Of rights and borders: human trafficking and contemporary forms of slavery in European law

Against the backdrop of the rich judicial output of the Strasbourg Court, the case law under Article 4 (slavery, servitude, forced labour and human trafficking) of the European Convention on Human Rights is scarce. This is more than surprising against the backdrop of ample empirical evidence showing that migrants are subjected to severe forms of exploitation in Europe. To be more precise, the existing judgments in which the Court has dealt with abuses inflicted by non-state actors (e.g. employers) reaching the level of severity of Article 4 are eight, the latest one delivered on 30 March 2017, Chowdury and Others v. Greece, and involving exploitation of 42 Bangladeshi migrants on a strawberry farm. All the other seven cases (Siliadin v. France, Rantsev v. Cyprus and Russia, CN. and V. v. France, C.N. v. the United Kingdom, M. and Others v. Italy and Bulgaria, L.E. v. Greece and J. and Others v. Austria) reviewed by the Court also involve migrants.

In my presentation (based on my book Human Trafficking and Slavery Reconsidered ) I will assess the significance of the above mentioned judgments for the rights of migrants and I will suggest some prospective developments in the future case law under Article 4. More specifically, Article 4 of the ECHR will open a new vista for contestation between the interests of migrants and the interests of states. This will challenge the host states’ immigration control objectives, which structure migrants’ presence and determine the conditions under which they can stay and work. Accordingly, in addition to Articles 3 (non-refoulement), 5 (immigration detention) and 8 (family life) of the ECHR, which are usually invoked for unsettling the statist assumption, Article 4 will open new opportunities in this direction. Despite this optimism, I will also show that this contestation will not be easy. Finally, I will compare the nature of the conflict that arises between the objective to protect migrants and the objective to exercise effective immigration control, in different areas: Article 4 as opposed to Articles 3 and 5 of the ECHR.