The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), in collaboration with the Ministry of Interior of Montenegro and the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs of France, will hold the Regional Expert Group Meeting (REGM): “Addressing Cyber and Technology-facilitated Trafficking in Persons for Sexual Exploitation, including Children in South Eastern Europe” in Hotel Carine Kumbor, Herceg Novi, Montenegro on 5-6 July 2022. The workshop will gather States of origin, transit and destination from the broader region of South Eastern Europe (SEE) and the European Union (EU) to take stock of the current challenges in addressing abuse of internet-based technologies in the trafficking in persons (TIP) context, exchange of good practices in detection, use of parallel and joint investigations with a view to enhancing cross-border cooperation, in particular by utilizing digital forensics, electronic evidences, share experiences on new trends in recruitment of human trafficking victims via internet-based technology as well as protection of human trafficking victims through victim-centered investigative and prosecution approaches. Background Trafficking in persons remains one of the most serious crimes and violations of human rights in SEE region and worldwide.
The United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Woman and Children (Trafficking in Persons Protocol) supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC, also called the Palermo Convention), is the first universal instrument to define trafficking in persons. It offers States parties a comprehensive definition of the crime and a comprehensive approach to combating it, with stated purposes of prevention of trafficking, prosecution of traffickers and protection of victims. As the guardian of the Palermo Convention and its Trafficking in Persons Protocol, UNODC plays a leading role in strengthening and coordinating the criminal justice response to human trafficking.
The “Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children”, supplementing the Organized Crime Convention, is an instrument that allows capturing changing realities. Notably, Article 3(a) of the Trafficking in Persons Protocol, which provides the first internationally agreed definition of trafficking in persons, does not specifically define the concept of exploitation. The list of exploitative purposes set out in the Protocol is not exhaustive and may be expanded provided the integrity of the Protocol is retained. Technology not only enables new forms of trafficking, such as cyberspace trafficking, that are only possible using technical devices, but also shapes the “traditional” types of trafficking, by significantly broadening the sphere of action for traffickers. It affects the way victims of trafficking are recruited, groomed, deceived and exploited.
Human Trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation is the most detected form of trafficking, with 50% of the detected victims worldwide in accordance with the 2020 UNODC Global Report on trafficking in persons1 . Global expansion and accessibility of information and communication technology (ICT) such as the Internet, smartphone devices and social media and their unprecedented technological advancement have created new possibilities for dynamic flow of information and more real-time communication, irrespective of the geographical distances. This development has positively transformed societies around the world but at the same time advanced opportunities for misuse by organized criminal groups dealing with TIP in facilitation of their collaboration, infrastructure and communication as well as in publicizing their services among potential victims of trafficking. TIP criminal networks are apparently quickly adapting to the commission of cyber and ICTfacilitated TIP and to rapidly hide or change their identity. They use ICT for: online recruitment, grooming and luring; navigation during the trafficking journey; financial transactions including by cryptocurrencies, communication along the journey as well as maintaining the contact with relatives in the countries of origin or isolating and making the TIP victims vulnerable by confiscating their ICT equipment; control, and blackmail.
Capitalizing on people’s loss of livelihoods during the pandemic and the increasing amount of time both adults and children were spending on the Internet, traffickers utilized social media and other online platforms to recruit new victims. Thirty-seven per cent of stakeholder survey respondents reported that the recruitment of victims has moved online during the pandemic. Traffickers have responded to the closure of bars, clubs and massage parlors (due to lockdowns, curfews and other measures to control the spread of COVID-19) by moving the sexual exploitation of adults and children to private homes and apartments2 . In South Eastern Europe, sexual exploitation is still the dominant form of trafficking, with substantive changes in the profiles of victims (increasing number of foreign victims), the modus operandi of perpetrators (who have recently been using hidden private locations instead of night bars), and in the motivation and recruitment strategies as well as in the access of such services (increasingly through the use of internet and web pages).
However, governments, the private sector, civil society and the academia should use the current situation as an opportunity to benefit from the potential of ICT in prevention and mitigation of harmful effects caused by TIP. Effective and efficient use of specific tools for detection and investigation of TIP by use of ICT, such as digital forensics techniques, automated search, Global Positioning System (GPS), image analysis and image databases, blockchain, digital surveillance systems, data mining and analytics by specialized and dedicated professionals across the jurisdictions remains crucial in combating ICT-facilitated TIP. The ICT also provides opportunities for saving the lives of the victims of TIP in distress as well as for variety of prevention activities by utilizing the ‘internet of things’. In this respect, multi-stakeholder cooperation is necessary and it should involve victims, families, communities, governments, academia, civil society and the private sector in addressing the challenges of TIP.
