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Beware of terror trafficking

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By: Dr. Haezreena Begum Abdul Hamid

The proliferation and diverse nature of human trafficking has transcended beyond the boundaries of labour and sex exploitation and has become increasingly attractive to non-State armed groups, notably terrorist entities. It is also one of the most profitable criminal enterprises, attracting both small local groups and international networks.

Dr. Haezreena Begum Abdul Hamid

Terrorist groups such as the Islamic State group in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL also known as Da’esh), Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) often employ methods of trafficking in its recruitment process.

According to reports, these groups are involved in money-laundering, enslavement of women, forced recruitment, child trafficking, indoctrination of men and boys, forced soldering, and forced suicide bombing. Individuals who are being trafficked by terrorist groups are sometimes referred to as victims of terror trafficking.

Terrorist groups continue to exploit people using the RCE method – Recruit, Control, Exploit and are able to reap lucrative profits to sustain their activities. ISIS for example have been exploiting and recruiting women for the purpose of three (3)R’s: Recruit, Reward and Retain. Women recruited by the Islamic State or called the “jihadi brides” often think that they will be helping with front- line duties but are in reality, being used to satisfy the sexual desire of the male fighters.

According to the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women 2000 and the Malaysian Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act 2007, people who are trafficked for the purpose of sex, labour, organ, or any slavery-like practices including scam related activities are considered victims of trafficking and would be eligible to state protection.

However, being trafficked for the purpose of combat, suicide bombing. ‘jihadi brides’ or terrorist related activities remains unsettled and unidentified.

This may be attributed to the lack of understanding of trafficking itself and the fear of terrorist attacks which is highly traumatic and devastating. There is also a presumption that people’s involvement in these activities are voluntary and the fact that people can be trafficked and exploited by a terrorist organization seems incomprehensible.

Although numerous studies have demonstrated the interlink between human trafficking and terrorism, the two phenomena continue to be treated separately.

In Malaysia, those who manage to escape from the terrorist-controlled territories can be arrested by the authorities and charged in the court of law for terrorism offences under section 130JA of the Penal Code. In other words, we can derive that this group of individuals are the ‘unforgiven victims’ who are not eligible for state protection due to their involvement with terrorist groups or related activities.

Based on these concerns, the United Nations and human rights activists argue that victims of trafficking of terrorist groups deserves to be protected by the state and should not be criminalised.

Therefore, it becomes imperative for state authorities to investigate the background of all individuals to identify if they have been trafficked for the purpose of terrorism.

In doing so the law enforcement counter-terrorism units need to coordinate and cooperate with the anti-trafficking units to effectively identify victims of terror trafficking and accord them with state protection.

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The author is a Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Law, Universiti Malaya, Malaysia, and holds a PhD in Criminology from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

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