Human Trafficking in Conflict Zones: The Role of Peacekeepers in the Formation of Networks


While the effect of humanitarian intervention on the recurrence and intensity of armed conflict in a crisis zone has received significant scholarly attention, there has been comparatively less work on the negative externalities of introducing peacekeeping forces into conflict regions. This article demonstrates that large foreign forces create one such externality, namely a previously non-existent demand for human trafficking. Using Kosovo, Haiti, and Sierra Leone as case studies, we suggest that the injection of comparatively wealthy soldiers incentivizes the creation of criminal networks by illicit actors. We theorize further that the magnitude of increase in trafficking should be directly proportional to the size of the foreign force, with larger forces producing larger increases. We find that both hypotheses hold with varying levels of confidence across our three case studies. Despite the benevolent intent of peacekeeping missions, the possibility that they may contribute to human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation runs counter to the spirit of such interventions. This is especially problematic given that trafficking rings, once established, may be adapted to provide weapons and narcotics, thereby planting the seed of further destabilization.


The United Nations Mission to Kosovo (UNMIK) represents the largest peacekeeping operation ever undertaken by the UN. Following the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1244, a force of approximately 20,000 peacekeeping troops were deployed to protect a civilian population from collateral damage in a simmering war between the Kosovo Liberation Army and the Federal Republic Yugoslavia. While the Kosovo Protection Force (KFOR) accomplished its mission, the large foreign force also brought with it a demand for sex workers that far exceeded the local supply.

In the months following the KFOR deployment, international human rights organizations began noting large and dramatic increases in human trafficking to the region. What had once been a small-scale prostitution market became a professionalized operation run by criminal networks. The United Nations Development Fund for Women determined that the four geographic areas with large numbers of peacekeeping troops were responsible for the increase and that those troops were the primary source of the sex workers’ clientele.

Recently, scholars have generated a large body of literature that examines the effects of humanitarian intervention on the likelihood that armed conflict will return, the intensity of post-operation fighting, and the frequency with which it occurs (see, e.g., Regan 2002; Diehl et al. 1996; Gilligan and Stedman 2003; Wilkenfield and Brecher 1984; Doyle and Sambanis 2000; Fortuna 2004). The literature, though vast, is unsettled. Some scholars suggest that peacekeeping missions are doomed to ineffectiveness due to political and legal difficulties. Diehl et al. (1996, 688), for example, argues that peacekeeping missions often arrive too late to prevent the initial outbreak of violence, that forces are deployed for insufficient amounts of time, and that a UN presence creates the illusion of a false peace. Other criticisms include analysis that suggests intervention serves only to prolong conflicts (Regan 2002). Similarly, surveying interventions from 1945 to 1975, other scholars have found that the UN suffers from selection bias, and is more likely to intervene in politically visible conflicts but less likely to secure a durable resolution (Wilkenfield and Brecher 1984; Gilligan and Stedman 2003). Against these arguments is the work of Doyle and Sambanis (2000) and Fortuna (2004), which shows that interventions serve to decrease the probability of armed conflict in the future.

Despite being contentious and ultimately unsettled, scholarship in this area is uniform in concerning itself primarily with the resumption of conflict and post-operation violence. As a result, non-conflict externalities, including human trafficking, have been understudied. We address this gap by focusing on trafficking in three intervention case studies: Kosovo, Haiti, and Sierra Leone. We find significant increases in levels of trafficking that roughly correspond in magnitude to the size of the force deployment.

Distinguishing Between Networks

We focus here on human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation. We do so in order to explore the strength of the relationship between the size of the peacekeeping force and subsequent rise in demand for sex workers that, we theorize, drives the formation of human trafficking networks. To operationalize trafficking, we follow Graycar (1999), who posits that smuggling and trafficking are distinct from one another in the amount of implied coercion. Determining whether a person has been smuggled or trafficked into a region is thus a matter of consent; smuggling implies little to no coercion, whereas trafficking requires explicit coercion, often coupled with deception, abduction, and involuntary confinement. While there is scholarly debate on the efficacy of such a distinction (see, e.g., Haque 2006), we adopt Graycar’s approach for clarity.

