Statement by OSCE on need to strengthen anti-trafficking efforts in a time of crisis

OSCE (03.04.2020) – – Valiant Richey, OSCE Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, today issued the following statement, in co-ordination with Albania’s OSCE Chairmanship, to the OSCE participating States on the COVID-19 pandemic. He urged that, “it is precisely when our global community is convulsed by a crisis of this magnitude that our obligation to combat the exploitation of vulnerable people becomes most acute”. His full statement read:


“With the spread of COVID-19, the world faces an unprecedented threat to public health, which, in turn, poses extraordinary challenges to the economic and social cohesion of all our communities. In the fight against this common enemy, many governments have taken strong preventive measures, often combined with public interventions aimed at alleviating some of the economic losses that those measures inevitably create.


Although the COVID-19 threat is universal, the negative consequences of this crisis will be disproportionally carried by the most vulnerable in our societies. Firstly, victims of trafficking face exceptional danger as entrenched systems of exploitation are thrown into disarray and traffickers seek to maintain their revenue through greater violence or new forms of exploitation. Meanwhile, access to shelters and other support structures is increasingly limited at a time when need is at its greatest. Secondly, as resources gravitate to address public health concerns, attention is diverted from deterring criminal actors, and vulnerable persons already living in precarious circumstances are now at greater risk for being swept into exploitative situations.


The consequences of the current crisis on victims are far-reaching. Trafficking for sexual exploitation is increasingly moving online where traffickers can keep their revenue intact and enhance the isolation of and control over victims, particularly women and girls, who comprise 94% of the victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation. Children, at a time of school closures and potentially more hours spent online, face a greater risk of online grooming. Victims of forced labour find themselves with even fewer options for survival and less legal protection. In the case of trafficking for organ removal, one of the darkest and least addressed forms of trafficking, the impacts of COVID-19 are starting to raise alarm.


In moments of crisis, traffickers will increase their recruitment as more and more people find themselves in dire economic straits. For this reason, it is essential that governments ensure equal access to healthcare, unemployment services, and other welfare services, regardless of recent employment history or legal status, to guarantee that those who need this support the most can effectively access it. Anyone without an income or other form of support is at risk of falling into the hands of traffickers. In these chaotic times, it is vital that States do not let their guard down, but instead strengthen their anti-trafficking efforts.


Human trafficking feeds off vulnerability — in particular, gender and economic inequality — and it is a symptom of frailty in our society. It is precisely when our global community is shaken by a crisis of this magnitude that our obligation to combat the exploitation of vulnerable people becomes most acute. Where trafficking goes unchecked and impunity reigns, the rule of law is undermined and the security and safety of all citizens, especially the most vulnerable, is threatened. For this reason, combating human trafficking is not just a law enforcement responsibility. It is a human, societal and security imperative, and an urgent priority.


The COVID-19 crisis will be remembered for generations, and we have just started to see its transformative impact on our lives. Today, as in all moments of historic change, we have the opportunity to steer our future in a better direction. Inclusive programmes ensuring protection to vulnerable groups can be a powerful tool to break the cycle of exploitation and strengthen exit pathways, giving a real alternative to those in need. With the necessary attention, adequate resources and the right programmes, we can start today to build a better and safer tomorrow for all.”

EU-RUSSIA: EU Statement on the situation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia

OSCE Permanent Council No. 1262 Vienna, 12 March 2020


EU Delegation to the OSCE (12.03.2020) – – The European Union continues to be deeply concerned about the situation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia who continue to face systemic persecution, including home raids, arbitrary detentions, criminal investigations and sentences up to seven years of prison time. Furthermore, we are deeply concerned about recent specific reports of torture and other ill-treatment of several members of Jehovah’s Witnesses in detention or prior to being taken into custody by either prison guards or law enforcement officers.


According to reports from the European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses, echoed also by Forum 18 and media articles, on 6 February 2020, in Orenburg, five individuals (Aleksey Budenchuk, Gennadiy German, Roman Gridasov, Feliks Makhammadiyev, and Aleksey Miretskiy) were beaten by prison officials of Penal Colony No. 1. All suffered severe injuries and one needed hospitalization. In addition, on 10 February 2020, Vadim Kutsenko was reported to be tortured before being taken into custody, as law enforcement officers repeatedly beat and choked him and applied electric shocks, while demanding information on other Jehovah’s Witnesses.


