UN Human Trafficking Law
last updated September 1, 2005

States are obligated to protect the rights of trafficking victims under general human rights instruments.  The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantees women the right to life, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to security of person.  This Covenant also grants trafficked persons the right to an effective remedy for acts violating their fundamental human rights.  The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights provides such basic guarantees as the right to an adequate standard of living (including food, clothing and housing), the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, the right to education and the right to favorable work conditions, which includes fair wages, equal pay for equal work and reasonable limitation of working hours. 

International agreements relating to forced labor and slavery are also relevant to trafficking practices.  The International Labor Organizations Forced Labor Convention (C29) and the Abolition of Forced Labor Convention (C105) set forth the obligation to suppress all forms of forced or compulsory labor, defined by the Forced Labor Convention 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."  The Abolition of Forced Labor Convention defines forced labor as a means of racial, social, national or religious discrimination, but does not mention the possibility of sexual discrimination.  The UN Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery (1956) defines slavery as the condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised.  The Slavery Convention abolishes the practice of debt bondage where the debtors services are not reasonably applied to the liquidation of his or her debts (Article 1), the practice of promising or giving in marriage on payment a women who is not given the right to refuse (Article 1), and the act or attempt of conveying slaves from one country to another (Article 3).

Under principles of international law, States are obligated to provide adequate support for victims of crimes.  The United Nations Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power states that victims are entitled to access the justice system and prompt redress.  (Paragraph 4).  Regarding assistance, the Declaration states "Victims should receive the necessary material, medical, psychological and social assistance through governmental, voluntary, community-based and indigenous means.  . . .  Victims should be informed of the availability of health and social services and other relevant assistance and be readily afforded access to them."  (Paragraphs 14, 15).