Objectives of the Regional Expert Group Meeting The objective of the REGM is to support a coordinated response to the trafficking in persons in SEE, and hence to assist in the implementation of the Trafficking in Persons Protocol. The REGM also aims to improve the knowledge base on abuse of ICT for the TIP purposes and to identify effective methods and good practices to combat TIP by exchange of experience and expertise among practitioners from TIP, international and regional organizations, as well as with the main technology and financial services providers from the private sector. In addition, the REGM will aim to raise awareness of topical issues related to trafficking in persons through use of the internet and digital technologies.
Namely, in accordance with UNODC CCPCJ Resolution 27/24 , countries represented are encouraged to take into consideration and adapt to technological advancements and new methods for the recruiting and advertising of victims of trafficking in persons, and to develop effective responses to trafficking in persons facilitated by the criminal misuse of information and communications technologies that are adaptable to constant change, including effective cooperation between their law enforcement authorities, Internet service providers and businesses.
The REGM will follow a participatory methodology and will serve as a forum to discuss good practices, challenges and past experiences in fighting human trafficking, as well as of exchanging views on the actions and measures foreseen in order to address the current situation. Articulated around a series of sessions including different methods, inter alia, panel discussions, presentations, case studies and experience sharing, the REGM will make use of the UNODC in-house expertise and partnership with other organizations as well as regional and local expertise including through participants’ input. REGM will bring together practitioners from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo (UNSCR 1244), Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia. Each country/territory will be invited to nominate two (2) experts, as follows:
Ø one criminal justice practitioner (law enforcement, prosecutor, judge), tasked with investigating and prosecuting trafficking in persons, to present national practice in addressing trafficking in persons for the purposes of sexual exploitation;
Ø one criminal justice practitioner (law enforcement, prosecutor, judge), tasked with fighting cybercrime and cyber organized crime, to present national practice in addressing in cyber-related crimes especially trafficking in persons for the purposes of sexual exploitation. Selected representatives of regional and international organizations, civil society organizations, private sector and academia will be invited to contribute to the REGM.
The selected panelists of the REGM will be invited to prepare brief presentations (maximum of 7 minutes long) on their experience, challenges, good practices and lessons learnt. REGM will rely on continuous support and cooperation of police liaisons, liaison magistrates and other professionals based in France and the diplomatic representations of France in SEE, in particular the Regional expert on „fight against trafficking on human beings and other activities related crimes“, Permanent mission of France to the United Nation and International Organisations based in Vienna. REGM will be structured over the following sessions:
– Day 1: (I) presentation of REGM concept, methodology and participants & pre-evaluation questionnaire; (II) international legal framework on addressing cyber-enabled and technology-facilitated crimes; (III) combating cyber and technology-facilitated trafficking in persons for the purposes of sexual exploitation including children – perspective of international JHA agencies; (IV) role, capacity and experience of private sector providers in addressing trafficking in persons facilitated through use of digital communication technologies in cross-border investigation and prosecution to prevent and combat the trafficking in persons; (V) victim-centered approach to investigation and prosecution of trafficking in persons through use of internet-based technology;
– Day 2: (VI) recent research and analysis on cyber and technology-facilitated trafficking in persons; (VII) exchange of experience and practice on the latest trends, policy and legislative initiatives, modus operandi and challenges in addressing cyber and technology-facilitated cases at the national and international level; (VIII) civil society experiences concerning trafficking in persons for sexual exploitation, including children facilitated through use of cyber and digital communication technologies and (IX) digital forensics and prevention of the trafficking in persons for sexual exploitation, including children. The REGM will be held in English with simultaneous interpretation available in French, Albanian and Bosnian/Croatian/Montenegrin/Serbian (BCMS), hence nominated participants are required to be able to communicate in one of these languages. This activity is implemented through UNODC’s Global Programme against the Trafficking in Persons with funding support of the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs of France. Detailed draft agenda and logistical modalities, including guiding questions to nominated panelists, will be further discussed. Experts from UNODC and partner organizations and agencies will lead the sessions. The REGM is expected to be attended by a maximum 60 participants from around 20 jurisdictions, which will allow for the sharing of various perspectives around the issues at stake, while still keeping a reasonably sized group to allow for an interactive exchange of experiences and good practices.