Torture and other ill-treatment are among the most abhorrent violations of human rights, human integrity and human dignity. Torture breaches international human rights law, in particular the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights, all of which the Russian Federation is a State Party to. Torture violates the principle of ensuring human security, upon which the OSCE concept of comprehensive security is founded. OSCE and international commitments are abundantly clear: the prohibition of torture is absolute and unconditional. Torture is never justified. All participating States have an obligation to • PAGE 1/2 take effective measures to prevent acts of torture, prosecute perpetrators of such acts, identify victims and ensure effective redress. We therefore call on the Russian Federation to conduct prompt, effective and thorough investigations into all reports of such acts, in order to ensure that anyone responsible or complicit is brought to justice. Furthermore, we call on the Russian Federation to take effective measures to protect the victims and ensure effective redress. We would appreciate an update on these cases from the delegation of the Russian Federation.


On April 20, 2017, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation banned the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses and all local entities on grounds of “extremism”. Following this, we have heard the Russian delegation claim more than once in the Permanent Council that Jehovah’s Witnesses are, and will continue to be, able to practice their religion freely, and that freedom of religion or belief is guaranteed. However, we continue to see numerous reports about home raids, arbitrary detentions, and criminal investigations concerning Jehovah’s Witnesses. Since the liquidation of all local religious organisations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, reportedly 869 houses have been searched, 26 individuals are in pre-trail detention, 23 under house arrest, 316 are charged and 29 already convicted.


As we have stated previously on numerous occasions, all people, including members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, must be able to peacefully enjoy their human rights, including the right to freedom of religion or belief, freedom of association and peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, without discrimination, as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Russian Federation, Russia’s OSCE commitments and international obligations. In light of this, we call upon the authorities to drop all charges against individuals who have been unjustifiably prosecuted or imprisoned for exercising their human rights. We call upon the Russian Federation to live up to its international human rights commitments, to respect the freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly, religion or belief, as well as the rights of persons belonging to minorities and to guarantee a fair trial.


The EU will continue to follow closely the developments concerning Jehovah’s Witnesses across the OSCE region.

The Candidate Countries REPUBLIC of NORTH MACEDONIA*, MONTENEGRO* and ALBANIA, and the EFTA country ICELAND, member of the European Economic Area, as well as UKRAINE and GEORGIA align themselves with this statement.
* Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro and Albania continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.

OSCE: EU statement: Freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief

EU (19.09.2019) – – Mr. Moderator,
The EU attaches the greatest importance to the promotion and protection of freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief as a fundamental human right and has made it one of the priorities of its human rights foreign policy. The EU Foreign Affairs Council adopted specific Guidelines in June 2013 which contain clearly defined priorities and tools for the promotion of Freedom of Religion or Belief worldwide.


With these Guidelines, the EU reaffirms its determination to promote freedom of religion or belief as a right to be exercised by everyone everywhere, based on the principles of equality, non-discrimination and universality.


In doing so, the EU focuses on the right of individuals, to believe or not to believe, and, alone or in community with others, to freely manifest their beliefs in public or in private, in worship, observance practice and teaching, without fear of intimidation, discrimination, violence or attack. Individuals have also the right to change one’s religion or belief or to renounce it. The EU does not consider the merits of the different religions or beliefs, or the lack thereof, but ensures that the right to believe or not to believe is upheld.

