United Nations Convention Suppressing Human Trafficking Is Adopted Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Responding to post-World War II events, the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others was the first major step taken by the United Nations to condemn and outlaw international prostitution and human trafficking. The treaty would become the foundational base for contemporary attempts to criminalize and punish the globalization of prostitution and human trafficking.

Summary of Event

Meeting at Lake Success, New York, in the fall of 1949, the social committee of the Economic and Social Council of the U.N. General Assembly passed the first article of a treaty binding all member nations to forbid promoting organized prostitution or engaging in the traffic of persons. While five member states abstained from voting, twenty voted in favor and fifteen voted against the measure. The U.N. secretariat initially drafted the article after being inspired by several previous international conventions and League of Nations initiatives. Once approved by the social committee, the U.N. General Assembly’s favorable vote on December 2, 1949, ensured that the article would come to form a key part of the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (the Convention). [kw]Convention Suppressing Human Trafficking Is Adopted, United Nations (Dec. 2, 1949) [kw]Human Trafficking Is Adopted, United Nations Convention Suppressing (Dec. 2, 1949) [kw]Trafficking Is Adopted, United Nations Convention Suppressing Human (Dec. 2, 1949) United Nations;human trafficking Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (1949) Human rights;treaties, conventions, and declarations Prostitution Slavery;U.N. conventions United Nations;human trafficking Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (1949) Human rights;treaties, conventions, and declarations Prostitution Slavery;U.N. conventions [g]North America;Dec. 2, 1949: United Nations Convention Suppressing Human Trafficking Is Adopted[03030] [g]United States;Dec. 2, 1949: United Nations Convention Suppressing Human Trafficking Is Adopted[03030] [c]United Nations;Dec. 2, 1949: United Nations Convention Suppressing Human Trafficking Is Adopted[03030] [c]Human rights;Dec. 2, 1949: United Nations Convention Suppressing Human Trafficking Is Adopted[03030] [c]Women’s issues;Dec. 2, 1949: United Nations Convention Suppressing Human Trafficking Is Adopted[03030] [c]Organizations and institutions;Dec. 2, 1949: United Nations Convention Suppressing Human Trafficking Is Adopted[03030]

The Convention went into force on July 25, 1951. Among the most significant features of the treaty are the following:

•The proclamation that prostitution and the accompanying traffic in persons for the purposes of prostitution were incompatible with human dignity

•The formal incorporation of previous international conventions and League of Nations measures against the trafficking of women and children

•Forbidding the procuring or leading away of women, children, or men for the purposes of prostitution even with the consent of that person

•Agreement to establish punishment of anyone who maintains a brothel or rents rooms for the purposes of prostitution

•Acknowledgment that exploited foreigners would have the same protection as exploited citizens

•Extradition of the accused

•The promise by signatory states to establish special departments charged with investigation of suspected activities and with keeping police records of those accused of infractions

•A commitment to promote educational measures regarding the dangers of prostitution

•An accord to protect both immigrants and emigrants from human trafficking for the purpose of prostitution

•Establishment of provisions for the repatriation of destitute victims of human trafficking for prostitution so that the state of residence or state of origin would pay for repatriation if the victim could not

•Formal pronouncement that disputes that could not be settled between states party to the treaty would be sent to the International Court of Justice

The intent of the signatory parties was both practical and ethical. Exploiting women and girls for the purpose of prostitution was an ever-growing global phenomenon. With the end of World War II and its large-scale displacement and impoverishment of millions of people came a critical realization by the United Nations. The organization soon realized that it needed to act quickly to ensure that exploitation of the countless destitute or displaced persons for purposes of prostitution would not overwhelm the precarious social and political climate of the postwar world.

With this treaty the United Nations incorporated earlier international measures aimed at eliminating international trafficking for the purpose of prostitution into a new and more focused international agreement that would commit United Nations member states and, most significantly, the war’s victorious new superpowers to the eradication of this ancient abuse of human, mainly women and girls, rights.

Significance

While signatories of the Convention had hoped to eradicate human trafficking for the purpose of prostitution, that goal was not achieved by this one instrument. A lack of adequate legislation to enforce the treaty at the varied national levels led to its failure. In addition, many nations lack the experience and funds required to control crime at an international level. As a result, many Eastern European and Latin American women, for example, are lured by promises of legitimate employment prospects and a better life. They migrate or are forced to migrate to Western Europe and Japan only to be forced into prostitution. Moreover, thousands of Asian women who migrate from rural areas to large cities and from agricultural nations to cosmopolitan centers such as Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Bangkok often are forced to work as prostitutes to survive. Similarly, sub-Saharan African women are coerced into either the local or global sex-slave industry. Economic and Social Council, U.N. [kw]United Nations Convention Suppressing Human Trafficking Is Adopted (Dec. 2, 1949)

Nevertheless, increased concern at national levels has led to greater international cooperation. With the Convention in force, United Nations member states have continued to seek to improve the effectiveness of this treaty by more clearly defining human trafficking within the framework of transnational criminal activity. Also, the treaty has been updated and revised through new protocols that have “modernized” investigatory and prosecutorial measures and have addressed more forcefully the defense of victims and potential victims. Thus, for example, while the treaty’s protective umbrella is meant to cover all persons, it particularly applies to women and children because of their particular vulnerability. The Convention and the international measures it inspired serve as guideposts to individual nations seeking to prevent human trafficking for the purpose of prostitution and to punish those who continue to traffic in humans. United Nations;human trafficking Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (1949) Human rights;treaties, conventions, and declarations Prostitution Slavery;U.N. conventions

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Amerasinghe, C. F. Principles of the Institutional Law of International Organizations. 2d rev. ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. While this work is focused primarily on the study of various international tribunals, it also offers insight into the jurisdictional imperatives for adjudications of human trafficking and human rights disputes before the International Court of Justice.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Armstrong, David, Lloyd Lorna, and John Redmond. From Versailles to Maastricht: International Organization in the Twentieth Century. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996. A good primer for understanding the growth of international organizations in the twentieth century. Also provides a brief review of the origin of the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as well as assessment of the evolution of the international human rights movement.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gorman, Robert F. Great Debates at the United Nations. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001. Addresses the relationship between the immense human misery of the post-World War II era and the wider human rights debate in the United Nations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mower, Glenn A., Jr. The United States, the United Nations, and Human Rights: The Eleanor Roosevelt and Jimmy Carter Eras. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1979. Offers keen insights into the evolution of human rights from a moral and intellectual movement to a political force to be reckoned with in the American and international arenas.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">United Nations. Office on Drugs and Crime. Anti-Human Trafficking Unit. Trafficking in Persons: Global Patterns. New York: Author, 2006. A 128-page updated resource from the U.N. Global Programme Against Trafficking in Human Beings. Highly recommended. Available at http://www.unodc.org./
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Trafficking in Human Beings. http://www .unodc.org./ A comprehensive resource on human trafficking and prostitution by the agency that drafted and adopted the Convention in 1949 and subsequent related protocols. Includes links to documents, including the 1949 treaty. Highly recommended.

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