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Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law [MPEPIL]


David Weissbrodt†

From: Oxford Public International Law (http://opil.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. Subscriber: null; date: 10 December 2022

Ancient Times to 1648 — Freedom from slavery or forced labour — International labour law — Rights holders

Published under the auspices of the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law under the direction of Professor Anne Peters (2021–) and Professor Rüdiger Wolfrum (2004–2020). 

A.  Notion

1.  Definition

In the 19th century a person was considered a slave if another individual exercised power or control over the slave to restrain his or her personal liberty (Liberty, Right to, International Protection) and to dispose of the slave’s labour against his or her will, without lawful authority (see also Forced Labour/Slave Labour). The Slavery Convention of 1926 (‘Convention’) refined in its Art. 1 (1) the 19th century definition, designating slavery as ‘the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised’. The Slavery Convention in Art. 1 (2) included within the concept of slavery:

All acts involved in the capture, acquisition or disposal of a person with intent to reduce him to slavery; all acts involved in the acquisition of a slave with a view to selling or exchanging him; all acts of disposal by sale or exchange of a slave acquired with a view to being sold or exchanged, and, in general, every act of trade or transport in slaves.

Slavery can often be identified by circumstances in which critical elements of an individual’s choice and control are taken over by an individual or a State. The circumstances of the enslaved person are crucial to identifying what practices constitute slavery, including a) the degree of restriction of the individual’s inherent right to freedom of movement (Movement, Freedom of, International Protection); b) the degree of control of the individual’s personal belongings; and c) whether informed consent and a full understanding of the nature of the relationship exists between the parties.

These elements of control and ownership, often accompanied by the threat of violence, are central to identifying the existence of slavery. Loss of other fundamental rights and freedoms, including freedom of expression (Opinion and Expression, Freedom of, International Protection), peaceful assembly (Assembly, Freedom of, International Protection), religion (Religion or Belief, Freedom of, International Protection), association (Association, Freedom of, International Protection), and freedom to receive and communicate information (Information and Communication, Freedom of, International Protection) also occur in the context of slavery. Contemporary forms of slavery include debt bondage, serfdom, forced marriage, forced prostitution, and trafficking, especially of women and children (Children, International Protection; Human Trafficking; Women, Rights of, International Protection). The following sections discuss both historical and contemporary forms of slavery.

2.  Historical Evolution of Slavery

The earliest forms of slavery can be traced to Mesopotamia, around the 69th century BCE, a period when communities captured their enemies during war and forced them into labour (see also Booty in Warfare; History of International Law, Ancient Times to 1648). The Egyptians began the first mass transit and use of slaves as early as the 26th century BC, sending expeditions along the Nile River to capture and return slaves (see also Forced Population Transfer). Slavery in this era often accompanied the efforts of nations seeking to build empires (see also Hegemony). The Roman Empire enslaved many of the peoples it conquered. The city of Rome contained a slave population of nearly 40% in the 1st century BC.

In England during the 5th century BC, many native Britons were enslaved by Anglo-Saxons. The second millennium marked the appearance of a new form of slavery known as serfdom. The rural poor populations of Britain were enslaved or later forced into serfdom. The practice of serfdom continued throughout much of the second millennium, and was the primary form of slavery until the beginning of the African slave trade.

Following the Black Plague in the middle and late 14th century BC, Europe engaged in African slave trade, characterized by the complete ownership of human beings. Nearly all persons taken from Africa were bought, sold, and considered property in the countries that took part in the African slave trade, which was eventually known as the Atlantic slave trade. The trade expanded from Europe into Australia and the Americas. In 1787, the first international human rights non-governmental organization (‘NGO’; Non-Governmental Organizations), that became known as the Anti-Slavery Society, began campaigning to abolish slavery in Britain and succeeded in prohibiting the slave trade in the British Empire in 1807 (see also Human Rights, Role of Non-Governmental Organizations). In 1808, the US Congress forbade the importation of slaves. France abolished the slave trade in 1818.

