Council of Europe

last updated September 1, 2005

The Council of Europe (COE) is a regional intergovernmental organization that focuses on issues emerging in the larger European arena. Central and Eastern European countries and certain members of the former Soviet Union are members of the COE. The European human rights legal system is based on treaties and is elaborated and explained by other non-binding documents, such as recommendation, resolutions and directives. As is the case with the United Nations, these instruments serve as guidelines to Member States on the obligation to protect women from violence, including trafficking in women. For more information on the European human rights system and the COE, in particular, please see the International Law: European System section of this site. For a summary of action undertaken by the COE in the field of trafficking in human beings, see the 21 August 2003 Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings prepared by the COE Directorate General II-Human Rights and the COE Directorate General I-Legal Affairs.

Treaty Obligations

Currently, two COE treaties outline the human rights obligations of COE Member States: the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (European Convention) (ETS No. 5) and the European Social Charter (ETS No. 35). The practice of trafficking in women may be deemed to violate several COE legal principles, among them the European Human Rights Convention principle of nondiscrimination (Article 14) and its guarantee of the right to life (Article 2), the right to liberty and security of person (Article 5), the right to be free from torture, inhuman or degrading treatment (Article 3), and the prohibition of slavery and forced labor (Article 4). Additionally, it sets forth a woman's right to an effective legal remedy before a national authority if her human rights are violated, which remedy is generally not available to victims of trafficking. (Article 13). Trafficking is also in violation of the principles of the European Social Charter. The Charter guarantees the right to work, including the equal right to work, the right to just work conditions and the right to safe and healthy work conditions, and the right to social and economic protection.

Draft European Convention Against Trafficking in Human Beings

In addition, the Council of Europe Committee on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings (CAHTEH) recently released its first draft of the Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. The document contains the draft Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings as revised during the 5th meeting of the CAHTEH held from 29 June to 2 July 2004.

The Convention intends to prevent and combat trafficking in human rights by taking measures to discourage the demand of trafficking, tighten border controls, and verify travel documents. In addition, the proposed Convention seeks to protect the human rights of victims of trafficking by way of identifying the victims, safeguarding their privacy, providing physical, psychological and social assistance, compensation and legal redress, repatriation, and by establishing rigid criminal procedures within the states that are party to the Convention. Finally, the Convention sets up a specific monitoring mechanism to implement the Convention. It is intended that a Group of Experts on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA), composed of a maximum of fifteen members with a recognized competence in the field of action against trafficking in human beings, will report on and make recommendations on the progress made by states in complying with their obligations under the Convention. The Directorates General on Legal Affairs, who coordinate the work to draft the Convention, expect a finalized version of the draft at the end of 2004.

Responses to the Draft European Convention Against Trafficking in Human Beings

While many expect this Convention to be a practical tool for international cooperation geared toward the protection of victims' rights and respect for human rights, the draft has garnered some criticism.

In response to the draft, the European Women's Lobby (EWL) has begun to lobby against the draft proposal. The EWL is concerned that the amendments proposed after the 5th meeting of the CAHTEH would weaken the aims of the Convention and limit its scope to another instrument to combat illegal immigration. The EWL has observer status to the CAHTEH and participates in its meetings. For more information on the EWL's action, write to

In addition, Amnesty International and Anti-Slavery International have collaborated in making recommendations to strengthen the provisions of the July 2004 draft and producing the report: "Enhancing the Protection of the Rights of Trafficked Persons: Amnesty International and Anti-Slavery International's Recommendations to strengthen provisions of the July 2004 draft European Convention against Trafficking in Human Beings." Although the organizations welcome many of the provisions proposed in the draft, they also suggest the need to further strengthen some of the draft’s provisions to enhance the protection and respect for the rights of trafficked persons.

Importantly, it recommends that the Preamble to the European Convention expressly identify trafficking as a human rights violation. Other important proposals include: The prompt and accurate identification of trafficked persons; that trafficked persons are not criminalized; the availability and access of trafficked persons to assistance and protection measures and services, including medical and psychological care, legal assistance and housing; the recognition of a three month reflection and recovery period in which a trafficking victim can begin to recover; the allowance of six month renewable and permanent residence permits on the basis of need and risk assessment; and the assurance that no trafficked person will be returned to a country where the victim will be at risk.

NGOs from around the world have issued a joint statement on the draft, suggesting specifically that the Council of Europe consult with civil society throughout the drafting process. Similar to the recommendations put forth above, the joint statement underlined the importance that the draft contains the recognition that trafficking is a human rights violation. In addition, the joint statement suggested the draft impel states to recognize the problem of trafficking of children and the need for prompt and accurate identification of victims of trafficking, adopt a full range of protection and assistance measures, allow victims a recovery and reflection period, provide for renewable and permanent residence permits, assist in voluntary repatriation and resettlement of victims, enforce reparation to victims for the crime committed against them, promote the non-punishment of victims. Finally, the joint statement recommended that the draft provide means for states to take preventative actions to deter trafficking in the future and called for the establishment of an independent monitoring body to ensure the states’ implementation of the Convention.

Parliamentary Recommendations

On 25 June 2003, the Parliamentary Assembly adopted Recommendation 1610 (2003) relating to "Migration Connected with Trafficking in Women and Prostitution.” This recommendation urges the Committee of Ministers to begin the drafting of the COE Convention on Trafficking in Human Beings. The convention will require Member States to criminalize trafficking in human beings, will harmonize the penalties applicable to trafficking among the Member States, and will "ensure the effective establishment of jurisdiction over traffickers or alleged traffickers, particularly by facilitating extradition and the application of the principle aut dedere aut iudicare in all cases concerning trafficking. The Parliamentary Assembly will be involved in the drafting process and will provide the financial resources necessary for the speedy completion of this work. Importantly, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) will be "asked to investigate the conditions of detention of the victims of trafficking in detention centres and prisons of Council of Europe member states, as well as their conditions of deportation." Finally, COE Member States will receive COE assistance with drafting trafficking legislation and criminal code revisions. This Recommendation follows on a report concerning Migration Connected with Trafficking in Women and Prostitution completed by the Parliamentary Assembly Committee on Migration, Refugees and Migration on 19 May 2003.

In a report by the Committee on Equal Opportunities for Men and Women entitled Domestic Slavery, Document 9102, domestic slavery is defined as “a situation of a vulnerable individual forced, by physical and/or moral coercion, to work without any real financial reward, deprived of liberty and in a situation contrary to human dignity.” The report asserts that the majority of victims of domestic slavery in Western European countries are female immigrants. Most have illegally entered the destination country after being recruited (a process usually entailing debt bondage) or trafficked from their home country. Upon arrival, their passports are systematically confiscated, leaving them vulnerable to and wholly dependent upon their employers. They work without remuneration or with pay that is out of proportion with their services, in conditions that border on imprisonment and often include physical and/or sexual violence.

The COE Recommendation 1523 (2001) on “Domestic Slavery” addresses the concern that no COE member state explicitly makes domestic slavery an offense under criminal code. The Recommendation requests member states to make slavery and trafficking in human beings, as well as forced marriages, punishable offenses. It urges member states to take measures to protect the rights of victims of domestic slavery, to strengthen border controls and to ensure that police officers are trained to deal with victims of slavery. It also suggests that the Vienna Convention be amended to waive diplomatic immunity for all offences committed in private life, and recommends that the Committee of Ministers draw up a domestic workers’ charter of rights.