Fight contemporary slavery by eliminating root causes – UN official

17 June 2003

Contemporary forms of slavery cannot be eliminated unless the international community goes beyond mere legal prohibitions to fighting its root causes such as poverty, gender discrimination and violence against women, according to the acting United Nations human rights chief.

“More than 50 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated in its article 4 that ‘No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms,’ the international community is fighting new forms of oppression ranging from traditional chattel slavery, bonded labour, serfdom, child labour, migrant labour and domestic labour, to forced labour and slavery for ritual or religious purposes,” Acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Bertrand Ramcharan said.

Opening the 28th session of the Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery in Geneva yesterday, Mr. Ramcharan noted that victims of slavery are characterized by their poverty and their vulnerability.

“Thus, combating slavery means not only its direct prohibition by law but also fighting against poverty, illiteracy, economic and social disparities, gender discrimination, violence against women and children, harmful traditional practices and many other factors leading up to its contemporary forms,” he told the representatives of specialized agencies, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations.

Mr. Ramcharan, who is standing in for High Commissioner Sergio Vieira de Mello during his four-month absence in Iraq as Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative, praised the Group for two of its initiatives – the establishment of the Special Rapporteur on Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, and the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women.

He also noted that the group had highlighted the issue of trafficking for many years before the international community acknowledged the gravity and complexity of the matter and that it had been a pioneer in calling for free compulsory primary education to combat exploitation, illiteracy and poverty.

The session continues through Friday.

 

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