Our recommendations are:


  • Participating States should fulfil their commitments by facilitating groups, associations and communities built upon religious and/or non-religious beliefs to peacefully operate and publicly manifest their beliefs, and respecting their autonomy. We underline the importance of establishing fair and clear rules and procedures which do not infringe upon OSCE commitments and international human rights standards, as outlined in the OSCE/ODIHR “Guidelines on the legal personality of religious or belief communities”.
  • States have an obligation to guarantee human rights protection, and to exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate and punish acts of violence against persons based on their religion or belief. Violence or the threat thereof – such as killing, execution, disappearance, torture, sexual violence, abduction and inhuman or degrading treatment – are widespread phenomena that have to be addressed.
  • We assert that violence against persons, groups or communities, and against the right of individuals to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, is unacceptable under any circumstances, and we strongly encourage state and other influential actors in a society, whether religious or not, to speak out against acts of violence and to publicly denounce such acts at the highest level. Violence perpetrated under the pretext of a religious prescription or practice, such as violence against women and girls including “honour” killings, female genital mutilation, child early and forced marriages as well as violence perpetrated against persons based on their sexual orientation or gender identity is also unacceptable.
  • The promotion of religious tolerance, respect for diversity and mutual understanding are of utmost importance with a view to creating an environment conducive to the full enjoyment by all persons of freedom of religion or belief. The EU calls on states to promote, through the educational system and other means, respect for diversity and mutual understanding by encouraging a wider knowledge of the diversity of religions and beliefs within their jurisdiction.
  • States have a duty to protect all persons within their jurisdiction from direct and indirect discrimination on grounds of religion or belief, whatever the reasons advanced for such discrimination. This includes the duty to rescind discriminatory legislation, implement legislation that protects freedom of religion or belief, and halt official practices that cause discrimination, as well as to protect people from discrimination by state and other influential actors, whether religious or non- religious.
  • States must fight against violations of freedom of religion or belief in an inclusive manner, whereby avoiding any discrimination in favour of or to the detriment of a particular religion or belief.
  • Freedom of religion or belief and the freedom of expression are interdependent, interrelated and mutually reinforcing rights. Taken together, freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression play an important role in the fight against all forms of intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief. We highlight the positive role that free and independent media can have on preventing the increase of bias and prejudice based on religion and in promoting mutual respect and understanding, including through specific educational and awareness-raising programmes.
  • We stress the important role of political leaders, elected and state officials, as well as civil society and religious leaders, in denouncing in a clear and timely manner public manifestations of intolerance based on religion or belief.
  • Freedom of religion or belief is also an essential pillar of safe and peaceful societies. It is linked to freedom of opinion and expression, to freedom of association and peaceful assembly, without which there can be no freedom of religion or belief, as well as other human rights, and fundamental freedoms, all of which contribute to the establishment of pluralistic, tolerant, inclusive and democratic societies. Conversely, violations of freedom of religion or belief are often early warnings of potential tensions or conflicts.
  • We are concerned about the persistence of cases of violations of freedom of religion or belief in the OSCE area. These violations, whether committed by state or non-state actors, may take various forms: acts of discrimination or violence on the basis of religion or belief or committed in the name of religion, undue restrictions on freedom of religion or belief. Restrictions often imposed by States include the denial of legal personality to religious or belief communities, denial of access to places of worship, assembly and burial, repression of unregistered religious activities, the outright banning of a religion on the pretext of the fight against terrorism or extremism.
  • We encourage the OSCE states to invite UN Human Rights Special Procedures, particularly the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, and to accept and implement UN recommendations, including from treaty monitoring bodies and the Universal Periodic Review.
  • We encourage ODIHR to address the issue of freedom of religion or belief, including its connection to the issue of tolerance and non-discrimination, in the framework of its wider work on the fight against all forms of intolerance and discrimination.
  • We support the promotion of opportunities for an open dialogue among representatives of religious and non-religious groups and policy makers on all relevant issues.
  • We express our full support for the work of ODIHR and its Advisory Panel on Freedom of Religion or Belief, which provides legal support to participating States in the implementation of their OSCE commitments. We also encourage cooperation between The European Union, the OSCE, the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.

Thank you.


The Candidate Countries REPUBLIC of NORTH MACEDONIA*, MONTENEGRO*, SERBIA* and ALBANIA*, the Country of the Stabilisation and Association Process and Potential Candidate BOSNIA and HERZEGOVINA, and the EFTA countries ICELAND and LIECHTENSTEIN, members of the European Economic Area, as well as REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA, ARMENIA and GEORGIA align themselves with this statement.
* Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Albania continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.