ASEAN is ready to share its experience in addressing irregular movement of people and to work closely with countries and international organisations in the Bali Process to tackle the growing transnational problem. The Secretary-General of ASEAN, Dr Surin Pitsuwan, conveyed these points during the Fourth Bali Process Regional Ministerial Meeting on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime, held this week in Bali, Indonesia.

“The spirit of ASEAN solidarity – where countries of origin, transit and destination co-exist – is encompassed in the ASEAN regional programmes on countering trafficking in persons and related transnational crime,” stated Dr Surin. “The ASEAN Handbook on International Cooperation in Trafficking in Persons Cases was launched last October to help investigators, law enforcement and criminal justice agencies in ASEAN Member States tackle trafficking in persons cases. It acts as an operational manual to strengthen regional network of collaboration and mutual legal assistance.”

He further added that ASEAN’s counter-trafficking measures on Prevention, Protection and Prosecution are political and legal innovation, which cut through many deep-rooted and long-held perceptions. Traditional views prefer to deal with trafficking in persons cases as illegal migration for quick and simple prosecution and conviction. However, to consider trafficking as special type of crime requires more sophisticated legal tools and prosecutorial skills with more sophisticated law enforcement apparatus which need much more efforts, resources and reorientation of entire judicial system.

He emphasised that through sustained and productive engagements with Dialogue Partners, particularly Australia, ASEAN is proud to be coordinating this new approach to tackling human trafficking crimes.

“Encouraged by the progress attained through the Bali Process, on behalf of ASEAN, I warmly offer to be working more closely on thematic issues,” Dr Surin added. “What ASEAN has achieved could be an added value or viewed as a reference in implementing objectives of this Forum. Individually we are one drop, but together we are an ocean,” he concluded.

The Ministerial Meeting was co-chaired by the Foreign Ministers of Indonesia and Australia and attended by the Ministers and high-level officials in charge of relevant issues from Bali Process Countries and partner regional and international organisations. Indonesia and Australia jointly initiated the Bali Process in 2002.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, in his opening remarks, noted that since its inception, the Bali Process has served as a forum for enhancing regional cooperation to prevent irregular movement of people and to address problems that they bring about. Poverty, economic disparities and gaps in labour market opportunities, conflicts and insecurity, are the major factors behind the rise in the incidence of people smuggling and human trafficking. Taking all of these into account, the raison d’ ?tre of the Bali Process has not only remained valid, it has come more pertinent, the Foreign Minister stated.

Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd commended ASEAN Handbook on International Cooperation in Trafficking in Persons and UNHCR’s recently published A 10-Point Plan on Refugee Protection and Mixed Migration as exemplary compilation of existing good practices and practicable regional cooperative framework of cooperation. He suggested that the Bali Process come up with a similar compilation of good practices of its member countries and international organisations as part of information-sharing and capacity-building collaboration.

Australia has been supporting ASEAN’s criminal justice response to trafficking in persons since 2004 through two regional projects, namely Asia Regional Project (ARCPPT) (2004-2007) and Asia Trafficking in Persons Project (ARTIP) (2007-2011). The publishing of the ASEAN Handbook was supported by Australia through AusAID and by the European Union through United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Bali Process Countries are working towards developing regional framework on refugees, asylum seekers, irregular migration and trafficking in persons through practical approach.

In the Co-Chairs’ Statement adopted at the end of the meeting, the Ministers acknowledged that the root causes of people movement within the region were numerous and multi-dimensional, involving economic, social and political aspect. The Ministers highlighted that trafficking in persons in particular was an issue of ongoing concern to many countries in the region. Noting the particular vulnerability of victims of trafficking, especially women and children, Ministers agreed on the importance of promoting a victim-centred approach to law enforcement, in relation to trafficking in persons for identified victims of trafficking, in order to enhance prosecution and prevent re-victimisation.

The Ministers underlined the collective responsibility of source, transit and destination countries in responding to complex migratory movements and agreed that an inclusive but non-binding regional cooperation framework would provide a more effective way for interested parties to cooperate to reduce irregular movement through the region. The regional cooperation framework could be operationalised through interested States entering into practical bilateral or other sub-regional arrangements. –