The end of the Civil War in the United States of America (‘US’) and the abolition of chattel slavery did not, however, mark a complete end to this practice (American Civil War [1861–65]). Some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, maintained legalized chattel slavery until 1962. The end of the Atlantic slave trade did mark the re-emergence of serfdom and the development of new forms of slavery such as international trafficking of women and children.

3.  Contemporary Forms of Slavery

(a)  Debt Bondage

The Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery of 1956 (‘Supplementary Convention’) defines debt bondage in its Art. 1 as:

[T]he status or condition arising from a pledge by a debtor of his personal services or of those of a person under his control as security for a debt, if the value of those services as reasonably assessed is not applied towards the liquidation of the debt or the length and nature of those services are not respectively limited and defined.

Debt bondage often occurs where an individual incurs a debt to unscrupulous persons that cannot be repaid. The work demanded to pay off the debt does not provide for means sufficient for the individual to subsist on, much less repay what is owed.

10  Today, debt bondage affects millions of adults and children throughout the world, including many migrant workers. To avoid debt bondage, countries must ensure that bonded workers, once freed, do not promptly assume another loan, thus causing reversion back to indentured status. Debt bondage remains prevalent in countries such as Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Some nations are taking measures to prevent regeneration of bonded labour; for example, India and Pakistan make payments to individuals identified as bonded labourers.

(b)  Serfdom

11  Serfdom is a form of slavery in which a statute, legal relationship, custom, or agreement requires one person to live and labour on land belonging to another person and to render some determinate service to such other person, whether for reward or not. The victim is not free to change his status. Serfdom was widely employed in Europe during the Middle Ages, until the Renaissance period around the 16th and 17th centuries. The Temporary Slavery Commission of 1924 regarded serfdom as an equivalent of predial slavery; that is, the use of a slave for agricultural production on farms or plantations.

12  Serfdom took place in Latin America throughout the 20th century in countries such as Guatemala, where a landowner would grant a tract of land to an individual for a particular service. These practices might include working the land for the owner, doing other work such as chores around the home, or, most frequently, providing a portion of the crop to the landowner at harvest. Serfdom often ensnares entire families; the status of a serf is frequently hereditary in nature and permanent in status, not just for individuals, but also for their family. Some countries, such as Haiti, continue the practice of serfdom even today.

(c)  Forced Labour

13  Art. 2 Convention (No 29) concerning Forced or Compulsory Labour of the International Labour Organization (ILO) (‘ILO Convention No 29’) defines forced labour as ‘all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily’. This definition distinguishes forced labour from slavery in that forced labour does not include an attribute of ownership. Yet forced labour imposes a similar degree of restriction on the individual’s freedom—often through violent means—making forced labour similar to slavery in its effect on the individual. The use of forced labour has been condemned by the international community as a practice similar to but distinct from slavery.

14  Forced labour continues to persist throughout the world; it not only occurs in developing countries, but continues to persist in developed countries as well. A common element of forced labour is coercion, which may be found within contemporary economic practices such as the offering of credit or loans to individuals incapable of repayment within the specified terms.

(d)  Forced Marriage and Trafficking of Women

15  Selling or otherwise forcing a woman into marriage, or the transfer of a woman as a possession between individuals or groups, constitutes a form of slavery. Two of the oldest yet most prevalent forms of slavery existing today, forced marriage and the trafficking of women, have not historically received the same attention as other forms of slavery. Still, human trafficking has begun to attract global concern. Women and children are abducted from poor countries and trafficked to another, where they are sold into labour, marriage, or prostitution (see also Abduction, Transboundary; Child Abduction). Women are frequently advertised and sold into marriages with men in developed countries as well as less developed nations.

16  Women are often forced into marriage or prostitution by threats of violence or economic coercion. Forced marriage and trafficking of women are amongst the most widely practised forms of slavery, occurring in such countries as China, France, Ghana, the United Kingdom (‘UK’), and the US.

