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UK: UN experts condemn attacks on credibility of slavery and trafficking victims
GENEVA (19 December 2022) – Demonising victims of trafficking and contemporary forms of slavery erodes public sympathy for measures to protect them and may lead to attacks on these groups by extremists, UN experts warned today, urging the United Kingdom to step up efforts to protect survivors.
The credibility of victims of trafficking and contemporary forms of slavery, including migrants and nationals were under attack in the UK, the experts said.
“We are alarmed by the rise in unsubstantiated claims by public officials and Government departments regarding persons seeking protection under the Modern Slavery Act and the National Referral Mechanism in the past days and weeks,” they said. Government officials have voiced such claims in the media and on 13 December, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is reported having delivered an oral statement to Parliament in which he said that “the threshold for someone to be considered a modern slave will be significantly raised”.
“Misleading statements that exaggerate the level of fraud and abuse in the system to protect victims of trafficking and slavery, suggest that survivors of these practices are migrants in an irregular situation or criminals rather than vulnerable victims of gross human rights violations,” the UN experts said, “and that their legal representatives are cynical opportunists rather than human rights defenders.
“There is little evidence to support these claims and generalising them is dangerous and regressive,” the experts said.
They noted that requests for corroborating evidence by civil society have gone ignored on multiple occasions by the officials in question.
The UN experts warned that such rhetoric not only imperils protection for victims of trafficking and contemporary forms of slavery, but may also embolden human traffickers.
“This has a chilling effect on those willing to come forward as victims and those willing to provide legal representation to victims, impeding efforts to identify and protect victims and persons at risk of trafficking and hold perpetrators accountable,” the experts said.
They urged public officials to refrain from inflammatory and spurious rhetoric that delegitimises survivors of slavery and human trafficking and their legal representatives. “Focus instead on strengthening measures to protect these vulnerable populations,” the experts said.
The independent experts recommended that as an initial step, the government immediately appoints a new Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner. The post has been vacant since April 2022, despite being mandated under the Modern Slavery Act (2015).
The experts also urged the Government to address human rights concerns they had previously identified regarding risks of trafficking and contemporary forms of slavery faced by workers in the UK, including migrants and asylum-seekers.
The experts have been in contact with the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and regret the lack of response to their last communication on the related issue.
Mr. Tomoya Obokata, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences; Ms. Siobhán Mullally, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children; Mr. Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
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