Together Against Trafficking in Human Beings

International Legislation

International Legislation

This section provides a list of the most important international conventions, protocols and declarations to fight human trafficking and an overview of other instruments of relevance.

10 September 2013 (decision on the admissibility)

The applicant, a Ghanaian national, alleged that she had been trafficked to the United Kingdom and forced into prostitution. She complained in particular that her removal to Ghana would put her at risk of falling into the hands of her former traffickers or into the hands of new traffickers. She further alleged that, as she had contracted HIV in the United Kingdom as a direct result of trafficking and sexual exploitation, the State was under a positive obligation to allow her to remain in the United Kingdom to access the necessary medical treatment.

The Court declared the applicant’s complaints under Articles 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) and 4 (prohibition of slavery and forced labour) inadmissible. It noted in particular that the applicant could have raised all of her Convention complaints in an appeal to the Upper Tribunal. By not applying for permission to appeal to the Upper Tribunal, she had failed to meet the requirements of Article 35 § 1 (admissibility criteria) of the Convention.

Full Case Law: F.A. v. the United Kingdom​

28 June 2011 (strike-out decision)
The applicant, a Somali national born in 1992, arrived by boat in Italy in November 2007. He was running away from Mogadishu where he claimed he had been forced to join the army after the collapse of the country’s administrative structures and where he risked his life at the hand of the Ethiopian troops who aimed at capturing and killing young Somali soldiers. The Italian authorities left him in the streets of Rome in the winter of 2007, without any help or resources. He was constantly hungry and cold, physically and verbally abused in the streets, and by the police in Milan where he looked for help. Eventually, he was trafficked to Finland, where he applied for asylum which was refused in February 2010. The applicant complained that if returned back to Italy, he would risk inhuman or degrading treatment contrary to Article 3 of the Convention, particularly as he was an unaccompanied minor.
The Court struck the application out of its list of cases, in accordance with Article 37 (striking out applications) of the Convention, as it noted that the applicant had been granted a continuous residence permit in Finland and that he was no longer subject to an expulsion order. The Court thus considered that the matter giving rise to the complaints in the case had been resolved.
Read the Full Case Law: D.H. v. Finland (no. 30815/09)
17 January 2017
This case concerned the Austrian authorities’ investigation into an allegation of human trafficking. The applicants, two Filipino nationals, who had gone to work as maids or au pairs the United Arab Emirates, alleged that their employers had taken their passports away from them and exploited them. They claimed that this treatment had continued during a short stay in Vienna where their employers had taken them and where they had eventually managed to escape. Following a criminal complaint filed by the applicants against their employers in Austria, the authorities found that they did not have jurisdiction over the alleged offences committed abroad and decided to discontinue the investigation into the applicants’ case concerning the events in Austria. The applicants maintained that they had been subjected to forced labour and human trafficking, and at the Austrian authorities had failed to carry out an effective and exhaustive investigation into their allegations. They argued in particular that what had happened to them in Austria could not be viewed in isolation, and at the Austrian authorities had a duty under international law to investigate also those events which had occurred abroad.
The Court, finding that the Austrian authorities had complied with their duty to protect the applicants as (potential) victims of human trafficking, held that there had been no violation of Article 4 (prohibition of forced labour) and no violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the Convention. It notably noted that there had been no obligation under the Convention to investigate the applicants’ recruitment in the Philippines or their alleged exploitation in the United Arab Emirates, as States are not required under Article 4 of the Convention to provide for universal jurisdiction over trafficking offences committed abroad. Turning to the events in Austria, the Court concluded that the authorities had taken all steps which could have reasonably been expected in the situation. The applicants, supported by a government-funded NGO, had been interviewed by specially trained police officers, had been granted residence and work permits in order to regularise their stay in Austria, and a personal data disclosure ban had been imposed for their protection. Moreover, the investigation into the applicants’ allegations about their stay in Vienna had been sufficient and the authorities’ resulting assessment, given the facts of the case and the evidence available, had been reasonable. Any further steps in the case – such as confronting the applicants’ employers – would not have had any reasonable prospect of success, as no mutual legal assistance agreement existed between Austria and the United Arab Emirates, and as the applicants had only turned to the police approximately one year after the events in question, when their employers had long left the country.
Read the full test case: J. and Others v. Austria (no. 58216/12)
18 February 2014 (strike-out decision)
The applicant, a Nigerian national, who claimed to be a victim of human trafficking, complained that her expulsion to Nigeria would expose her to a real risk of re-trafficking.
The Court decided to strike the application out of its list of cases, in accordance with Article 37 (striking out applications) of the Convention, noting that the applicant was no longer at risk of being removed as she had been granted refugee status and an indefinite leave to remain in the United Kingdom. Moreover, the United Kingdom authorities had accepted that she had been a victim of trafficking.
30 March 2017
The applicants – 42 Bangladeshi nationals – were recruited in Athens and other parts of Greece between the end of 2012 and early 2013, without a Greek work permit, to work at the main strawberry farm in Manolada. Their employers failed to pay the applicants’ wages and obliged them to work in difficult physical conditions under the supervision of armed guards. The applicants alleged that they had been subjected to forced or compulsory labour. They further submitted that the State was under an obligation to prevent their being subjected to human trafficking, to adopt preventive measures for that purpose and to punish the employers.
The Court held that there had been a violation of Article 4 § 2 (prohibition of forced labour) of the Convention, finding that the applicants had not received effective protection from the Greek State. The Court noted, in particular, that the applicants’ situation was one of human trafficking and forced labour, and specified that exploitation through labour was one aspect of trafficking in human beings. The Court also found that the State had failed in its obligations to prevent the situation of human trafficking, to protect the victims, to conduct an effective investigation into the offences committed and to punish those responsible for the trafficking.
Read Full Case Law: Chowdury and Others v. Greece

