New Initiative Examines Role for International Criminal Justice in Eradicating Modern Slavery

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  • 2014•11•03     New York

    Today over 30 million people worldwide live in slavery, a significant portion of them children. Yet slavery is strictly prohibited by international law. Under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, enslavement is even, in some cases, prosecutable as a crime against humanity or arguably, in some narrower cases, a war crime. The exploitation of workers in a wide range of industries continues, apparently all but unimpeded by the shadow of domestic and international criminal liability.

    Why is there such a gap between law and practice? What can be done to improve the contribution of international criminal justice norms and institutions to the eradication of modern slavery, whether through domestic or international courts, state peer review arrangements, civil litigation, corporate prevention efforts or the UN and ILO’s supervisory machinery?

    On 30 October 2014 the Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein to the United Nations hosted a policy breakfast  — Eradicating Modern Slavery: What Role for International Criminal Justice? — to launch a new research initiative to consider these questions.

    The event brought together roughly 25 experts from the United Nations University, the International Criminal Court, UN Member States, the advocacy community and academia. The initiative, co-organized by UNU, the Journal of International Criminal Justice, the Freedom Fund and the Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein to the UN, will generate policy outputs and a special issue of the Journal of International Criminal Justice.

    The event’s discussion opened by looking at the underlying factors of modern slavery, and their intersections and relations. The discussion then moved to the practical versus potential influence of international criminal justice norms against slavery and the possibilities for improved enforcement, cooperation and harmonization among other international enforcement mechanisms.

    The conversation proceeded to examine cases and intricacies of slavery prosecutions, the role for international criminal courts, and key conclusions from jurisprudence to date. Shifting to international criminal justice, market forces and public policy, the discussion highlighted the important role played by corporations in both fostering and preventing slavery and the need for rigorous research and transparent methodology to achieve effective public policy.

    The event concluded with an open question and answer session.

    For a full overview of the event, see the Meeting Note and Background Paper in the related files tab.