The lack of consensus on what constitutes trafficking points to a practical difficulty in interpreting data on trafficking more generally. In the absence of micro-level data on sex trafficking, it is not possible to determine with satisfactory accuracy whether those trafficked into conflict zones engage in prostitution of their own free will or because they are actively coerced into doing so. Moreover, discerning what constitutes free will in the context of extreme poverty, hunger, and deprivation presents a host of intractable difficulties. We therefore focus on macro-level trends, as large and precipitous increases are likely to be revealed even in the absence of specific individual level detail.

The dearth of studies on the subject of non-combat externalities in peacekeeping is a reflection of priority as much as oversight. When the primary goal of intervention is the cessation of hostilities, the success or failure of deployment is judged against that metric. The scale of interventions and the myriad ways they impact local economies, however, demands a more holistic approach. Our intent in exploring the relationship between human trafficking and force deployment is to better understand the potential consequences of intervention both during and after the conflict has occurred.

The Economics of Trafficking

The formation of human trafficking markets is widely considered to be driven by the possibility of financial gain (Bales 2005; Schloenhardt 1999; Salt and Stein 1997), though some scholars suggest that human trafficking is more appropriately understood as an international crime with features that distinguish it from being merely a morally suspect business (Aronowitz 2001; Schloenhardt 1999). Regardless, scholars of both perspectives agree that the pursuit of profit is the motivating factor in creating and expanding trafficking networks, and, similarly, conceptualize human trafficking as a fundamental human rights violation. This commodification of people is thus a grave concern in many dimensions.

The economic imperatives that drive human trafficking are identical to those that drive other illicit networks, including those designed for the delivery of narcotics. In other words, where supply is insufficient to satisfy demand, or where demand rises beyond the supply-side capacity of local actors, networks will emerge. Because these networks are driven by the same incentives of legitimate businesses, their behavior can be explained using traditional economic models of supply and demand (Bimal and Hasnath 2000; Schloenhardt 1999, 214; Salt and Stein 1997).

Both the trafficking and intervention literatures suffer from a paucity of available data with which to analyze the formation and expansion of networks. Work on the efficacy of intervention tends overwhelmingly toward establishing correlation between force deployments and military outcomes. The economic impact of a large, well-paid foreign force—during its deployment and after—are understudied or ignored, partially due to a lack of data from which to draw conclusions. The human trafficking literature, on the other hand, remains largely theoretical, and suffers from a dearth of empirical support. These drawbacks are a product of three distinct conditions. First, poor reporting practices and weak institutional capacity are hallmarks of weak or failing states; in other words, precisely those most likely to require intervention. Second, governments that host a peacekeeping force have a vested interest in downplaying security concerns, trafficking not least among them, in order to reassure the international donor community. Third, endemic corruption in host states is such that officials who are knowledgeable about illicit networks may either be complicit in their operation or coerced into allowing the practice. The resulting lack of reliable and consistent data on trafficking is a serious obstacle to robust analysis of the emergence and behavior of human trafficking.

These difficulties notwithstanding, scholars have recently begun to identify and quantify the unintended consequences of intervention (see, e.g., Smith and Smith 2011; Smith 2011; Aoi et al. 2007; Barth et al. 2004; McKay and Mazurana 2004). A large body of literature on the relationship between the military and the sex industry now exists (see Zimelis 2009; Mendelson 2005; Agathangelou and Ling 2003; Enloe 2000), as does related work on the sexual abuse of children during the course of peacekeeping operations (see Csaky 2008); others have focused on the global dimensions of human trafficking (Agathangelous 2004; Cameron and Newman 2008; Klopcic 2004). When combined with case studies of individual UN interventions (see Friman and Reich 2007; Carpenter 2003; Tritaki 2003; Vandenberg/Human Rights Watch 2002), these studies represent a robust though not systematic treatment of the externalities of intervention. The aim of this paper is to draw on this body of work in order to construct a set of hypotheses about the effect of peacekeeping forces on the demand for human trafficking in a conflict area.

