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“PROPER VICTIM IDENTIFICATION IS CRUCIAL IN FIGHTING MODERN SLAVERY IN BELGIUM”– UNITED NATIONS RIGHTS EXPERT

26 February 2015

BRUSSELS (26 February 2015) – United Nations Special Rapporteur Urmila Bhoola today called on the Government of Belgium to strengthen its fight against all forms of contemporary slavery by focusing sharply on proper victim detection and identification.  

“I welcome the existence of specialized units to investigate claims of exploitation in slavery-like conditions within the Belgian social and labour inspectorates and the police,” the human rights expert said at the end of her eight day official visit* to the country. “However, potential victims, including children and other vulnerable groups, are not always detected, identified and referred to the appropriate structures, which leaves them susceptible to abuse and exploitation,” Ms. Bhoola noted.

The Special Rapporteur stressed the need to ensure that all front-line actors, including in the police, relevant inspectorates, social and health services and the guardians of unaccompanied children received necessary training in identifying victims of contemporary forms of slavery.

“Further training is also necessary to ensure that the victims are adequately informed of their rights, including the 45 day reflection period, and to understand the central role in support and assistance of specialised centres to which they can be referred,” she said. “These centres perform a critical function in assisting victims, including in obtaining access to justice.”

“Belgium’s multi-disciplinary approach to tackling modern forms of slavery, which brings together various stakeholders at policy and operational level is an example of good practice,” stressed Ms. Bhoola and drew special attention to the need for providing continuous and sufficient financial and human resources to allow all those involved in the fight against modern forms of slavery in Belgium to carry out their work.

“It is also crucial to increase focus on awareness-raising and information campaigns aimed at the general public, in order for them to also be alert to cases of contemporary forms of slavery,” she said. “This preventive aspect, including in continuing to address specific vulnerabilities of those most discriminated and marginalized, needs strengthening.”

The human rights expert noted that the collection and recording of detailed statistical data could be strengthened. “Data from different sources should be consolidated to enable better identification of trends in order to inform policy-making,” Ms. Bhoola said.

Relevant provisions in Belgium’s Criminal Code, which have exploitation at their core, are broad and encompass contemporary forms of slavery, such as forced begging, forced labour and domestic servitude. Courts can impose more severe penalties when exploitation is secured through violence, threats, coercion, where vulnerability of a person is abused or where a child is exploited.

During her visit, which included meetings in Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent and Namur, Ms. Bhoola was informed about cases of successful prosecutions and specialised prosecutors and magistrates. However, she noted, “there are instances where there is reluctance to prosecute based on different interpretations of what would constitute work contrary to human dignity as provided for in the Criminal Code.”

The expert was encouraged by the steps taken to address domestic servitude in diplomatic households, through advising employees of their rights and monitoring that they work in compliance with human dignity and labour standards. The system of service vouchers introduced in 2004 was also a commendable initiative and had had success in regulating the sector of domestic work and reducing vulnerability to exploitation.

The Special Rapporteur will present a report with her findings and recommendations at the September 2015 session of the UN Human Rights Council.

Urmila Bhoola (South Africa) assumed her mandate as Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences on 2 June 2014. Ms. Bhoola is a human rights lawyer working in the Asia Pacific region on international human rights, gender equality and labour law. She has 20 years of experience as a labour and human rights lawyer in South Africa and served as a Judge of the South African Labour Court for five years. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Slavery/SRSlavery/Pages/SRSlaveryIndex.aspx

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.

UN Human Rights, country page – Belgium: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/ENACARegion/Pages/BEIndex.aspx

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For use of the information media; not an official record

HR15/047E