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National Referral Mechanisms - Joining Efforts to Protect the Rights of Trafficked Persons: A Practical Handbook


A practical handbook on co-operation in protecting the rights of trafficked persons, published by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR)


This handbook begins at the point where media stories or police reports of victims of human trafficking usually end: after the raid, when the trafficked person has been liberated by the police. Unfortunately, all too often, the trauma, ill-treatment, and human-rights abuses associated with human trafficking may not end when a victim is liberated but can continue during shelter and repatriation programmes.

Law-enforcement agencies, government offices, and non-governmental organizations often lack the expertise, experienced personnel, and sensitivity needed to deal effectively with the special needs of victims of trafficking. Governments may lack a clear policy for dealing with victims. Police departments may be required under law to detain victims for their activities while in country – even if these were conducted under duress – or they might be most interested in using victims to obtain information on organized-crime rings. Other officials may focus on a victim’s lack of proper documentation or illegal immigration status. Countries of origin might be unwilling to readmit their own citizens if they are not in possession of the proper travel or citizenship documents. Non–governmental organizations may lack the resources or expertise required to ensure the safety and integration of victims. As a result, even after victims are freed from their traffickers, they may continue to feel trapped, controlled, illtreated, and unable to make decisions about their own lives.

Adopting a human-rights-based approach to victims of trafficking is a critical step in ending such abuses. A human-rights-based approach recognizes that human trafficking is not just a criminal activity but one that has profound human-rights implications both for victims and for the governments and non-governmental organizations that must deal with them. The creation of an effective National Referral Mechanism (NRM) can be a vital step in ensuring that the human rights of trafficked persons are protected.

This handbook sets out a framework for the creation and operation of an effective NRM. It describes the international legal obligations and political commitments that form the basis for establishing an NRM. It shows how anti-trafficking measures can be conceived and implemented on a national level through an NRM. And, it draws on the grass-roots experience of non-governmental organizations and OSCE field operations in fostering the creation of successful NRMs. This approach recognizes that many actors – including both government and civil society – must co-operate to develop a truly effective and comprehensive protection structure for trafficked persons. The handbook recognizes that an NRM should not be a static structure but that it can be continually improved through monitoring and suggestions from all participants, including, of course, the victims themselves.