In predicting demand increases and the subsequent rise of trafficking networks, we adopt the economic logic used by Bales (2005), Schloenhardt (1999), and Salt and Stein (1997): an increase in demand for sex workers in the destination country should result in the creation of human trafficking networks that seek to profit from a lack of supply. Furthermore, once established, networks will expand or contract predictably based on fluctuation in demand in the host country. To apply this logic to areas experiencing a UN intervention, we begin with three general observations about force deployment and prostitution in conflict areas. The first is that past conflicts—both conventional wars and humanitarian intervention—illustrate that soldiers and support personnel use prostitutes (Elliot 1996; Malone et al. 1993). It follows that any military presence should result in an increase in demand for prostitution relative to the period before its introduction. The second observation is that UN interventions occur almost exclusively in states with small domestic militaries (Gilligan and Stedman 2003). In such environments, a large foreign military force leads to dramatic increases in total military population in a given area. UN missions, like conventional engagements, also require a large—arguably larger, in fact—contingent of support staff, including non-government organizations (NGOs), IGOs, and subcontractors, further driving demand.

Finally, the introduction of a large troop deployment serves to temporarily disrupt local criminal networks. The suppression of existing networks reduces the barrier to entry for transnational and regional actors, who may seek to exploit the lapse in activity. In a similar fashion, peacekeepers may form partnerships with emerging networks to enrich themselves. Taken together, these three observations form a strong theoretical argument for the emergence and proliferation of human trafficking networks in areas occupied by international peacekeepers. The injection of foreign forces into states with small militaries thus increases demand for prostitution precisely where the barriers to entry for competing firms are lowest. This dynamic allows for the formulation of a primary and corollary hypothesis: the introduction of a peacekeeping force into a conflict zone should be accompanied by an increase in human trafficking as a direct result of the increase in demand. As a corollary, we expect that the magnitude of the increase to be proportional to the size of the force—the larger the force, the larger the increase. Following a discussion of data and methodology, we test these hypotheses for the experience of Kosovo, Haiti, and Sierra Leone.

Sources and Methodology

We have already noted the difficulty in undertaking an empirical analysis of the emergence and expansion of trafficking networks, which included reticence by weak governments who are corrupt or fear the adverse impact disclosure might have on aid from international donors. Lacking an authoritative dataset and consistent reporting practices, we utilize three distinct sources in an effort to approximate as closely as possible the quantity of human trafficking before, during, and after the injection of a foreign force. The first is the reports of Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW). As the two largest human rights organizations in the world, AI and HRW have embedded staff in regional and local field offices in our three intervention case studies. They employ translators and local residents, and issue regular reports on human rights conditions in their host countries. From these reports, we constructed datasets for each case study for the region and time period considered.

Our second source is the International Organization for Migration (IOM), particularly its Counter Trafficking Module Database. The IOM is the largest organization dedicated to migration, with field offices in 100 countries, an annual budget that exceeds $1 billion, and dedicated trafficking researches. Of our three sources, the IOM maintains the most authoritative figures on human trafficking. The drawback of using IOM data, however, is that reporting and tracking is tied to the conflict intensity, not the introduction of peacekeeping forces. As a result, IOM reports do not directly tie increases in human trafficking to UN interventions. We analyze IOM data in the context of initial and subsequent troop levels over the course of the operation.

Our third source is the State Department Trafficking in Persons Annual Report, a yearly review of countries’ efforts in combating corruption which began in 2001. Using a three-tier system, the reports track and categorize changes in legislation and enforcement; a country classified as tier 1 is considered to be in full compliance with the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act; tier 2 represents some compliance, and tier 3 little or no compliance. Taken together, these three sources allow a reasonable approximation of the level of human trafficking in each case study country. When possible, we augment these three sources with other published materials, including those from various UN agencies, non-governmental organizations, and major news organizations. While we are aware of the potential reporting bias in each of our three sources, as well the possibility of an ‘echo effect’—the repetition of a similar finding or single report across several sources—the absence of a more methodologically sound approach provides for no alternatives. We believe that, taken together, these will allow us to examine with a reasonable degree of confidence the relationship between our dependent variable (trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation) and our independent variable (UN intervention).

