Joint observations and recommendations to be presented to the 25th Session of

the Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery (WGCFS)

(Geneva 21-30 June 2000)


1.         The undersigned non-governmental organisations (NGOs) recognise the importance of the WGCFS and the contribution it has made over the years towards the fight against contemporary forms of slavery. However, we believe that if the Working Group is going to effectively combat slavery in the 21st century, its working methods need to be reformed taking into account the recommendations on the rationalisation of human rights mechanisms adopted by the Commission on Human Rights at its fifty-sixth session (2000). Therefore, and in pursuance of the resolution 1999/17 of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in which the views and suggestions of NGOs on proposals for future action of the WG were invited, we would like to submit the following observations and recommendations for the consideration by the WGCFS.



A.             Rationalisation of the agenda

2.             In addressing the rationalisation of the agenda, it should be recalled that the WGCFS is the main human rights mechanism responsible for the review of slavery issues. We believe that the items currently dealt with by the WGCFS are of extreme importance and that the work undertaken by the relevant Special Rapporteurs whose mandates address specific aspects of contemporary forms of slavery should be regarded as supplementary to the work of the WGCFS.

3.             Secondly, we note that the Working Group’s recent practice of focusing on one particular form of contemporary slavery has proved to be a success in terms of facilitating detailed discussion of the issue as well as encouraging the participation of a number of individuals working specifically on the issue in question.


B.             Continuity of the WGCFS

4.             The complexity of issues dealt with by the WG requires some degree of continuity in terms of the WG’s membership. Frequent changes to the WG’s membership will impede its effectiveness.


C.             Constraints

5.             The decision to reduce the number of days that the Working Group will meet from eight days to five will increase pressure for the rationalisation of the programme of work of the WGCFS.

6.             We appreciate the flexibility with which the Working Group has conducted its programme of business thereby allowing participants who can only stay in Geneva for a limited period of time the opportunity to raise any of the agenda items of the Working Group irrespective of the programme of work. However, this practice in reality diverts the participants’ attention from one topic to another and consequently makes it difficult to hold a concentrated discussion on any particular item.


D.             Trust Fund

7.             We note with satisfaction the increase in the number of governments and individuals who contribute to the UN Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery. This allows the Fund to award grants to individuals and representatives of organisations working with victims of slavery so they can give their testimony before the WGCFS.


E.             Participation

8.             With regard to the participation of Governments, UN, agencies, inter-governmental organisations (IGOs) and NGOs, we expect that the clearer programme of work which is recommended below will facilitate their participation in the discussion of items of particular interest to them, if not in the whole of the Working Group’s deliberations. In the case of NGO participation, we note, however, that more effort needs to be made to reach a wider range of groups, especially those active at regional, national or grassroots level. We further recognise that not all agencies, IGOs and NGOs will be able to participate in the Working Group’s deliberations and therefore it is important to ensure that statements and submissions made during the WGCFS sessions can be accessed by posting them on the OHCHR website.


F.             Information/materials

9.             Despite repeated requests from the Working Group and the United Nations Secretary General, little information is provided by Governments on measures taken to implement the relevant Conventions, the Programmes of Action, the resolutions on the work of the WGCFS adopted by the Sub-Commission or recommendations adopted by the Working Group. We have also observed that a limited range of information is provided by UN and other inter-governmental agencies on their activities pertaining to the agenda of the WGCFS. The WGCFS’ lack of a specific mandate to visit countries in the way that thematic Rapporteurs do has meant that its conclusions and recommendations have not benefited from the direct experience of assessing a situation on the ground.



10.            Therefore, the undersigned NGOs recommend:

(a)            that the Working Group seek to increase its coordination and cooperation with appropriate Rapporteurs, bodies, UN and other international and regional agencies (such as the ILO), so its sessions can be used to follow-up on issues and recommendations made elsewhere in the UN system; to focus particular attention on issues or countries which have not been adequately covered by other UN mechanisms; and to facilitate an integrated approach to a particular issue of contemporary slavery. It might also be useful to invite the Chairperson of the WGCFS to meetings of Special Rapporteurs and of the Chairpersons of the Treaty Bodies.

(b)            that the Working Group continue to select one specific theme to be focused on two years in advance and plan programmes of work over a longer period in the future.

(c)            that all members of the Working Group should be elected for three years terms, serving for a maximum of six consecutive years, with the possibility of a final three year term after a minimum break of three years. Elections to the Group should be staggered to ensure that no more than two members should change each year.

(d)            that a draft timetable be adopted along with the provisional agenda at the previous session, which would be distributed as an official UN document and sent out along with the invitation to attend and the provisional agenda. Raising issues outside of their place in the agenda should be the exception rather than the rule. Time could be allotted after each day’s business has been completed for raising issues outside the agenda.

(e)            that the Board of Trustees of the Fund continue to take into account the main themes in sessions of the Working Group when considering the applications for the participation in the Working Group.

(f)             that the United Nations and member states should seek to facilitate and support efforts by NGOs to attend sessions of the Working Group.

(g)            that NGOs be requested to disseminate the information about the Working Group as widely as possible using their respective networks.

(h)            that the Secretariat of the Working Group, with the assistance of NGOs if appropriate, send special invitations informally to those UN agencies, IGOs and NGOs working on the main themes addressed at each session by the Working Group.

(i)             that the WGCFS write informally to a range of States, directly requesting information and special reports on issues being examined. The reports requested could include details on individual cases that have been brought to the Working Group’s attention or measures taken to implement resolutions or aspects of the relevant Conventions. The Working Group would determine which States would be approached for reports on the basis of information provided to the Working Group. The Working Group could also follow-up on requests and recommendations made by other UN experts, bodies and agencies which have not been responded to. In this context, it is suggested that a special consultation of NGOs and interested governments be placed on the agenda as a priority item.

(j)             that one or more members of the WGCFS be authorised to visit a country at the invitation of the government concerned for first-hand investigation of allegations the WGCFS has received. The costs for this fact-finding mission be covered by the Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery.

Links to other sites dealing with slavery:

Slavery Convention 1926

Does slavery still exist?

What is slavery?

West African slave trade

Slavery in South Asia

Slavery on the cocoa plantations in West Africa

Traditional slavery in West Africa

Child Hierodulic Servitude in South Asia


Rescuing slaves

Links to pages dealing with other servile conditions falling short of slavery:

Bonded child labor

Servile concubinage


Forced labor

Links to pages dealing with related topics:ites. 

Trafficking of women

Trafficking of children

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