Philippines Promotes Human Rights-Based Approach to Combat Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, in ASEAN

The Philippines, through the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Justice – Inter-agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), hosted an ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) Regional Workshop on the Human Rights-Based Approach to Combat Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, in Makati from 27 to 28 November 2013.

Over 100 delegates from the 10 ASEAN Member States, international organizations and relevant civil society organizations attended the workshop, which focused on developing recommendations to mainstream human rights in ASEAN’s efforts to combat trafficking in persons.

Ambassador Rosario G. Manalo, Philippine Representative to the AICHR, opened the meeting and delivered a statement of the Philippine Vice-President Jejomar C. Binay. The Vice President’s statement encouraged ASEAN Member States to work harder together to build an ASEAN Community free from the scourge of human trafficking, noting that trafficking remains a major challenge in the ASEAN region, with women and children constituting the majority of victims. Vice-President Binay’s statement expressed support for the adoption of a legally-binding ASEAN Convention Against Trafficking in Persons (ACTIP) and a Regional Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons, which are currently being negotiated by ASEAN Senior Officials on Transnational Crime.

Ambassador Manalo highlighted the need to infuse the ACTIP with a human rights-based approach, citing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD), and the Phnom Penh Leaders’ Statement on the Adoption of the AHRD.

The Philippine delegation delivered a statement of the DFA Undersecretary Jesus I. Yabes, calling on ASEAN Member States to adopt, consistent with their commitment to protect the human rights of every person, a human rights-based and victim-sensitive approach to combat trafficking in persons, particularly:

  • To prioritize enacting and implementing effectively laws that mandate legal immunity, or the non-criminalization of victims;
  • To advocate equal access to justice of victims, including granting foreigners the capacity to sue in the courts of transit or destination countries in order to seek relief for their injuries; and instituting a system of legal aid for all victims, regardless of nationality, gender or other status;
  • To capacitate law enforcement and other first responders to properly identify victims, and to prioritize the welfare of victims, including being responsive to the victims’ particular vulnerabilities and needs, especially women and children;
  • To ensure that law enforcers and first responders effectively inform victims of their human and other legal rights, including the right to consular access; and
  • To always ensure and prioritize protection to the human rights of victims.

Justice Secretary and IACAT Chair Leila M. de Lima hosted the welcome dinner for participants. In her remarks, she noted that trafficking in persons is a form of modern day slavery that violates human rights and human dignity.  She therefore called for enhanced ASEAN cooperation to eradicate trafficking in the region.

Panelists from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the Bali Process, and relevant civil society organizations, delivered presentations during the plenary sessions.

Participants were divided into three working group sessions on:

  • Protection – Assistance to victims;
  • Prosecution – Law enforcement and judicial measures; and
  • Prevention – Education and awareness-raising

Best practices of the Philippines were cited such as the IACAT Victim Processing Center and Anti-Trafficking Hotline of the Commission on Filipinos Overseas.

Key recommendations of the workshop included, among others:

  • The need to consider alternatives to detention of victims and irregular migrants;
  • Support for provisions on protection of the human rights of victims of trafficking, especially women and children, in the ASEAN Convention Against Trafficking in Persons (ACTIP) and the importance of its expeditious conclusion before the establishment of the ASEAN Community in 2015;
  • Development of an ASEAN regional program on identification, assistance, and reintegration of victims of human trafficking;
  • Implementation of regional capacity-building programs and training of trainers on the human rights-based approach to combat trafficking in persons, in collaboration with international organizations and civil society;
  • The need to better inform migrants of their human rights and legal protections available to them in destination countries through pre-departure and post-arrival seminars;
  • The importance of engaging the private sector in the fight against trafficking, particularly in addressing demand and supply chain factors;
  • The impact of large-scale natural disasters in the region which can increase the vulnerability of peoples to falling prey to traffickers; and
  • Institutionalizing coordination and collaboration between the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) and relevant ASEAN sectoral bodies, such as the ASEAN Commission on Women and Children (ACWC) and the ASEAN Senior Officials on Transnational Crime (SOMTC) on promoting the human rights-based approach to combat trafficking.

Participants highly appreciated the Philippine hosting of the workshop and expressed their desire to continue work and cooperation with AICHR, the DFA and the IACAT.