European Commission, 2017, 11 pages

"EU anti-trafficking action 2012-2016 at a glance" provides an overview of the work carried out in the past five years on the basis of the EU comprehensive legal and policy framework to address trafficking in human beings, that is, the Anti-trafficking Directive and the EU Strategy towards the eradication of trafficking in human beings 2012-2016.

This framework is focused on victims and is human rights based, gender specific and child sensitive. In addition, the EU Anti-trafficking Coordinator has the overall responsibility of improving coordination and coherence among EU institutions, EU agencies, Member States and international actors, and for developing existing and new EU policies to address THB. In this context, extensive work both at the political as well as the operational level is conducted in the external and external dimension of EU policies, in areas ranging from security to migration, justice, equality, anti-discrimination, fundamental rights, employment, development, research, humanitarian aid, and fisheries, amongst others.

Although non-exhaustive, "EU anti-trafficking action 2012-2016 at a glance" aims at highlighting the key instruments and tools delivered during this period in order to support and raise awareness for our joint efforts against trafficking in human beings, encourage the widest possible use in order to ensure full impact and implementation of commitments, as well minimise duplication of efforts. Please note that, to this end, each section includes a link to the relevant source.

IOM launched an online platform featuring a Transnational Referral Mechanism Model – TRM, an outcome of the EU-funded Transnational Action (TACT) project,  developed as a deliverable of the EU Strategy towards the eradication of trafficking in human beings 2012-2016 (Priority A: Identifying, protecting and assisting victims of trafficking, Action 1: Establishment of National and Transnational Referral Mechanisms).
The tool contributes to ensuring victims’ access to rights throughout the process, and especially in a situation of cross-border referral, linking up experts and professionals from different countries involved in the identification, referral, assistance, return, and monitoring of assistance to victims of trafficking. It defines the roles of each stakeholder participating in national referral mechanisms (NRM) and serves as a platform to inform and connect counter-trafficking practitioners in countries of origin and countries of destination.

The Seasonal Workers Directive (2014/36/EU) sets the conditions of entry and stay of third-country nationals for the purpose of employment as seasonal workers.

The Directive rules governing working conditions aim to prevent exploitation and protect the health and safety of non-EU seasonal workers. 