(e)  Exploitation, Trafficking, and Forced Labour of Children

17  Art. 1 (d) of the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery includes within its definition of institutions and practices similar to slavery:

Any institution or practice whereby a child or young person under the age of 18 years, is delivered by either or both of his natural parents or by his guardian to another person, whether for reward or not, with a view to the exploitation of the child or young person or of his labour.

18  In developing countries, children are often abducted or sold by their families to obtain money necessary for survival, or in hopes of giving children what the parents are told will be a better life. Often exploited for little or no compensation, children are forced to work long hours, commonly in dangerous jobs. In such situations, these children are frequently subjected to debt bondage and sexual abuse.

19  The Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989 (‘CROC’) acknowledges certain basic rights that are retained by all children, including the right to life (Life, Right to, International Protection), the right to be raised by a family (Family, Right to, International Protection), and the right of protection from exploitation. The CROC protects children from exploitation, particularly in cases of abduction and trafficking where the children are to be sold into marriage, prostitution, or forced labour. Art. 34 CROC prohibits: ‘a) all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse; b) the inducement or coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful sexual activity; c) the exploitative use of children in prostitution or other unlawful sexual practices; and d) the exploitative use of children in pornographic performances and materials’.

20  Exploitation, trafficking, and forced labour of children remain a problem in nations around the world, including China, France, the UK, the US, and many developing countries, including Ghana.

(f)  Forced Prostitution, Exploitation of Prostitution, and Sexual Exploitation

21  Forced prostitution occurs when an individual is prostituted against his or her will. Force may include physical abuse, taking of a prostitute’s children as hostages, threats of abuse to the prostitute or his or her children, or ensuring that the prostitute has no freedom of movement. If an individual enters into prostitution because of impoverishment and indebtedness, some consider that the victim has been subjected to forced prostitution.

22  International instruments do not contain a definition of prostitution, though it is most commonly interpreted according to its ordinary meaning; that is, any sexual act offered for reward or profit. The act of prostitution itself committed by adults over 18 is not explicitly prohibited by international standards, but the 1949 Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (‘Suppression of Traffic Convention’) in its preamble discourages prostitution by declaring: ‘prostitution and the accompanying evil of the traffic in persons for the purpose of prostitution are incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person and endanger the welfare of the individual, the family and the community’. (See also Human Dignity, International Protection.) The Suppression of Traffic Convention and other international instruments clearly consider the exploitation of prostitution—when money made through prostitution is passed on a systematic basis to anyone other than the prostitute herself—as a form of slavery.

23  While there is continuing debate about whether adult prostitution should be tolerated in some circumstances, Art. 34 CROC clearly prohibits all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of persons under the age of 18.

24  Sexual slavery is distinct from prostitution in that it does not require financial gain or reward; it is, however, related to forced prostitution in that it is the coerced exploitation of persons in a sexual manner. Sexual slavery involves the sexual exploitation of individuals through the use or threat of force, often occurring in times of armed conflict or belligerent occupation (Armed Conflict, International; Occupation, Belligerent; see also Children and Armed Conflict; Civilian Population in Armed Conflict). Arts 7–8 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court ([adopted 17 July 1998, entered into force 1 July 2002] 2187 UNTS 90) prohibit as war crimes or crimes against humanity such offences as ‘rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy’ and other forms of sexual violence (Gender-Based Crimes; see also International Criminal Court [ICC]).

B.  Historical Evolution of Legal Rules

1.  The Origins of Slavery in Legal Codes

25  During the majority of its long history, slavery has not been prohibited by law. It was, for example, mentioned in Hammurabi’s Code from ancient Babylon as an established institution. The North American colonies of the 17th and 18th centuries codified the legality of owning, using, and selling slaves.

