INTERPOL Cracks Massive Human Trafficking Ring

Operation rescues 500 victims, lead to 40 arrests

Nearly 500 victims of human trafficking, including 236 minors, have been rescued following an INTERPOL operation carried out simultaneously across Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal.

In total, 40 suspected traffickers were arrested and will now face prosecution for offences including human trafficking, forced labour and child exploitation. They are accused of forcing victims to engage in activities ranging from begging to prostitution, with little to no regard for working conditions or human life.

In one case, a 16-year old Nigerian girl was promised work in Mali which would allow her to care for her family. She was taken on by a ‘sponsor’ who then forced her into prostitution to reimburse her travel costs.

In another case, a 15-year old was in the process of being sold into forced labour by suspected traffickers and was intercepted just before the transaction could be completed. The victim was found holding a blue plastic bag containing their entire possessions.

To ensure that victims received the necessary care following their rescue, the International Office for Migration (IOM) and several NGOs were involved in post-operation interviews and treatment.

Operation Epervier was held under the aegis of the Sahel Project, an initiative funded by the German Foreign Office which targets the organized crime groups behind human trafficking across the region.

Officers from INTERPOL’s Regional Bureaus in Abidjan and Yaounde assisted in coordinating the operation, which also included specialist officers from INTERPOL’s Trafficking in Human Beings unit at its General Secretariat headquarters in Lyon, France.

“In addition to arrests, this operation has opened a number of ongoing investigations to further disrupt the crime networks involved in trafficking in human beings, emphasizing the effectiveness of such operations via INTERPOL’s international network,” said Yoro Traore, a Police Inspector with the INTERPOL National Central Bureau in Bamako.

“The results of this operation underline the challenge faced by law enforcement and all stakeholders in addressing human trafficking in the Sahel region,” said InnocentiaApovo, Criminal Intelligence officer with INTERPOL’s Trafficking in Human Beings Unit and coordinator of the operation. She also thanked the German Foreign Office for their continued support of such initiatives.

The operation was followed by a regional working group meeting in Cotonou, gathering 100 participants from 15 countries across West Africa and the Sahel. Discussions focused on the outcomes of Operation Epervier as well as the way forward for future activities in the region.

“This type of regional exchange is important to ensure that good and not so good practices are shared, to ensure that we collectively improve on prevention, protection and prosecution,” said Anke Strauss, IOM’s Chief of missions in Mauritania.

INTERPOL Fights Against Child Sexual Abuse

The Kenya Police, with support from the UK National Crime Agency has launched a dedicated national Child Protection Unit uniting law enforcement and children’s services agencies to safeguard young people from sexual exploitation.

This initiative, which could serve as a model for other countries worldwide to help tackle the growing concern of child sexual abuse, was among the issues discussed recently by international child protection experts, who gathered to discuss the latest tools and techniques for preventing the spread of child sexual abuse material and identifying the young victims to protect them from further harm.

The four-day (14-17 November) INTERPOL Specialists Group on Crimes Against Children meeting provided an overview of global efforts and technical solutions for combating online child sexual abuse, identifying victims and their attackers, and disrupting criminal networks involved in producing and circulating abuse material.

More than 200 participants from some 60 countries, regional and international organizations, the private sector and academia also heard case studies of successful investigations – including on travelling sex offenders – in addition to addressing topics such as prevention strategies, abuse material analysis and the use of the Darknet.

The participants were also updated on the WePROTECT Global Alliance, an international multi-stakeholder initiative dedicated to national and global action to end the sexual exploitation of children online which brings together more than 70 countries, as well as international organizations, industry partners and civil society organizations.

Ernie Allen, Chairman of the WePROTECT Global Alliance, underscored the challenges faced by law enforcement globally in tackling child sexual abuse, including technological developments such as live streaming and social media, use of the Darknet to provide anonymity, travelling offenders, and under reporting of abuse cases.

The WePROTECT Global Alliance to End Child Sexual Exploitation is an international movement dedicated to national and global action to end the sexual exploitation of children online.

“This is not a problem that any single country or institution can handle alone. It is a global crime which requires global cooperation, said Mr. Allen, “We need vision, innovation and leadership, which INTERPOL is providing. INTERPOL, and everyone around the world who has devoted their lives to combating crimes against children, should be proud of the extraordinary progress made so far, though there is much still to be done.”

Stressing the global aspect of crimes against children, INTERPOL’s Executive Director of Police Services, Tim Morris highlighted the Organization’s efforts to provide dedicated support to member countries by deploying expert staff to INTERPOL offices in Asia and South America, and training existing staff at the four INTERPOL Regional Bureaus in Africa to increase their knowledge on child sexual abuse issues.

“A child can be physically abused in one country, with the images easily distributed around the world, often in real time. We therefore need to bridge regions and cultures, raise awareness and build capacity to tackle these heinous crimes everywhere they might occur,” said Mr Morris.

During the conference, dedicated regional workshops allowed participants to focus on the unique challenges present in each part of the world.

INTERPOL’s Crimes Against Children team also presented an award to ECPAT, a network of civil society organizations in 93 countries, recognizing its work in preventing child sexual exploitation through programmes to confront trafficking for sexual purposes; the exploitation of children through prostitution and pornography; online child sexual exploitation; and the sexual exploitation of children in the travel and tourism sector.

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