Earlier this year, on 30 July – World Day against Trafficking in Persons, the Tunisian government formally launched its National Strategy against Trafficking in Persons. On the same day, Tunisia also announced that it was joining the United Nations Blue Heart Campaign, a worldwide initiative aimed at raising awareness on the impact of human trafficking, and offer support to victims.
At the launch event, Judge Raoudha Laabidi, Head of the Tunisian National Commission against Trafficking In Persons (NCTIP) described the crime as ‘one of the worst possible violations of human rights’. Such a strong show of political will has not always been evident. While the country did ratify the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime and the protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons in 2003, it only enacted the national legal framework required to implement the convention and protocol 13 years later. The law on preventing and combatting trafficking in persons was adopted in 2016, establishing the NCTIP six months later in 2017.
Much like some of the other special bodies that Tunisia created after adopting the Constitution of 2014 (others include the National Counter Terrorism Commission, and the Truth and Dignity Commission), the mandate of the NCTIP can appear complex and overwhelming. It includes coordinating public policies and actors involved in combatting trafficking in persons; providing assistance and protection to the victims; research and monitoring; and developing a comprehensive national strategy.
Although the NCTIP developed the National Strategy against Trafficking in Persons independently, the institution is structurally and financially housed within the Ministry of Justice. It also relies heavily on international development . NCTIP Secretary-General, Sana Bouzaouache, told ENACT that the 2016 law would have to be amended to ‘guarantee budgetary, autonomy which will enable [the NCTIP] to work more efficiently.’
Besides a lack of financial independence, being incorporated in the Ministry of Justice also presents other challenges. A historic lack of coordination between the Ministries of the Interior and Justice is also affecting the NCTIP, which is struggling to ensure adequate protection of victims and witnesses. In addition, the NCTIP’s Legal Advisor, Sana Ben Achour, told ENACT that ‘secondary legislation is still lacking to adequately implement the 2016-61 law and allow proper enforcement’.
Further, the Tunisian labour law is not aligned with some key international instruments, including the International Labour Organisation’s conventions on Minimum Age for Admission to Employment (1973), Decent Work for Domestic Workers (2011), Migrant Workers (1990); Labour Inspection and Worst Forms of Child Labour (1969). This creates legislative loopholes that allow traffickers to act with impunity.
Yet there is progress to report. Bouzaouache, the NCTIP Secretary General, told ENACT that there are currently 18 open cases falling under the jurisdiction of the 2016 Law before Tunisian courts. Further, several awareness campaigns have been conducted to ensure that this topic, which has long been neglected, is moved to the heart of public debate.
Tunisia is increasingly seen to be both a transit and destination country for sub-Saharan migrants. According to data presented at the press conference at the launch of the national strategy, the majority of victims reporting abuse to NCTIP are Tunisian, with a few nationals from Mali and Côte d’Ivoire. Although this could be seen to indicate a higher prevalence of domestic trafficking, the absence of a legal framework protecting undocumented migrants may lead to underreporting among foreign nationals. This, once more, underscores the need for comprehensive migration legislation.
Jihane Ben Yahia, ENACT Regional organised crime observatory coordinator – North Africa, ISS