Case Studies

Our three case studies were selected to encompass diversity in geography, the nature of conflict, and the magnitude of violence. Kosovo, Haiti, and Sierra Leone represent three distinct regions and three distinct conflict types, with varying underlying causes and different post-intervention outcomes. We also selected relatively recent cases so as to maximize the information upon which we could draw in assessing the level of trafficking before, during, and after the introduction of peacekeeping forces.


Armed intervention in Kosovo began in 1999 with the NATO-led Operation Joint Guardian, which in June deployed the Kosovo Protection Force (KFOR) following an intense bombing campaign that last from 23 March to 10 June 1999. Operation Joint Guardian was conducted on the heels of growing international concern over skirmishes between the Yugoslav Federal Army and the Kosovo Liberation Army. In March of 1998, the Serbian military police were alleged to have killed approximately 12,000 Kosovar Albanians, with more than 230,000 displaced as a result of the conflict. The initial KFOR deployment was 20,000 troops; by August of the same year, force levels had doubled to 40,000 and would peak at 50,000. KFOR was augmented by a civilian support force of 5,000, which delivered logistical and humanitarian support.

Large by the standards of past peacekeeping forces, KFOR was also large relative to the local population, comprising at its height 2.4% of the total population. If our hypotheses hold, the KFOR force should have dramatically increased the demand for sex workers in and around the deployment area, thereby driving the emergence of human trafficking rings. Forces were concentrated in Pristina, the capital, so the largest increases should occur there.

Prior to Operation Joint Guardian, AI and HRW were present because of the reports of extra-judicial detention and other human rights abuses. In the year before the KFOR deployment, Amnesty produced 35 reports, one of which focused entirely on human rights abuses against women. None of the reports during this period referenced human sex trafficking. Reports for 1996–1997 are similarly silent on incidences of human sex trafficking. HRW produced 26 reports in 1998, with the majority focused on ethnic cleansing and related crimes. None cited trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation. Given the lack of presence in the reports of either organization, sex trafficking was, at the least, a low-priority concern before KFOR, and more likely a minor problem.

As predicted, the large and dramatic introduction of foreign peacekeepers precipitated an equally dramatic rise in human sex trafficking.Footnote 1 From 1999 to 2003, the number of exploited women increased from 18 to over 200.Footnote 2 In a 2005 IOM report based on conversations with 474 victims of sexual trafficking victims in the previous 5 years, it was estimated that most women were trafficked from abroad, mostly from Moldova, Romania, and Ukraine.Footnote 3 According to AI, the arrival of peacekeepers was directly responsible for the unprecedented increase in the demand for sex workers, with a concomitant increase in trafficking.Footnote 4 Within a year of KFOR’s deployment, 80% of sex worker clienteles were international.Footnote 5

While Kosovo remained a constituent part of Yugoslavia during this period, the US Department of State made specific reference to trafficking into Kosovo in its decision to downgrade the country to tier three status, the lowest possible classification and one reserved for states that are in total noncompliance with the US Victims of Violence and Trafficking Protection Act. Kosovo, then included as part of Serbia, was in later years given a tier 2 classification. The change in status was the result of its passing a UNMIK regulation against human trafficking rather than an earnest reduction in the practice. Once established, the trafficking networks proved highly adaptive and increasingly sophisticated. While noting that arrests fell that year, a 2005 State Department report attributed the decline to increasing sophistication, not a reduction in demand or supply. Evidence from the UNMIK Trafficking and Prostitution Investigation Unit suggests that trafficking was proliferating as late as 2004, when the unit conducted a total of 2,386 raids, an enormous number for a region with a population of two million.Footnote 6 Our primary and corollary hypotheses hold for Kosovo: following the KFOR deployment, there was a significant rise in trafficking that was broadly proportional to the size of the foreign force.


UN intervention in Haiti began in February 2004 with the passage of Security Council Resolution 1529. Two controversial elections in 2000, both marred by fraud and voting irregularities, plunged the country into a crisis of governance that culminated in 2004. Then-president Jean Bertrand Aristide fled to exile in the Central African Republic. The Multinational Interim Force (MIF) that arrived in Port-au-Prince was tasked with the restoration of law and order, but was later strengthened by the United Nations Stablization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Established by Resolution 1542, passed by the Security Council in April 2004, MINUSTAH assumed responsibility for all peacekeeping duties in Haiti and grew from an initial 6,700 troops to 9,000 by August 2007. Given the force size, our theory predicts an increase in human trafficking, but also that such an increase should be relatively smaller than that observed in Kosovo.

