UN: Human trafficking victims must be protected even in fight against terrorism


A new report by the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons examines "the intersections between trafficking by proscribed groups and terrorism, and in particular the continuing failures in terms of identification of and assistance to the victims of trafficking and in terms of the protection of their human rights."

Support our work: become a Friend of Statewatch from as little as £1/€1 per month.

See: Report of the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, Siobhán Mullally (pdf, presented to the UN General Assembly on 27 October 2021)

"Despite increased attention to the intersections between trafficking in persons and terrorism, measures to prevent trafficking are limited and often ineffective, and we see repeated failures of protection. Accountability for the serious human rights violation of trafficking in persons is limited, and impunity persists. In the report, the Special Rapporteur highlights the obligations of States to apply the principle of non-discrimination in all actions to combat human trafficking and to ensure effective access to protection."

The text below is a press release accompanying the report, originally published here.

Human trafficking victims must be protected even in fight against terrorism -- UN expert NEW YORK (27 October 2021) – Victims of trafficking by terrorist groups are too often being punished instead of protected. States fail to identify and protect victims, often because of their alleged association with terrorist groups, and related stigma, discrimination, and racism, a human rights expert told the General Assembly today.

“States have an obligation – without exception – to identify and protect victims of human trafficking and must become more attuned to the needs of people trafficked by terrorist groups and as a result of conflict,” said Siobhán Mullally, UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons.

“Victims of trafficking, instead of receiving protection, are being punished and stigmatised,” she said in presenting a report to the General Assembly that analyses continuing failures to identify and assist victims of trafficking, and to protect their human rights.

“It is a very serious concern that, where trafficking occurs in the context of terrorism, discrimination by States leads to failures of protection, and increases risks of trafficking and re-trafficking, including of children.” Mullally said.

“Trafficking for purposes of forced marriage, sexual exploitation, forced labour and forced criminality is a strategy used by terrorist groups, and is continuing with impunity because of these failures.”

She warned that vulnerable children are disappearing from refugee camps and from camps for Internally Displaced People, adding: “young people are being targeted online by terrorist groups and recruited into lives of exploitation, a problem that has become even more severe during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“In addition to being exploited for sex or forced labour, children may also be exploited in combat, for planting explosives, carrying out armed attacks and suicide bombings.”

States and all humanitarian actors have obligations under the Palermo Protocol, which aims to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in people, and under international human rights law, to identify victims of trafficking early and then to provide specialised medical, psychological and legal assistance.

“The obligation of non-discrimination is a core norm of international human rights law, and applies to States’ obligations to protect the human rights of all victims of trafficking,” she said.

She called on peacekeeping operations to do more to prevent human trafficking and to identify and protect victims, especially in countries in transition from conflict to  peace.


Ms. Siobhán Mullally (Ireland) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children by the UN Human Rights Council in July 2020, to promote the prevention of trafficking in persons in all its forms, and to encourage measures to uphold and protect the human rights of victims. She is also the Established Professor of Human Rights Law and Director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the School of Law, National University of Ireland, Galway. Prior to her appointment as Special Rapporteur, she was a member of the Council of Europe Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA), elected as President of GRETA from 2016-2018 and as 1st Vice-President from 2014-2018.

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.

For more information and media requests, please contact Vanessa Asensio Pérez (vasensioperez@ohchr.org or Clara Pascual de Vargas (cpascualdevargas@ohchr.org) or

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts, please contact Renato Rosario De Souza (renato.rosariodesouza@un.org) or Jeremy Laurence (+ 41 79 444 7578 / jeremy.laurence@un.org).

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter@UN_SPExperts.

Our work is only possible with your support.
Become a Friend of Statewatch from as little as £1/€1 per month.


Spotted an error? If you've spotted a problem with this page, just click once to let us know.

Report error