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Nov 022013
 

Why on earth have we got this new name – Human Trafficking – for the very old crime of slavery and slave trading? Is it some kind of attempt at putting a trendy new gloss on it? It’s not a crime that should have a trendy new gloss; even ignoring the fact that it is the kind of crime that shouldn’t be glamorised in any way, there’s a very good legal reason why we should carry on calling it slavery and slave trading.

Back in the 19th century, the British unilaterally declared that slavery and slave trading would be treated the same as piracy and set about (with the assistance of the US) eliminating the African slave trade. Under the principle of jus cogens they set about hanging slavers, confiscating their assets, and freeing slaves claiming that they had a universal right to punish those who took part in the crime of slavery.

In other words, some crimes are so heinous that anyone is allowed to prosecute offenders no matter where or when the offenses took place.

By keeping the old name for the crime, we retain it’s classification as a crime subject to universal jurisdiction. This opens the possibility of setting up a court – such as the ICC – to prosecute slavers wherever in the world they are, and the possibility of empowering law enforcement units to bring slavers to justice wherever they happen to be.

And after all, the fight against slavery isn’t going too well with more slaves today than there has ever been.

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