International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Put down the gavel

Human trafficking has grown to be a major source of global income. Minimizing the cost of labor while maximizing its profits, human trafficking entails the sale, consummation, and exploitation of the following “reusable” products: human bodies, personhood, and dignity. This industry comes in many brands, including but not limited to sex trafficking/sex slavery, forced/bonded labor, debt bondage, and using child soldiers. Because the cost of this kind of labor is so little, and the criminal penalties for its exercise are often nonexistent, it is no wonder that human trafficking is a flourishing, business endeavor across today’s world–whether it be in what we call a developed country, such as the United States, or one still under development, such as India.

I came across a post on Columbia Law School’s blog highlighting the ICC’s questionable association with prosecuting cases of human trafficking. I further delved into this post, reading a detailed paper written by a student from Columbia’s law school, of which an excerpt reads that “allegations of human trafficking have not yet been brought to the ICC, nor have they appeared before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) or the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).” The rest of this paper goes on to examine the potential of the ICC in prosecuting human trafficking as a crime against humanity and the challenges associated with this endeavor.

It is mostly true that trafficking cases are often overshadowed by crimes pertaining to the individual/individual responsibility, and that the time and effort needed to fight these trafficking cases–inextricable from cultural, social, and religious boundaries–are not often available. Though with a unit of justice in place, such as the ICC, why does it seem as if the urgency of these cases is being undermined? Why isn’t there yet an international definition for “trafficking of persons” or “slavery” in our modern-day context? Is the inability to prosecute human trafficking as a crime against humanity attributed to the the lack of these definitions, or is it attributed to the difficulty (and sometimes impossibility) of rising above regional/cultural “norms” set in place over time?

Irrespective of the reasons, the bare bones is that human trafficking entails profiting from a cyclical supply of the vulnerable. It may be a sign of progress that the Rome Statute now recognizes human trafficking as a crime, though it would be a crime on the ICC’s part to withhold its gavel on such cases for much longer.


One response to “Put down the gavel

  1. ajanofsky October 16, 2012 at 12:34 am

    There’s no doubt that human trafficking is an atrocious issue that’s made worse by how widespread it is. But I think that its ubiquity contributes to why it has not been put under serious examination by the ICC: Virtually all countries are trying to counter human trafficking within their own borders and is currently seen as a criminalized, state issue—the ICC is only likely to intervene if human trafficking was concentrated in one area and if the country it was concentrated in is unwilling to prosecute the perpetrators.

    From the trafficking of Burmese women into sex trade to forced labor in Britain, human trafficking exists in some form in all nations. Indeed, you mentioned that it even flourishes in the United States—according to the Department of State Trafficking of Persons Report 2011, 141 individuals were convicted in the United States of human trafficking (out of the 103 prosecutions, 32 were labor trafficking and 71 were sex trafficking). But the number of convictions is merely a drop in the bucket—estimates for the number of human trafficking victims in the U.S. is consistently above 10,000. Does this mean that the ICC should step in? While it would bring added attention to the issue, I think it’s justified to let the U.S. Justice Department deal with prosecuting human trafficking while the ICC—which Barria and Roper mention is already burdened with an overflowing docket—focuses on human rights abuses that would otherwise go unnoticed.

    As Humphrey notes, international prosecutions are “necessarily selective”. While it would make sense for the ICC to investigate countries listed as Tier 3 on the State Department’s watch list, it would create political trouble considering that what’s being prosecuted is also taking place in all countries. I think that until the ICC finds a way around this quandary, the best alternative is to increase international pressure on countries that haven’t zealously fought human trafficking and potentially working with their legal systems in a similar way that the ICC works with hybrid courts in order to restore the authority of law in those countries. (page 372)

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