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UN forum hears calls for measures to combat human trafficking

UN forum hears calls for measures to combat human trafficking

Policy makers and celebrities today joined their voices in calling for action against human trafficking, as the first-ever global United Nations forum on the problem opened in Vienna.

Antonio Maria Costa, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and the pop star Ricky Martin received a petition from the group “Stop the Traffik” signed by 1.5 million persons calling for action on the issue.

Mr. Costa accused law enforcement authorities around the world of demonstrating “benign neglect” and appealed for coordinated action to fight the “monster” of human trafficking.

He said efforts to carry out the provisions of the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons have been disjointed, with “victims often prosecuted for their illegal status; interdiction operations limited; few arrests, with inadequate retribution.”

He said the Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT), launched to facilitate implementation of the Protocol, has begun a process of collecting scientific evidence about the extent of this crime while building up profiles of traffickers and their networks. It is also working on enhancing witness protection. In addition, measures are being taken to examine the causes of victims' vulnerability and to strengthen prevention.

Mr. Costa described some “uncomfortable truths” about the problem, which can involve children in conflicts, girls sold by their family into brothels, women enslaved into sex parlours, men in bondage “in southern plantations or northern sweat shops” and kids enslaved to beg in Europe and North America. Children are also sometimes forced to use “their nimble fingers to produce luxury goods.”

He urged all segments of society to join forces against the scourge, while calling for contributions to the UN account to fight human trafficking.

But Mr. Costa cautioned that “money and goodwill are not enough; we need concrete actions that will reduce vulnerability and make this crime a riskier business.” Toward that end, he said the Forum must adopt practical measures that will stop traffickers and help victims.

A chorus of voices joined Mr. Costa in decrying the problem. “Human trafficking is a vicious violation of human rights; it has no place in our world and I beg you to act now,” said the Grammy Award-winning Mr. Martin.

Suzanne Mubarak, the First Lady of Egypt and President of her eponymous International Peace Movement, also decried the problem, calling human trafficking “a pervasive cancer.”

“We simply cannot tolerate human beings being bought, sold and hired like commodities,” Ursula Plassnik, Minister for European and International Affairs of the Republic of Austria. “Each and every one of us is being called upon to act.”

Emma Thompson, Oscar-winning actress and Chair of the Helen Bamber Foundation, who yesterday opened an art installation in Vienna mapping the journey of a trafficking victim, told the Forum the harrowing story of a Moldovan woman who was trafficked to the United Kingdom and forced to work as a prostitute.

The Vienna Forum to Fight Human Trafficking is bringing together 1,200 experts, legislators, law enforcement teams, business leaders, NGO representatives and trafficking victims from 116 countries.

In a related development, UNODC today launched a manual aimed at helping countries develop comprehensive programmes for the protection of victims and witnesses of crime.

Witness protection programmes are considered a key tool in the dismantling of human trafficking networks as well as combating other forms of organized crime.

The manual, Good Practices in the Protection of Witnesses in Criminal Proceedings Involving Organized Crime, calls for early identification of vulnerable and intimidated witnesses; management of witnesses by the police; protection of witness identity during court testimony; and, if necessary, permanent relocation and re-identification.