In general, the role of civil society in addressing social and human rights issues is strongly acknowledged by international governmental organisations, and it is regulated by both international and national law. This reflects a recognition of the need to engage civil society in the anti-trafficking field in policy and legislative development, in preventative efforts, in awareness raising, and in the provision of services to victims and marginalized groups.
However, ensuring that civil society is fully included in anti-trafficking efforts is not always easy. Over the past few years, NGOs have raised concerns about the legal and practical challenges affecting civil society’s daily work. These range from changes in the legal environment, challenges in funding and access to resources, obstacles in accessing policymaking, and threats and attacks against members of staff. Of course, this differs by country; but our members in Turkey, Poland, Ukraine, Serbia, North Macedonia, Bosnia Herzegovina, and Belarus have frequently reported such difficulties. There is no proper framework in place to uphold civic rights. CSOs are often excluded from political decision-making and/or face increasing difficulties in accessing decision-makers and providing meaningful input into the legislative and policy-making process.
NGOs are sometimes “competed out” by governments, which then establish their own NGOs (so called “GONGOs”) to compete for foreign funding or even “take over” civil society support programmes without offering adequate services in reality. This means that CSOs feel hampered in their efforts to play an efficient watch dog role, while noting with concern the serious gaps in governmental efforts, as well as gaps in the infrastructure and referral and assistance of those in need.