26  National laws and international agreements began banning slavery and the slave trade during the 18th and 19th centuries. One of the earliest steps occurred in 1789 with the promulgation of the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, in which the first article states: ‘Men are born and remain free and equal in rights’. Following this declaration, Denmark forbade the trading of slaves by Danish subjects in 1804. At the Vienna Congress (1815), nine States called for ‘prompt suppression’ of the slave trade, and the British delegation pushed for immediate abolition of the slave trade. The Act of the Congress of Vienna, however, lacked any means of enforcement (see also Compliance). The subsequent Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 forbade slavery throughout the British Empire. In 1841, the Treaty between Austria, Great Britain, Prussia and Russia for the Suppression of the African Slave Trade reaffirmed support for the abolition of the slave trade and implemented a mechanism by which Austria, France, Great Britain, Prussia, and Russia could enter each other’s territory to investigate the status of slavery in that country. In 1885, after many nations had banned slavery in all of their colonies and territories, the Berlin West Africa Conference (1884–85) declared that the slave trade was forbidden by principles of international law.

27  After the Civil War, the US in 1865 continued this trend with the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution that declared: ‘Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction’. The Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution reinforced that provision by declaring:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

28  The Fifteenth Amendment to the US Constitution added: ‘The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude’. (See also Elections, Right to Participate in, International Protection.)

2.  Slavery Convention of 1926 and Supplementary Convention of 1956

(a)  Slavery Convention of 1926

29  The Slavery Convention of 1926, which defined slavery and slave trade, was adopted by the League of Nations and marked a significant step in the international efforts to require States to abolish slavery through a multilateral treaty (Treaties). The Slavery Convention defined slavery and the slave trade. Pursuant to its Art., 2 the Convention’s purpose was to ‘prevent and suppress the slave trade’, and to ‘bring about, progressively and as soon as possible, the complete abolition of slavery in all its forms’.

30  The definition of slavery itself has not been significantly altered in the international legal context since the Slavery Convention. Despite the Convention’s step forward in identifying and abolishing slavery in its various forms, it failed to provide the means for adequate regulation, oversight, or the pursuit of alleged violations. Without appropriate measures for finding and correcting violations, the Slavery Convention lacked the power it needed to change the face of slavery across the world; however, the Convention provided the basis for future conventions, which assert more authority and investigatory power.

(b)  Supplementary Convention of 1956

31  Art. 1 Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery addressed, further defined, and banned four additional forms of slavery: a) debt bondage; b) serfdom; c) forced marriage and the trafficking of women, and d) the trafficking and exploitation of children.

3.  International Bill of Human Rights

32  Art. 4 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) (‘UDHR’), prohibits slavery: ‘No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slavery trade shall be prohibited in all their forms’. Art. 8 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) (‘ICCPR’) repeats the UDHR’s prohibition of slavery in the form of a multilateral treaty. Art. 8 (3) (a) ICCPR also states: ‘No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour’. Art. 8 (3) ICCPR defines forced labour so as to exclude ‘imprisonment with hard labour… imposed as a punishment for a crime, the performance of hard labour in pursuance of a sentence to such punishment by a competent court’ as well as any work or service normally required of a person who is under detention in consequence of a lawful order of a court, or of a person during conditional release from such detention; any service of a military character and, in countries where conscientious objection is recognized, any national service required by law of conscientious objectors (see also Conscientious Objection); any service exacted in cases of emergency or calamity threatening the life or well-being of the community; and any work or service which forms part of normal civil obligations.

33  Art. 6 (1) International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) (‘ICESCR’)—although not expressly mentioning the prohibition of slavery or the slave trade—commits States Parties to ‘recognize the right to work, which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts’.

4.  Other Treaties Furthering Prohibition of Slavery

34  Art. 1 Convention for the Suppression of the White Slave Traffic of 1910 (‘White Slave Traffic Convention’) banned the trafficking of women in that:

Whoever, in order to gratify the passions of another person, has procured, enticed, or led away, even with her consent, a woman or girl under age, for immoral purposes, shall be punished, notwithstanding that the various acts constituting the offence that may have been committed in different countries.

35  This convention marked a step towards protecting the vulnerable from being taken, trafficked, and forced into prostitution or other exploitative situations. Accordingly, the White Slave Traffic Convention effectively recognized women trafficked for prostitution as victims of a contemporary form of slavery.

