Financial crisis could drive more people into slave-like conditions, Ban warns

2 December 2008

Slavery was formally abolished two centuries ago, but some 27 million people are still victims of the scourge, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today, warning that the current global economic turmoil could aggravate the situation.

“Poor people are likely to be driven further into poverty, making them more vulnerable to slavery-like practices,” he said in a message on the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery.

“Those who consciously exploit them will have to extract even more to profit, and consumers who may not be aware of the consequences will be more likely to purchase products whose labour costs are kept unreasonably low.”

Mr. Ban called on governments, civil society, the private sector and individuals to join the fight against slavery, protect victims and raise awareness of the issue.

“We need new strategies to deal with this old curse,” he said. “We need to change laws, and we need to alter attitudes and customs.”

The Secretary-General pointed out that with the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights just around the corner, one of its key principles – that “no one shall be held in slavery or servitude” – must be made a reality.

The United Nations independent expert on contemporary forms of slavery, its causes and consequences also decried the practice, noting that in spite of positive steps made in addressing slavery, “these efforts seem to be insufficient.”

Special Rapporteur Gulnara Shahinian, who has been serving in the capacity since this May, said that recent cases of governments’ failures to protect their citizens from the scourge highlight the need to acknowledge that traditional forms of slavery still exist.

“Stronger political will from governments is needed to introduce respective changes in national legislation, enforce the laws and develop sustainable programmes that would include education for law enforcement officials, fight corruption, and provide economic opportunities and, where necessary, compensation or rehabilitation for those who have suffered from slavery, she said.

“Slavery is a crime against humanity,” declared United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, adding that it has “shattered human lives and destroyed societies.”

Like the Secretary-General, Ms. Pillay also cautioned that the worldwide financial turmoil could push more people into slavery and exert more pressure on those already victimized by the “disgraceful crime.”

The struggle against slavery has revealed the scope of human dignity and nobility, she said, pointing to the recent case of a former slave from Niger who took her Government to court for not upholding its anti-slavery laws.

“She stood up to those who had allowed her to be enslaved, and bravely opposed a practice that traditionally silences its victims and negates their humanity.”

The UN independent expert on contemporary forms of slavery, its causes and consequences also decried the practice, noting that in spite of positive steps made in addressing slavery, “these efforts seem to be insufficient.”

Special Rapporteur Gulnara Shahinian, who has been serving in the capacity since this May, said that recent cases of governments’ failures to protect their citizens from the scourge highlight the need to acknowledge that traditional forms of slavery still exist.

“Stronger political will from governments is needed to introduce respective changes in national legislation, enforce the laws and develop sustainable programmes that would include education for law enforcement officials, fight corruption, and provide economic opportunities and, where necessary, compensation or rehabilitation for those who have suffered from slavery, she said.

 

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Top UN official calls for greater effort to end contemporary forms of slavery

Marking the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization (UNESCO) chief today appealed to Member States to renew efforts to end all forms of oppression.