NATO: Policy Relating to Military Personnel and Trafficking

last updated September 1, 2005

On March 4, 2004, the American and Norwegian ambassadors to NATO hosted the organization’s first conference to address the problem of trafficking and its effects on NATO operations. Recognizing a link between the presence of international troops in post-conflict zones and an increase in human trafficking activity in these areas, Nicholas Burns (U.S.) and Kai Eide (Norway) expressed their concern about the lack of a unified policy on trafficking for the 46 countries of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. They urged NATO to create a policy that would prohibit overseas military and civil personnel on peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction missions from engaging in activities that support human trafficking.


On 29 June, 2004, NATO issued a Policy on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, which was endorsed by NATO Heads of State and Government at the Istanbul Summit. The document sets forth a zero-tolerance policy regarding trafficking in humans by NATO forces and staff (including troops of non-NATO nations participating in NATO-led operations) and mandates educational and training programs. NATO Allies reaffirm their commitment to ratification, acceptance or approval of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Trafficking Protocol and agree to the following:

a. to review national legislation and report on national efforts to meet obligations associated with the UN Convention and its Protocol in accordance with the relevant decisions taken by the Parties to those treaties;
b. to encourage all nations contributing forces to NATO- led operations to ratify, accept or approve the UN Convention Against Organised Crime and relevant Protocol and adhere to the OSCE Code of Conduct;
c. that this policy is aimed at securing standards of individual behaviour;
d. that all personnel taking part in NATO led-operations should receive appropriate training to make them aware of the problem of trafficking and how this modern day slave trade impacts on human rights, stability and security, as well as being informed of their own responsibilities and duties and the respective responsibilities of International Organisations in this field;
e. in the conduct of operations, to continue efforts, within their competence and respective mandates, to provide support to responsible authorities in the host country in their efforts to combat trafficking in human beings;
f. to incorporate contractual provisions that prohibit contractors from engaging in trafficking in human beings or facilitating it and impose penalties on contractors who fail to fulfil their obligations in this regard; and
g. to evaluate implementation of their efforts as part of the ongoing reviews carried out by the competent authorities.

It is important to remember that NATO itself has no powers of enforcement or prosecution over the peacekeeping troops and civilian workers it deploys. Each NATO member/partner contributing forces determines the law and policy for its own personnel, and is solely responsible for enforcing these laws and prosecuting offenders back in the home country. In the past, some NATO members/partner countries with codes of conduct addressing trafficking did not adequately enforce their codes. The countries that have reprimanded and repatriated offenders have seldom prosecuted them on home soil, a problem that has been attributed to jurisdictional gaps, a lack of political will in the home country, and a general indifference to the problem of trafficking.

The American and Norwegian ambassadors have suggested their respective nation's codes of conducts and current actions against trafficking as best practices for other NATO members/partners. Norway maintains a zero-tolerance policy on the purchase of sexual services by military personnel serving overseas, and recently adopted the Ethical Guidelines for Government Employees prohibiting the Purchase and Acceptance of Sexual Services, an initiative that applies equally to civil service workers stationed abroad. A defining trait of both policies is that they prohibit personnel from engaging in any paid sexual services. This is justified in a memo from the Ministry of Justice and the Police: "The purchase or acceptance of sexual services usually entails the exploitation of persons who are in a difficult situation, and women and children are particularly vulnerable."

In February 2003, President Bush signed the Trafficking in Persons National Security Presidential Directive, which sets a zero-tolerance policy on the participation in activities linked to trafficking for all U.S. military personnel, including peacekeeping troops. The U.S. Department of Defense Office of the Inspector General is charged with assessing compliance with this policy. In a memo dated January 30, 2004, Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz outlined a similar zero tolerance policy for all service members, civilian defense employees and Pentagon contractors. The memo outlines objectives to educate military and civilian personnel about trafficking issues, to increase commander efforts to crack down on sex traffickers in establishments patronized by defense personnel, and to add anti-trafficking clauses and penalties in overseas contracts.

Prior to the June 2004 policy, NATO had created a preliminary document addressing human trafficking. Presented in November, 2003, NATO Resolution 323 on Trafficking in Human Beings recognizes trafficking as an affront to human dignity as well as a threat to stability and security through the Euro-Atlantic area, and supports the July 2003 adoption of the OSCE Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings and the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. It urges NATO member/partner countries to implement and enforce laws making human trafficking a punishable offence, to harmonize national legislation and penalties, to ensure the non-criminalization of victims, to protect victims and witness and provide them with rehabilitation assistance, and to train national officials stationed overseas to understand and identify instances of human trafficking.