The United Nations hosted a special event at its New York Headquarters today for the victims and survivors of human trafficking, with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issuing a broad-based call to action for States to tackle the root causes and ensure swift justice against the perpetrators.
“Our fight against human trafficking is guided by three Ps: prevention, protection and prosecution,” he said in an opening address at the event at which four survivors bore living witness with accounts of their own horrific plight, including a girl who was abducted at age 14 by Ugandan rebels and kept as a sex slave for eight years.
“We must also empower victims. They need support systems, information and education. They need viable ways to earn a living. They also need criminal justice systems to pursue traffickers, and subject them to serious penalties. Conviction rates in most countries are microscopic compared to the scope of the problem. But when States help victims, the victims can help States break up trafficking networks.”
Mr. Ban cited a litany of abhorrent practices, including debt bondage, forced labour, torture, organ removal, sexual exploitation and slavery-like conditions. “Human trafficking injures, traumatizes and kills individuals. It devastates families and threatens global security,” he declared of a worldwide industry that generates billions of dollars in profit at the expense of millions of victims.
“Human trafficking touches on many issues, from health and human rights to development and peace and security. Our response must be equally broad, and must tackle this challenge at its roots,” he added, noting that the global economic crisis is making the problem worse as jobs and food get scarcer and rising social exclusion makes minorities and women especially vulnerable.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, whose office organized the Giving Voice to the Victims and Survivors of Human Trafficking Special Event, stressed that persisting economic disparities, conflict and discrimination, particularly against women and migrants, continue to push those least able to protect themselves into dangerous situations from which they cannot escape.
Central to the battle “is eradicating discrimination and the unjust distribution of power that underlie trafficking, that grant impunity to traffickers, and that deny justice to victims,” she said. “A victim-centred approach to trafficking demands that we listen to the victims and survivors of trafficking. We must use their first-hand insights to craft better and more effective responses.”
She added that according to international trafficked persons should not be subjected to summary deportations, nor held in detention or prosecuted for immigration or other offences that are a direct outcome of their situation. They should be given the support to recover their dignity and rights and their mobility should not be further curtailed, nor should they be denied the right to make decisions.
Victims who addressed the event included Charlotte Awino, abducted at age 14 by Lord’s Resistance Army rebels in Uganda and kept as a sex slave for eight years; Buddhi Gurung from Nepal, trafficked for labour to Iraq to work on a United States military base; Kika Cerpa from Venezuela, forced into prostitution by a man she thought of as her boyfriend; and Rachel Lloyd, an activist who survived commercial sexual exploitation as a teenager and started a New York organization to aid girls victimized by sex traffickers.
Today’s event came on the eve of the presentation to the General Assembly of the latest report on the scourge by UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons Joy Ngozi Ezeilo.