Security Council condemns human trafficking in wartime

Last week, the UN Security Council passed a landmark resolution condemning human trafficking in areas affected by armed conflict. The resolution emphasised sexual and gender based violence and the systemic perpetration of trafficking and sexual violence by Da’esh.

The Security Council unanimously passed resolution 2331 (2016) on 20 December after an open debate on trafficking of persons in conflict situations. The debate was convened by Spain, as the Council’s current president and defined trafficking as an issue of international peace and security, rather than a simple criminal activity. While the debate was not explicitly framed within the women, peace and security agenda, three quarters of the delivered statements made reference to sex trafficking or sexual and gender based violence. This emphasis was reflected in the resolution which did not recall Security Council resolution 1325, but did recall resolution 2242 and emphasised sexual and gender-based violence.

Yazidi activist Nadia Murad reiterated her previous frustrations that crimes committed by Da’esh are well recorded, but the group seems to have impunity. She continued to urge for member states to establish a commission to document and investigate conflict related sexual violence and sex trafficking. Such a commission, or international cooperation in this regard, would go a long way towards addressing the evidence gap and the need for file sharing for the investigations and prosecutions called for by prosecute; don’t perpetrate. Fellow Yazidi rights activist, Ameena Saeed Hasan, said Da’esh had abducted more than 6,000 women and children and sold them in slave markets, but no military operation had been carried out to free them. “Where is justice?” she demanded.

In the first operative paragraph of the resolution, the Security Council condemned “in the strongest terms all instances of trafficking in persons in areas affected by armed conflicts” and stressed “that trafficking in persons undermines the rule of law and contributes to other forms of transnational organized crime, which can exacerbate conflict and foster insecurity and instability and undermine development”.

In line with previous resolutions on women, peace and security, the Security Council recognised that trafficking of persons and sexual and gender-based violence “can be part of the strategic objectives and ideology of, and used as a tactic by certain terrorist groups”. The resolution specifically condemns “all acts of trafficking, particularly the sale or trade in persons undertaken by the ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’ (ISIL, also known as Da’esh), including of Yazidis and other persons belonging to religious and ethnic minorities”.

In operative paragraph fifteen, the Security Council “encourages Member States to ensure that existing national strategic frameworks and national action plans against trafficking in persons national action plans and other planning frameworks on women and peace and security, developed through broad consultations, including with civil society, and comprehensive and integrated national counter-terrorism strategies are complementary and mutually reinforcing”. This reflects the Security Council’s previous call, in resolution 2242 to better integrate policies on women, peace and security, counter-terrorism and countering-violent extremism.

After the debate, Zainab Hawa Bangura, Special Representative of the Secretary General for Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict, stated that the new resolution “constitutes a crucial normative tool to tackle new and previously unforeseen threats to international peace and security, including the use of sexual violence as a tactic of terrorism by groups that traffic their victims internally, as well as across borders in the pursuit of profit, and with absolute impunity.”

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