Sources of International Law
 

Last updated June 2014

In partnership with UN Women, The Advocates for Human Rights created the following sections on United Nations Treaties, Conventions and General Recommendations, and Regional Laws and Agreements for UN Women's Virtual Knowledge Centre to End Violence against Women and Girls.[i] This section, along with sections addressing other forms of violence against women and girls, may be found under Legislation at www.endvawnow.org.

These international statements of law and principle provide a foundation for the right to be free from involuntary servitude and slavery of which sex trafficking is one form.

United Nations Treaties and Conventions

1904 International Agreement for the Suppression of the White Slave Traffic, League of Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 1, p. 83 

1910 International Convention for the Suppression of the White Slave Traffic, League of Nations, Treaty Series, vol. VIII, p. 278

1921 International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women and Children, League of Nations, Treaty Series, vol. IX, p. 415

1926 Slavery Convention, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 212, No. 2861

1930 Convention concerning Forced or Compulsory Labour, International Labour Organization Convention No. 29 

1933 International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women of Full AgeLeague of Nations, Treaty Series, vol. CL, p. 431

1947 Protocol to amend the 1921 Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women and Children and the 1933 Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women of Full Age United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 53, No. 770 (See also the 1921 International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women and Children, as amended by the 1947 Protocol (United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 53, No. 771) and the 1933 International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women of Full Age, as amended by the 1947 Protocol (United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 53, No. 772))

1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights General Assembly resolution 217 A (III)

1949 Protocol amending the 1904 International Agreement for the Suppression of the White Slave Traffic, and the 1910 International Convention for the Suppression of the White Slave Traffic, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 30, No. 446 (See also the 1904 International Agreement for the Suppression of the White Slave Traffic, as amended by the 1949 Protocol (United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 92, No. 1257) and the 1910 International Convention for the Suppression of the White Slave Traffic as amended by the 1949 Protocol (United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 98, No. 1358))

1950 Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 96, No. 1342

1953 Protocol amending the Slavery Convention, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 182, No. 2422

1956 Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 266, No. 3822

1957 Convention Concerning the Abolition of Forced Labour (ILO Convention No 105) obliges State Parties to prohibit the use of any form of forced or compulsory labour

1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 999, No. 14668 p. 171 

1973 Convention Concerning the Minimum Age for Admission to Employment (ILO Convention No 138) obliges State Parties to fix a minimum age for employment, not less than the age for completing compulsory schooling and, in any event, not less than 15 years. Developing countries may set the minimum age at 14

1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against WomenUnited Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 1249, No. 20378 

1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 1577, No. 27531

1999 Convention Concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour (ILO Convention No 182), obliges State Parties to prohibit and eliminate worst forms of child labour. “Worst forms of child labour” includes the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances. 

2000 United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, G.A. Res. 25, annex I, U.N. GAOR, 55th Sess., Supp. No. 49, at 44, U.N. Doc. A/45/49 (Vol. I), including the 2000 Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. 

2000 Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, General Assembly resolution 54/263, annex II

Additional information about the United Nations response to trafficking in women and girls may be found in the report of the Expert Group Meeting on “Trafficking in women and girls” held 18-22 November 2002.

United Nations General Recommendations and Other International Instruments

In General Recommendation 19, Paragraph 6(1), 1992, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women stated that “States parties are required by article 6 to take measures to suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of the prostitution of women.”

The Bejing Platform for Action, Article 113(b), 1995 defined trafficking in women and forced prostitution as a form of violence against women.

The General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, the Commission on Human Rights and the Commission on the Status of Women have all passed resolutions on trafficking.  None of these resolutions, however, define trafficking. They include: General Assembly resolution 50/167 of 22 December 1995; Commission on Human Rights resolution 1995/25 of 3 March 1995; Commission on the Status of Women resolutions 39/6 of 29 March 1995 and 40/4 of 22 March 1996; Commission on Human Rights resolution 1996/24 of 19 April 1996; Commission on Human Rights resolution 1997/19 of 11 April 1997, adopted without vote; Economic and Social Council resolution 1998/20 of 28 July 1998; Commission on Human Rights resolutions 1998/30 of 17 April 1998 and 1999/40 of 26 April 1999; General Assembly resolution 57/176 of 30 January 2003; General Assembly resolution 58/137 of 4 February 2004; General Assembly resolution 61/144 of 1 February 2007; General Assembly resolution 63/194 of 23 January 2009; General Assembly resolution 63/156 of 30 January 2009; Human Rights Council resolution 11/3 of 17 June 2009.  See: Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women on trafficking in women, women’s migration and violence against women, 29 February 2000.

Regional Laws and Agreements

Africa 

1982 African [Banjul] Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, adopted June 27, 1981, OAU Doc. CAB/LEG/67/3 rev. 5, 21 I.L.M. 58 (1982)

1990 African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, OAU Doc. CAB/LEG/24.9/49 (1990). Articles 27 and 29 pertain to the use of children in prostitution and the sale of or traffick in children.

2001 ECOWAS Declaration and Plan of Action Against Trafficking in Persons

2003 Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, Adopted by the 2nd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Union, Maputo, CAB/LEG/66.6 (Sept. 13, 2000); reprinted in 1 Afr. Hum. Rts. L.J. 40, entered into force Nov. 25, 2005. Article 4(g) obligates state parties to take appropriate and effective measures to “prevent and condemn trafficking in women, prosecute the perpetrators of such trafficking and protect those women most at risk.”

Americas 

1994 Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (Convention of Belém do Pará)

1994 Inter-American Convention on International Traffic in Minors

Europe

1953 European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms

1996 European Convention on the Exercise of Children’s Rights

2000 Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union

2005 Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings

2007 Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse

 The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the Istanbul Convention), adopted by the Council of Europe and opened for signature in May 2011, obliges states to reform laws, implement practical measures to aid victims, and, importantly, allocate adequate resources for an effective response to violence against women and domestic violence. In addition states must involve all relevant actors in the implementation of the Istanbul Convention, including national parliaments and institutions and non-governmental and civil society organizations. While the Istanbul Convention does not specifically address trafficking in women and girls, it does address the additional forms of violence women and girls may face while being trafficked. Any nation can become a signatory of the Istanbul Convention. The Convention will enter into force once ten countries have ratified it. Eight of the ten ratifying countries must be Council of Europe member states. An ongoing list of signatures and ratifications can be found here. Available here in 28 languages.

12 Steps to Comply with the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the Istanbul Convention).

The European Union passed Directive 2011/36/EU on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims, and replacing previous Council Framework Decision 2002/626/JHA addressing this issue. The directive takes a victim-centered approach and requires all member states to bring into force laws, regulations, and other provisions necessary to comply with the Directive by April 6, 2013.

Asia

1997 Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Declaration on Transnational Crime

Asian countries have formed the ASEAN National Human Rights Institutions (NHRI) Forum and the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions to encourage cooperation, training, capacity building, and the promotion and protection of human rights. The Asian Regional Trafficking in Persons Project (ARTIP), an initiative of the Australian government, began in 2005 and focuses on promoting and protecting trafficking victims’ rights and holding sex traffickers accountable. 



[i] Go to http://www.endvawnow.org/en/modules/view/8-legislation.html#6, click Sex Trafficking of Women and Girls, click Overview, and click Sources of International Law.