36  Art. 1 Suppression of the Traffic of Women of Full Age Convention of 1933 (‘Traffic of Women Convention’) employs nearly identical language as the White Slave Traffic Convention, except that it deals specifically with women of adult age. Accordingly, the Traffic of Women Convention includes situations in which the women have consented, as in: ‘Whoever, in order to gratify the passions of another person, has procured, enticed or led away even with her consent, a woman or girl of full age for immoral purposes to be carried out in another country, shall be punished….’

37  The Suppression of Traffic Convention was the first treaty under the aegis of the United Nations (UN) to prohibit slavery. Art. 1 Suppression of Traffic Convention continued the efforts of the White Slave Traffic Convention and the Traffic of Women Convention by calling for the punishment of any ‘person who, to gratify the passions of another: (1) Procures, entices or leads away, for purposes of prostitution, another person, even with the consent of that person; (2) Exploits the prostitution of another person, even with the consent of that person.’

38  The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1950) (‘ECHR’) prohibits slavery and forced labour in its Art. 4. The ECHR excepts from this prohibition conscription, national service, prison labour, service exacted in cases of emergency or calamity, and civic obligations (see also Emergency, State of). In its Siliadin v France decision, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held that ‘Governments have positive obligations… to adopt criminal-law provisions which penalise the practices referred to in Article 4 and to apply them in practice’ (Siliadin v France para. 89). The ECtHR concluded that French law lacked adequate protection for the victim.

39  In 2001 the UN promulgated a framework UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (Transnational Organized Crime), which has been supplemented by three protocols on trafficking of persons, smuggling of migrants, and trafficking in firearms. The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (‘Trafficking Protocol’) of 2000 had three purposes: a) to prevent and combat trafficking in persons, with particular attention paid to women and children; b) to protect and assist victims with respect for their human rights; and c) to promote cooperation among States to meet these goals.

40  The Trafficking Protocol emphasizes that trafficked persons are victims, not criminals, regardless of their consent. Art. 3 Trafficking Protocol establishes an international definition of trafficking in persons, namely:

[T]he recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.

5.  Non-Governmental Efforts to End the Practice of Slavery

41  In addition to the primary rule-making efforts of the UN, some NGOs have also played a significant role in pursuing an end to slavery. The Anti-Slavery Society is the first international human rights organization, with origins dating back to 1787. The Anti-Slavery Society led the campaigns to ban the slave trade in Britain in 1807 and 1833. In the 20th century the Anti-Slavery Society was re-named Anti-Slavery International and now operates around the world at local, national, and international levels to eliminate slavery by urging governments to develop and implement measures to end slavery and slavery-like practices. Anti-Slavery International and other human rights organizations lobby governments and inter-governmental agencies to make the issue of slavery a priority, support research to assess the incidence of slavery in order to find ways to abolish slavery and slavery-like practices, cooperate with local organizations to publicize abuses related to slavery, and develop means of communication about the human consequences of slavery as well as the need to campaign for its abolition. These NGOs aim to end the plight of slaves, child slaves, bonded labourers, bonded child labourers, child prostitutes, child labourers, and trafficked women and children, by freeing, rescuing, and socially reintegrating the victims of slavery, as well as opposing these practices and institutions.

C.  Current Legal Situation

1.  Implementation and Enforcement Mechanisms

42  National authorities are primarily responsible for the protection of their residents from slavery and slavery-like practices (see also Human Rights, Domestic Implementation). International human rights treaties, however, supplement the efforts of national authorities through their enforcement mechanisms. All major human rights treaties since the ICCPR in 1966 have provided for an expert body to review periodic reports from the governments that have ratified the relevant treaties and those bodies then issue recommendations after reviewing each State’s report (Human Rights, State Reports; Human Rights, Treaty Bodies; see also General Comments/Recommendations). Unfortunately, the Slavery Convention and the Supplementary Convention preceded the ICCPR and lacked procedures that are now considered to be indispensable for monitoring of compliance with human rights obligations.

