Prosecuting Human Trafficking as a Crime Against Humanity under the Rome Statute

New paper, published on Columbia Law School’s Gender and Sexuality Online (GSL Online, 2011), and available at:

Abstract:  Bought and sold, consumed and exploited: human bodies, labor, personhood, and dignity have become the most valuable, reusable, and profitable products in the 2011 world market. In the early twenty-first century, increased awareness and international concern mobilized several legal mechanisms to combat the 32 billion dollar human trafficking industry. In 2002, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court entered into force, with specific reference to “trafficking in persons” as a crime against humanity. Despite the developments in human trafficking law, awareness, and policy over the past decade, the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) potential treatment of trafficking as a crime against humanity remains a question mark.

This paper examines the potential of the ICC in prosecuting human trafficking as a crime against humanity, identifying the complex contexts of trafficking, the opposition that ICC prosecution will likel! y face, and approaches that the ICC could take in investigating and prosecuting human trafficking. Highlighting the challenges of defining trafficking, the shadow of armed conflict in the ICC’s developing jurisprudence, and the risk of overlooking the gravity of human trafficking, this paper concludes by urging the ICC to look beyond the situations to which international law has traditionally applied. To realize the promise of the Rome Statute, this paper urges the ICC to incorporate the Palermo Protocol, common purpose, and the exceptional and global effects of the trafficking market in approaching human trafficking as a crime against humanity.