The EU Foreign Ministers have adopted the revised EU Guidelines on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of the Child - Leave no Child Behind.

Children have the potential to be the greatest agents of change and sustainable development in their communities and in their countries. They are the leaders of tomorrow. The EU will continue to stand up for the rights of every child to reach their full potential in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols.

These Guidelines set out the EU's overarching strategy to strengthen efforts to ensure every child, in particular, the most marginalised, is reached by EU policies and actions.

To achieve this aim the Guidelines promote a systems-strengthening approach which identifies all the necessary measures, structures and actors which need to be in place to protect all the rights of all children. The importance of a rights-based approach, encompassing all human rights, and how it can be operationalised is also underlined.  


STRASBOURG 30/03/2017

In its 6th General Report, the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) highlights important gaps in the prevention of trafficking in children and in the identification and protection of child victims of trafficking.

The report shows that 4,361 children were identified as victims of trafficking in just 12 European countries between 2012 and 2015. On average, children represent a quarter of the identified victims of human trafficking, but there are important variations between countries. Children are being trafficked transnationally, as well as internally, for different forms of exploitation (sexual exploitation, forced labour, domestic servitude, forced begging, forced criminal activities or forced marriage).

GRETA expresses concern that significant numbers of unaccompanied children go missing shortly after being placed in reception centres, which exposes them to further risks of trafficking and exploitation.

Examples of good practice from different countries are also outlined in the report. These include targeted awareness-raising projects, mobile units set up to detect vulnerable children and specialised centres supporting child victims of trafficking.

The annual report summarises GRETA’s monitoring work over the last year. It also gives examples of positive changes which the Council of Europe Anti-Trafficking Convention has helped to bring about.

Covering the 2015-2016 period, this edition provides an overview of developments in IOM-EU cooperation, facts & figures, where and what we work on together around the world, a special focus on our activities to address the five priority domains of the Valletta Summit commitments, and reflection on our shared priorities for 2017 and beyond

Perspectives and experiences of children involved in judicial proceedings as victims, witnesses or parties in nine EU Member States.

FRA, February 2017, 128 pages

Around 2.5 million children participate in judicial proceedings across the European Union (EU) every year, affected by parental divorce or as victims of, or witnesses to, crime. Although their effective participation in such proceedings is vital for improving the operation of justice, the treatment of children in justice systems remains a concern. FRA investigated to what extent children’s rights to be heard, to be informed, to be protected, and to non-discrimination are fulfilled in practice.

The final evaluation marks the completion of a five-year-long exercise which allowed to identify the main challenges stemming from investigation and prosecution of THB cases from a judicial cooperation perspective while proposing solutions to overcome them.


GRETA(2016)29, 30.01.2017, 26 pages

The Council of Europe Group of experts against human trafficking ( GRETA) has published today a report on the implementation of the Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings by Italy. The report assesses the specific situation of forced returns of victims of trafficking from Italy and the identification of victims of trafficking among asylum seekers and migrants. 

The 2016 UNODC Global Report on Trafficking in Persons is the third of its kind mandated by the General Assembly through the 2010 United Nations Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons. It covers 136 countries and provides an overview of patterns and flows of trafficking in persons at global, regional and national levels, based primarily on trafficking cases detected between 2012 and 2014. As UNODC has been systematically collecting data on trafficking in persons for more than a decade, trend information is presented for a broad range of indicators.

The thematic chapter of the 2016 edition of the Global Report looks at how migrants and refugees can be vulnerable to trafficking in persons, en route or at destination. It also analyses the particular condition of people escaping war, conflict and persecution.

Most countries have passed legislation that criminalizes trafficking in persons as a specific offence; many have done so recently. The Global Report shows that there is a relation between how long a country has had proper trafficking legislation on its books, and how many convictions it reports. Countries with longer-standing legislation record, on average, more convictions. That said, the overall criminal justice response to trafficking in persons, which has historically been very weak, has not improved significantly. 


"This is not a European Commission publication. The European Commission is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Commission, the European Union or its Member States".