2.  The Slavery Conventions

43  The beginnings of monitoring mechanisms can be found in Art. 7 Slavery Convention where ‘[t]he High contracting parties undertake to communicate to each other and to the Secretary-General [of the League of Nations] any laws and regulations which they may enact with a view to the application of the provisions of the present Convention’. The reporting and monitoring mechanisms provided in the Slavery Convention and the Supplementary Convention lacked specificity and regularity as compared with more modern reporting mechanisms. Under the Supplementary Convention, States were not required to, but could, report to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (United Nations, Economic and Social Council [ECOSOC]) on measures implemented in their States ‘with a view to making further recommendations for the abolition of slavery’. Pursuant to Art. 21 Suppression of Traffic Convention, States Parties are obligated by the convention to submit annual reports to the United Nations Secretary-General (United Nations, Secretary-General) setting out ‘such laws and regulations as may be promulgated, relating to the subjects of the present Convention, as well as all measures taken by them concerning the application of the Convention’.

3.  The United Nations

(a)  Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery

44  In 1975 the United Nations Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities (‘Sub-Commission’) established its Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery (‘Working Group’; United Nations, Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights). The Working Group receives information from States, NGOs, and individual victims concerning slavery, servitude, forced labour, and other practices similar to slavery, and makes recommendations for action. One of the notable accomplishments of the Working Group was its 1984 visit to Mauritania, which led to a report on the nation’s slavery and substantial efforts to bring it to an end. Unfortunately, this successful fact-finding mission did not lead to other missions. Under the authority of the Sub-Commission the Working Group has continued to monitor, report, and make recommendations regarding the continued use of slavery throughout the world. The United Nations Human Rights Council (‘HRCouncil’) took over the functions of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (‘CommHR’), the Sub-Commission, and all their working groups in 2006.

(b)  Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery

45  In 2007, Human Rights Council Resolution 6/14 established the mandate on contemporary forms of slavery, its causes and consequences. In accordance with the mandate, the Human Rights Council appointed the first Special Rapporteur, charged with ‘request[ing], receiv[ing] and exchang[ing] information on contemporary forms of slavery from Governments, treaty bodies, special procedures, specialized agencies, intergovernmental organizations, and non-governmental organizations’ as well as ‘recommend[ing] actions and measures applicable at the national, regional and international levels to eliminate slavery practices wherever they occur’. Since 2008, the Special Rapporteur has conducted missions to Haiti (2009), Mauritania (2009), Ecuador (2010), Brazil (2010), Romania (2010), and Peru (2011).

(c)  Special Rapporteur on Trafficking

46  The UN has also appointed other Special Rapporteurs to address issues related to slavery. The CommHR adopted decision 2004/110 of 26 January 2004, which appointed for a three-year period a Special Rapporteur on trafficking of persons. The CommHR requested the Special Rapporteur to place particular emphasis on the trafficking of women and children. The Special Rapporteur submitted regular reports to the CommHR until that body was replaced by the HRCouncil in 2006. The Special Rapporteur now submits annual reports to the HRCouncil outlining the measures required for the protection of human rights. The Special Rapporteur has a mandate to:

(a)  Take action on violations committed against trafficked persons and on situations in which there has been a failure to protect their human rights;

(b)  Undertake visitations to various countries to study the situations in situ and formulate recommendations to prevent and or combat trafficking and protect the human rights of its victims in specific countries and/or regions; and

(c)  Submit annual reports on the activities of the mandate.

(Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights ‘Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially in women and children’; see also Human Rights, United Nations High Commissioner for [UNHCHR])

47  The Special Rapporteur has undertaken visits to Bosnia and Lebanon to report on the situation of persons who have been subjected to or are vulnerable to trafficking (Bosnia-Herzegovina). The Rapporteur has made recommendations on issues relating to trafficking and has brought concerns about trafficking to the attention of the world community.