Prior to the MIF and MINUSTAH deployments, AI and HRW documented the eroding political and economic climate with alarm. However, those reports contain no evidence of pre-intervention large-scale human trafficking. While State Department reports classified Haiti as a tier 2 country as early as 2001, this decision was based largely on the prevalence of internal trafficking of young girls. Such trafficking, however, was not for the purposes of sexual exploitation, but part of the centuries-old practice whereby parents sent children into metropolitan areas to work as domestic servants. The collapse of the Aristide government in 2004 was so complete that the State Department, lacking a government to evaluate, did not produce a report on Haiti. The first report following Aristide’s exile makes explicit mention of women being trafficked from the Dominican Republic. In 2006 and 2007, Haiti was again listed as a “special case” due to the collapse of the interim government. Nonetheless, the 2007 report makes particular mention of an increase in trafficking due to the presence of UN peacekeepers.

HRW and AI reports reveal a similar if less clear pattern, as in Kosovo. Since the force size was approximately one eighth the size of KFOR and operating in a country with a population more than four times larger, it is no surprise that the evidence is less distinct. Reports before the introduction of MIF forces in 2004 make no reference to human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation either into or out of Haiti. After 2004, reports make frequent mention of forced abduction of women and children and rape.Footnote 7 It is not clear if the increase in violence and forced abduction was a product of the MIF and MINUSTAH deployments or simply a result of the deteriorating security situation.

IOM data and UN documents, however, suggest that peacekeeping forces indeed had the predicted effect. In 2005, the IOM interviewed 1,886 people with connections to human trafficking in Haiti, including victims, traffickers, middlemen, and, in some cases, leaders of established rings. While some sex workers cited poverty and a lack of opportunity, others reported being trafficked to Port-au-Prince against their will after being deceived about the nature of their employment. The following year, the IOM held a joint conference with the State Department in Port-au-Prince designed to raise awareness of the growing trafficking problem.

Officials’ fears were born out in 2007, when media outlets began reporting on a high-profile sex trafficking scandal involving UN peacekeepers, lending further evidence to the argument that the MINUSTAH deployment had increased demand for sex workers.Footnote 8 The UN responded with the expulsion of 114 peacekeepers it had found guilty of paying for sex. Subsequent reports corroborate the link between peacekeeping forces and prostitution, and suggested that young girls had congregated in areas with high concentrations of peacekeepers as early as 2004 (Williams 2007).

Haiti thus represents a positive, if murky, affirmation of our hypothesis. While there is significant evidence to suggest a causal link between the MIF and MINUSTAH deployments and the subsequent rise in human trafficking, the magnitude of change is not as clear. We expect a smaller relative increase than in Kosovo, but the lack of definitive evidence makes an absolute conclusion elusive. Similarly, the fact that the force size was a much smaller percentage of total population than in Kosovo may explain in part the difficulty in quantifying the increase.

Sierra Leone

Foreign intervention in Sierra Leone began in 1998, after nearly a decade of fighting that originated with a 1989 attack on Liberian government forces by the National Patriotic Front of Liberia. The conflict eventually engulfed Sierra Leone, with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) controlling large swaths of the country, including the resource-rich Kailahun region (Gershoni 1997). The first peacekeeping operations began under the auspices of the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group, supported by the United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone. The latter was supplanted in 1999, when the Security Council authorized the creation of the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL).

Initial troop levels were set at 6,000, but deployment reached 13,000 after two additional resolutions in February and May of 2000. Fighting continued despite the presence of UNAMSIL forces and efforts at reconciliation with rebel groups proved unsuccessful. RUF forces concluded and subsequently ignored disarmament agreements. A brazen attack in May 2000 in which the RUF captured 500 UNAMSIL soldiers resulted in yet another increase in troop levels, to 17,500. As in the previous two case studies, we hypothesize increases in trafficking proportional to force sizes as a result of increased demand for sex workers from peacekeepers. Similar to both Haiti and Kosovo, we expect the largest and most dramatic increases to occur in areas with the highest concentration of peacekeepers, which here is the capital, Freetown.

