Human-trafficking not addressed: U.N. envoy

by Natsuko Fukue

Japan needs to make greater efforts to stop being a destination for human-trafficking and swiftly ratify the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, which outlaws the practice as well as migrant-smuggling, visiting U.N. Special Rapporteur Joy Ngozi Ezeilo said Friday.

At a news conference in Tokyo, Ezeilo said the vast majority of cases discovered in Japan involve prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation, while there is also trafficking to exploit labor. She declined, however, to provide specifics.

Ezeilo, special rapporteur of the U.N. Human Rights Council on Trafficking in Persons, said there should be better protection of people under age 18 from prostitution and pornography, because the issue has not been sufficiently addressed.

She added that some cases of intern programs for foreign workers aimed at encouraging the transfer of skills and technology to other parts of Asia “exploit cheap labor under conditions that may well amount to trafficking.”

The human-trafficking situation looks even gloomier due to the economic downturn, which is likely to increase the number of cases, said Ezeilo, a Nigerian human rights lawyer and college professor.

“People are desperately trying to get out of the harsh economic situation to explore opportunities elsewhere. That means more people are falling into the hands of smugglers and traffickers,” she said.

Although the government does offer support to victims of trafficking, the services currently provided fall far short of what is required, she said.

According to Ezeilo, Japan lacks appropriate shelters for victims of trafficking, is unable to guarantee protection and does not have sufficient multilingual staff.

She suggested that there be free legal assistance and that the government should set up shelters dedicated to trafficking victims that offer a round-the-clock multilingual hotline service.

Compensation for victims should be provided by law, she added.

“The government should also consider establishing an official national rapporteur office or a coordination body solely responsible for promoting, coordinating and monitoring policies and actions related to human-trafficking,” she said.

Ezeilo said it is a positive step that the government grants victims of trafficking the right to reside temporarily in Japan. However, she argued victims should be allowed to work and earn a livelihood to recover psychologically, become integrated in society and avoid becoming victims of trafficking again.