(d)  Human Rights Treaty Bodies

48  Human rights treaty bodies implement the anti-slavery provisions of their respective treaties. For example, the Human Rights Committee (‘HRC’), comprising 18 experts who are elected by the States Parties to the ICCPR, principally reviews State reports pursuant to that treaty. Since the ICCPR forbids slavery, the HRC is responsible for monitoring compliance with that provision. Similarly, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) implements the provisions of the ICESCR relating to the right to work and fair wages (see also Work, Right to, International Protection). Further, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, a body of 18 experts, monitors the implementation of the CROC relating to the exploitation of children.

4.  The International Labour Organization

(a)  Overview

49  The ILO, a specialized agency within the UN system, monitors treaties relating to forced labour and the worst forms of child labour as well as wages, labour standards, and other worker rights (see also Labour Law, International; United Nations, Specialized Agencies).

50  The ILO Convention No 29 undertook to suppress the use of forced or compulsory labour in all its forms within the shortest possible period. Art. 2 ILO Convention No 29 defined forced or compulsory labour to ‘mean all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily’. The 1957 Convention (No 105) concerning the Abolition of Forced Labour of the ILO in its Art. 1 further committed States Parties to eradicate forced labour in all forms, including:

(a)  As a means of political coercion or education or as a punishment for holding or expressing political views or views ideologically opposed to the established political, social or economic system;

(b)  As a method of mobilising and using labour for purposes of economic development;

(c)  As a means of labour discipline;

(d)  As a punishment for having participated in strikes; and

(e)  As a means of racial, social, national or religious discrimination.

(b)  Implementation Mechanisms

51  The principal ILO mechanism for implementing its 189 labour conventions, including the two forced labour conventions, is a system based on reports received from States and reviewed by the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (‘Committee of Experts’). Art. 22 Constitution of the International Labour Organization (‘ILO Constitution’) requires that States Parties periodically submit reports on conventions to which they are parties.

52  The Committee of Experts then reports annually to the Conference Committee on the Application of Standards, a tripartite organ of the International Labour Conference. The Conference Committee issues a report approved by the annual International Labour Conference, which is then distributed to the States with declarations regarding what matters should be addressed in subsequent reports. The views of the Committee of Experts are not binding, but are persuasive for its members and serve as a useful source of information regarding the most efficient convention applications.

53  A second mechanism exists under Art. 26 ILO Constitution, allowing one State to lodge complaints against another that has failed to meet its obligations under a ratified treaty (Human Rights, State Complaints). This mechanism is rarely invoked, but was utilized in the case of Myanmar, which was found to be engaged in forced labour.

D.  Evaluation

54  Slavery has existed since ancient times. In the modern world slavery may appear to be a historical problem overcome by an enlightened and expanding civil society governed by the rule of law. Unfortunately, this perception is far from true: although it is widely believed that slavery has been abolished, various forms of slavery remain at the beginning of the 21st century.

55  Although older forms of slavery, such as chattel slavery, have diminished, they have not disappeared. Meanwhile, new forms of slavery have emerged and spread. The older forms of slavery often involved a major investment by the owner in the slave in which the owner had a significant stake in assuring the health and well being of such a productive asset. Newer forms of slavery, however, usually involve sexual and other forms of exploitation in which victims are used for a shorter period and then their services are no longer required. Hence, newer forms of slavery can cause even greater suffering and vulnerability than older systems of slavery. Contemporary forms of slavery, including trafficking and exploitation of women and children, continue to flourish despite national and international efforts to combat these practices.

56  Slavery is a crime against humanity and the severest forms of criminal sanctions should be applied at the national and international levels (see also International Criminal Law). Unfortunately, however, the international community has not yet established adequate implementation and monitoring mechanisms to safeguard against contemporary forms of slavery. Since various forms of slavery can arise within the mandates of several human rights treaty bodies, those institutions need to be more active in seeking information, reviewing country reports, and making recommendations on slavery issues. The HRCouncil could also establish a thematic mechanism for contemporary forms of slavery to replace the Working Group which previously functioned within the context of the no longer functioning Sub-Commission.

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