to potential trafficking victims as they pass through immigration checkpoints alert them to this service. Similar to the 911 emergency number popular in the United States, 157 is a dedicated emergency response line that has already helped coordinate the rescue of 60 trafficking victims, and has helped IOM return more than 200 trafficked women to their homes. A national referral network for trafficked persons is in development.

The NATO School has developed three modules that it offers in eight of its resident courses taught at Oberammergau, Germany. A General Module, a Module for Military Commanders, and a Law Enforcement Module alert NATO School students to the issues of human trafficking. All of these modules are available to other NATO and Partnership for Peace (PfP) training institutions, with a web version for advanced distributed learning purposes. The Turkish PfP Training Centre in Ankara created a one-week course on Combating Smuggling and Trafficking in Human Beings, and delivered it via mobile training teams to Albania, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Romania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,* Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Ukraine during the past year.

These initiatives, and many more like them, are in various stages of planning and implementation throughout the Alliance. NATO recognised at Istanbul that it could no longer ignore the two-pronged threat that human trafficking poses. First, as a business enterprise that provides millions of dollars to organised crime each year, human trafficking threatens to destabilise local governments and embolden the criminal networks that oppose them. NATO troop patronage of these establishments funds and supports a security threat that is intensely counter-productive to the NATO mission. Furthermore, the NATO Allies have also recognised that NATO troops who patronise brothels or otherwise facilitate human trafficking are themselves involved in the criminal enterprise as customers. For reasons of principle and to maintain the integrity of NATO operations, this must be prevented. To date, however, only Norway and the United States are known to have taken action to prohibit their military personnel from patronizing prostitutes while deployed.

Other NATO Partners are moving to implement the Policy in other ways. In addition, NATO is conducting a thorough review of the Policy with a view towards possible enhancements should they be deemed necessary by the North Atlantic Council. While there has already been some positive movement, it is still too early to assess the impact of all the initiatives that are currently under development. But there is reason to hope that initiatives that are now coming into force will begin to disrupt and weaken the criminal enterprises that profit from organised human trafficking. More governments must take steps to prohibit their forces from facilitating human trafficking by patronizing establishments where trafficking victims may be kept against their will. Only time will tell the extent to which the new Policy helps reduce what is one of the great evils of our day.

Share this    DiggIt   MySpace   Facebook   Delicious   Permalink