Human Trafficking 1
THE IMPACT OF DEVELOPMENTS IN INTERNATIONAL LAW ON INTERNATIONAL
AND NATIONAL RESPONSES TO HUMAN TRAFFICKING
Human Trafficking 2
The Impact of Developments in International Law on International and National Responses to
The term ‘human trafficking’ bears no standard definition because varying definitions
exist depending on the context of which they are advanced. The disparate approach to defining
human trafficking arises from the concept’s legal and sociological foundations. However,
regardless of the context, or the nature of the definition advanced, the central feature of human
trafficking is the exploitation and enslavement of victims through the use of coercive and
fraudulent methods (US Department of State, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking Persons
2015, p. 7). Accordingly, human trafficking is a moral and legal crime, which Patel aptly equates
to contemporary slavery (2014, p.813). For purposes of this paper, we shall adopt the legal
perspective of human trafficking as defined in the various legal instruments the discourse shall
explore. The vice exists in different forms ranging from sexual slavery which includes child sex
trafficking, recruitment of child soldiers, domestic servitude, bonded labor, debt bondage, and
forced labor that includes forced child labor. Further, the statistics of the prevalence of human
trafficking are astonishing. According to estimates made by the Global Slavery Index estimates
that not less than 45.8 million individuals spread across 167 countries are in some form of
servitude perpetuated by human trafficking (2016, p. 1).
The individual state statistics vary, although they also exude an incredibly grim picture.
Consequently, human trafficking has become the fastest means for the enslavement of people,
progressively projects the largest source of pecuniary gains for organized crime, and has become
most rapid growing transnational crime of contemporary times. Sun and Xie attribute this trend
to the fact that human trafficking rakes in high dividends against extremely low risk (2014, p.
Human Trafficking 3
93). Accordingly, the burgeoning of human trafficking coupled with globalization has
necessitated reactions at in response to the resulting challenges. In recognition of the
transnational character of human trafficking, there have been notable developments in
international law to address it. It becomes imperative, therefore, to evaluate whether these
advancements in international law have had any influences on the responses, whether
international or national, to human trafficking. In this regard, this paper elaborates on these
developments, explores an array of discernable responses influenced by the developments, and
analyzes whether these responses have been useful. In this article, we argue that although various
responses are resulting from the evolution of the international law on human trafficking, the
continued prevalence of the vice is an indicator of the ineffectiveness of these reactions.
Developments in International Law on the Issue of Human Trafficking
Customary International Law
An understanding of the law making norms in the international arena is crucial for our
analysis of the international law developments on human trafficking. Suffice to note that
international law is designed as a normative structure for the conduct of relations between states
and that consent is a prerequisite for the accrual of obligations arising from international law.
Treaties and international custom, also known as customary international law are some of the
most important sources of law on the international law (Crawford 2012, pp 20-34). While treaties
impose those obligations that have been explicitly consented to by states, customary international
law evolves from the general practices and conduct of states that have been recognized as
binding by states, and not observed merely out of comity. It necessarily follows that the
consistent practice of States that is recognized as legally binding results in customary
international law which become mandatory regardless of its express recognition by states or
Human Trafficking 4
otherwise. Taking the international law making norms into account, and the fact that human
trafficking is a contemporary form of slavery, it becomes imperative to note that the prohibition
against slavery has acquired the status of a rule of customary international (Solla 2009, pp.3-7).
Therefore, all states have a mandatory obligation under international law to ensure that the
prohibition against slavery is implemented and enforced.
The customary prohibition against slavery is further buttressed by an array of treaty
provisions, primarily the 1926 Convention to Suppress the Slave Trade and Slavery and its 1956
Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and
Practices Similar to Slavery which defined and obliged every state to criminalize slavery, and
eliminated all possibilities of consensual slavery under international law. It is noteworthy that
there were significant efforts towards curtailing slavery on the international plane before the
institution of the 1926 Convention. Specific instances include the 1815 Declaration Relative to
the Universal Abolition of Slave Trade, the 1904 International Agreement for the Suppression of
the “The White Slave Traffic,” and the 1921 International Convention for the Suppression of the
Traffic in Women. However, the slavery-related conventions are not unique to the issue of human
trafficking. As noted by Bruckert and Parent (2002, p. 2), it was not until the late 1980s that
issues of human trafficking began garnering interest thereby featuring in the mainstream
discourse and debate in the 1990s. As a consequence, the relevant literature on human trafficking
only began appearing in the latter years of the 1990s and became the force behind the most
important treaty pronunciation on human trafficking.
The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women
and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized
Human Trafficking 5
Crime (Trafficking Protocol) was adopted in 2000. According to Gallagh...