Trafficking as a human rights violation
On 21 September, Professor Siobhán Mullally opened the Law Department’s academic year 2021-2022 with an inaugural lecture on "Rethinking law on human trafficking” in the EUI’s Villa Salviati. The lecture, which was introduced by the EUI’s President, Professor Renaud Dehousse, focused on the potential of human rights law to prevent human trafficking, and to provide effective protection and remedies to victims/survivors. She discussed the limits of international law responses to date, and the proliferation of anti-trafficking laws that criminalise and increase border regulation.
Mullally discussed the tensions between the proliferation of anti-trafficking laws and policies at the domestic and international levels and the sometimes punitive and discriminatory consequences that such laws and policies can have on migrants. She explored the potential of human rights as a way to move beyond crisis governance, which fails to acknowledge the agency of the trafficked persons and the complexity of their rights claims. She highlighted the core norm of non-discrimination, and the underpinning racism that limits the application of human rights law in the context of trafficking.
Professor Mullally sat down before her lecture and shared her hopes for the incoming Law researchers as they embark on a new academic journey. “I would like to leave them with the idea that there are many ways in which we can think about the law, different ways to interpret and use it. We can apply imagination and creativity to the law in order to create different ways of being in the world.”
From EUI PhD Graduate to United Nations Special Rapporteur
Professor Mullally is, among many things, Established Professor of Human Rights Law and Director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland, Galway.
After being awarded her PhD at the Law Department, Professor Mullally has returned to the EUI in various capacities. She was a Fernand Braudel Fellow from September 2011 to January 2012 and took part in several seminars at the Law Department. As a member of the High Council, she appreciates being part of the academic environment and stays up to date with the Institute’s initiatives and activities.
Mullally is a current member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague and a former President of the Council of Europe monitoring body, the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. Throughout her remarkable career, she has worked with UN bodies and international NGOs across the world and has published in leading law journals.
In 2020, she was appointed the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children, an appointment that she said came as “quite a surprise”, adding that “there are significant challenges that come with it, but it is a huge honour.”
As a Special Rapporteur she has to face many obstacles when assisting people in difficult situations. However, she explained, it also means understanding the potential to address those issues, “You see that those obstacles are not inevitable, that they are the result of policy choices by states”.
In her capacity as UN Special Rapporteur, Professor Mullally tries to make the most of the tools available to her to make even small incremental changes that can have an impact on vulnerable people’s lives. “The obstacles can sometimes seem huge, but I think it’s very important to just keep pushing back, and to keep trying to push states to make different kinds of choices regarding the policies [that] they put in place.”
Engaging at the local level
According to Professor Mullally, the best thing current researchers at the EUI can do is benefit fully from the resources available to them, such as seminars, visiting opportunities and the extraordinary library resources offered by the Institute.
She also encouraged researchers to make use of those resources to support others who might find them useful, including community groups, activists and international organisations. She noted “we do not always realise the resources we have available to us and that we can use them to great benefit for others and ourselves.”
Getting involved in local communities and engaging on the ground is, according to Professor Mullally, the best way to become familiar with relevant issues. On this note, the city of Florence provides wonderful opportunities of engagement for EUI researchers. While pursuing her PhD, Mullally herself had the chance to volunteer at the local Amnesty International branch in the city.
“I would also remind [you] to just try everything” she concluded, emphasising the importance of being open to new opportunities and experiences. “Sometimes people think that you need to have a clear path or strategy, but I didn’t. Just try anything that comes up and be willing to face changes. I think the key thing is to maintain an interest in things, pursue what interests you and makes you feel good about your work.”