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Rights of victims and witnesses in investigations

Protecting and balancing the rights of victims, witnesses and alleged perpetrators of organized crime is a concern and a challenge in investigating - and prosecuting - transnational organized crime cases. It is often hard to investigate such a case without the assistance of witnesses, including victim-witnesses. As many forms of organized crime entail severe human rights violations, the victim-witnesses are often particularly vulnerable which poses additional challenges to the investigation.

In recognition of the challenges, article 25 of the Organized Crime Convention requires States Parties to take appropriate measures to provide assistance and protection to victims. Such assistance includes access to compensation and restitution. The Convention also requires States parties to enable views and concerns of victims to be presented and considered at appropriate stages of criminal proceedings against offenders. Such victim impact statements are to be presented in a manner not prejudicial to the rights of the defence.

Article 24 of the Organized Crime Convention further requires States parties to take measures to protect witnesses from potential retaliation or intimidation. Such protection may need to be extended for their relatives and other persons close to them as retaliation or intimidation through the loved ones is a modus operandi many organized criminal groups have adopted. Such protection measures may include physical protection such as relocation or non-disclosure or limitations on their identity or whereabouts. The measures may also include permitting witness testimony to be given in a manner that ensures the safety of the witness such as video links. There are other international treaties that offer human rights protections, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The rights recognized in these Conventions can provide further coverage and protection for the life and well-being of victims of organized crime.

Trafficking in Persons Protocol: article 14. Saving clause

The Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants Protocols provide for saving clauses, which refer to international humanitarian and human rights law as well as principles of non-discrimination.

1. Nothing in this Protocol shall affect the rights, obligations and responsibilities of States and individuals under international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law and, in particular, where applicable, the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees and the principle of non-refoulement as contained therein.

2. The measures set forth in this Protocol shall be interpreted and applied in a way that is not discriminatory to persons on the ground that they are victims of trafficking in persons. The interpretation and application of those measures shall be consistent with internationally recognized principles of non-discrimination.

INTERPOL and human rights

The importance of respecting human rights has been also recognized by police organizations, such as INTERPOL. In INTERPOL's General Assembly Resolution no. 3 of 1949, it was emphasized that "all acts of violence or inhuman treatment, that is to say those contrary to human dignity committed by the police in the exercise of their judicial and criminal police duties, must be denounced to justice." This respect for human rights is now enshrined in article 2 of INTERPOL's Constitution, which mandates the Organization to ensure and promote international police cooperation "in the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights." It is further emphasized in article 2(a) of INTERPOL's Rules on the Processing of Information, which provides that information is to be processed by the Organization or through its channels "with due respect for the basic rights of individuals in conformity with article 2 of the Organization's Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights" (see also: Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, Recommendation Rec (2005)10 on "special investigation techniques" in relation to serious crimes including acts of terrorism, adopted on 20 April 2005). Importantly, article 3 of INTERPOL's Constitution states that it is "strictly forbidden" for INTERPOL to engage in any activities of a political, religious, military or racial character.

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