While both AI and HRW covered the Sierra Leone conflict extensively, an examination of reports from 1998 to March 2001, when troop deployment reached peak levels, reveals no mention of increases in human trafficking. The reports focus largely on extra-judicial murder, summary execution, and the litany of RUF human rights abuses, particularly the abduction of children and sexual assault. State Department and IOM data likewise support the absence of trafficking networks as suggested by AI and HRW. Sierra Leone received a tier 2 classification in the 2001 Annual Trafficking Report, but there is no mention of increases in trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation. Indeed, the report explicitly notes that there had been “no reports in trafficking…in areas under the control of the government.”Footnote 9 This is significant because international forces had recently recaptured Freetown from RUF forces.Footnote 10

As UNAMSIL reached maximum strength, however, human rights organizations began observing large-scale increases in prostitution, with the largest number of incidents in Freetown. In 2002, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) released a joint report with the UK non-profit Save the Children which found a precipitous increase in sexual exploitation of young girls. Their patrons were overwhelmingly peacekeepers. The report also found that women had begun to be trafficked from neighboring Liberia and Guinea.Footnote 11 The increase was to such an extent that the UN revealed its intent to take corrective measures on February 28, 2002.Footnote 12 The 2004 Annual Trafficking Report corroborates the joint UNHCR-STC findings: Sierra Leone was demoted to tier 3 status, and Freetown was mentioned specifically as a destination for internal and cross-border trafficking. Increases in trafficking as a result of force deployments lend further support to our hypotheses: the increase was both measurable and reflective of force size.


Of our two hypotheses, the first—that the increase in demand which accompanies force deployments in humanitarian interventions will give rise to a concomitant increase in trafficking—is strongly supported by primary and secondary sources in Kosovo, Haiti, and Sierra Leone. In the years preceding UN intervention, human rights organizations, the IOM, and Annual Trafficking Reports categorized the trafficking problem as negligible or non-existent. This is especially true in Kosovo and Sierra Leone; the evidence in support of our hypothesis is less precise in Haiti, but bolstered by the individual content of key IOM, HRW, and AI documents. Of particular note is the consistent increase in all three cases, despite radical dissimilarities in the nature of the conflict and the social, political and economic conditions prior to intervention. This suggests that the economic logic driving the creation and expansion of human trafficking networks is salient across both time and geographic location.

Our corollary hypothesis that the increase will be relative to the size of the force is likewise borne out by our case studies, particularly in the case of Kosovo, where the deployment was large relative to the existing population and followed by a dramatic rise in human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation. Indeed, AI and HRW reports for the period suggest a tenfold increase in the magnitude of the problem due to the KFOR presence. For Sierra Leone, the support for the corollary hypothesis is reflective of the middle ground between Haiti and Kosovo in terms of force size relative to population. Without more accurate data from IOM, it is hard to estimate the magnitude of increase with confidence. Nonetheless, the 2001 UNAMSIL deployment was followed by an increase and, equally importantly, a strategic change in trafficking patterns, with networks adapting to intervention by redirecting supply to Freetown, the headquarter of the international mission.

The magnitude of increase in Haiti as a result of the MINUSTAH mission is the most difficult to measure. Because the peak troop levels were a mere 9,000 in a population of eight million, force presence as a percentage of total population was the lowest of our three case studies at 0.001%. Given that the IOM and US State Department identified trafficking from the Dominican Republic into Haiti, it is clear there was some increase. Quantifying the magnitude, however, is difficult due to the historical tradition of impoverished Haitian families sending their children into urban areas to work as domestic servants. More reliable reporting and quantification by human rights organizations, NGOs and UN agencies may in the future allow for greater confidence in estimating magnitude, and may even permit rudimentary correlation analysis between force size and trafficking.

The case for understanding human trafficking as a systemic feature of UN interventions is further strengthened by other scholarly work on individual interventions (see Friman and Reich 2007; Mendelson 2005; Vandenberg 2002). With the injection of a large, well-paid foreign force, the economic incentives to form and expand trafficking networks to service the increase in demand are both powerful in terms of magnitude and consistent across time and geographic location. Such a dynamic is highly problematic for those interested in eliminating the non-combat externalities of humanitarian intervention. Since interventions, by definition, are conducted in states where poor security and governance has already lowered the barrier to entry for traffickers, the risk of networks emerging is greatest precisely in those places where intervention is most likely.

The deployment of large foreign forces as catalysts in the creation of trafficking networks has been understudied. The experience of Kosovo, Haiti, and Sierra Leone reveal weaknesses in the reporting and tracking of human trafficking by international, non-governmental, and inter-governmental organizations. Organizations such as HRW and AI often devote greater resources as the violence in a region increases and fewer to examining the aftermath of intervention. As a result, our understanding of the legacy of humanitarian interventions is incomplete and marked by the absence of high-quality data to evaluate externalities such as human trafficking. Aggressive monitoring and additional resources would aid future research by allowing for more sophisticated analysis and more robust conclusions. Finally, the international community should be concerned about the institutionalization of contraband capacity that the human trafficking rings represent. Once the peacekeepers leave, the trafficking ring that was established to provide sex workers to the forces and support personnel could be used to bring other types of contraband into the region. Accordingly, the risk of post-intervention destabilization through weapons or illicit drug trafficking should not be lightly ignored. The creation and consolidation of the criminal networks necessary for large scale human trafficking may very well lead to a perpetuation of trafficking in a variety of undesirable commodities. The UN may be creating intervention dilemmas whereby the very effort initiated to bring stability to a region becomes the vehicle through which instability becomes permanent.


  1. 1.

    See e.g. “Protecting the Human Rights of Women and Girls Trafficked for Forced Prostitution in Kosovo,” Amnesty International, available at

  2. 2.

    Amnesty International, “Kosovo: Trafficked Women and Girls Have Human Rights,” AI Press Release, 5 June 2004.

  3. 3.

    IOM: Kosovo Counter Trafficking Unit, “Return and Reintegration Project: Situation Report” February 2000–2005; IOM: Kosovo Counter Trafficking Unit, “Return and Reintegration Project: Situation Report” February 2000–2005:3. For a discussion on the theoretical distinction between forced and voluntary prostitution, see Samarasinghe 2007

  4. 4.

    Amnesty International, “Kosovo: Facts and Figures on Trafficking of Women and Girls For Forced Prostitution in Kosovo,” AI Press Release, 5 June 2004.

  5. 5.


  6. 6.

    US Department of State, “2005 Annual Trafficking in Persons Report,” June 2005: 195.

  7. 7.

    Amnesty International, “The Call for Tough Arms Control: Voices from Haiti,” 1 January 2006, AI Doc No. 36/001/2006. AI, “Haiti: Open Letter to the President of the Republic of Haiti, Rene Garcia Preval Regarding Amnesty International’s Recommendations for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights,” 2 October 2006, AI Doc No. 36/011/2006.

  8. 8.

    “UN Ousts Peacekeepers in Sex Case,” The New York Times, 3 November 2007.

  9. 9.

    US Department of State Website, Annual Trafficking in Persons Report 2001.

  10. 10.

    HRW/Africa, “Getting Away with Murder, Mutilation and Rape: New Testimony from Sierra Leone,” July 1999, Vol. 11 No. 3(A)

  11. 11.

    UN High Commissioner for Refugees, “Note for Implementing and Operational Partners by UNHCR and Save the Children-UK on Sexual Violence and Exploitation,” 26 Feb 2002.

  12. 12.

    UN Mission in Sierra Leone, “Statement by Acting-Special Representative of the Secretary-General Mr. Behrooz Sadry, in Reaction to the UNHCR-Save the Children Report,” Press Release, 28 February 2002


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Correspondence to Charles Anthony Smith or Brandon Miller-de la Cuesta.

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Smith, C.A., Miller-de la Cuesta, B. Human Trafficking in Conflict Zones: The Role of Peacekeepers in the Formation of Networks. Hum Rights Rev 12, 287–299 (2011).

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  • United Nations
  • Peacekeeping
  • Human trafficking
  • Kosovo
  • Haiti
  • Sierra Leone