States urged to give generously to UN fund helping victims of modern slavery

16 September 2011

The United Nations human rights office is appealing to Member States to give generously to an important fund that has for the past 20 years given grants to grassroots initiatives that help victims of slavery transform their lives.

The UN Voluntary Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery has seen a marked decrease in donations received in recent years, according to the office (OHCHR).

This year it received a record number of 436 applications for grants amounting to more than $6 million, but the contributions received thus far amount to only about $365,000. “With the present funds, only six per cent of the projects requested will receive support,” OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville told a news conference in Geneva.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that contemporary forms of slavery can still be found throughout the world, and that eradicating this scourge requires a focus on its root causes, including poverty, exclusion, marginalization, racism and discrimination, and a readiness to extend assistance to victims.

“The Voluntary Fund has helped thousands break free from slavery and recover their lives – not through expensive projects, but through small grants to grassroots initiatives,” she added, noting that as little as $10,000 can make a difference in advancing concrete efforts to combat slavery.

The UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, Gulnara Shahinian, added that the fund, which this year celebrates its 20th anniversary, has changed the lives of thousands by providing assistance to more than 400 projects.

“I have visited projects funded through grants provided to local actors and seen the tangible results – I have met survivors, heard their terrible stories and hopes and witnessed real change,” she said. “These organizations are dealing with various forms of slavery, including forced marriages, caste-based slavery, debt bondage, the use of child soldiers and many others.”

To mark the fund’s 20th anniversary, a photograph exhibition entitled “Breaking free from slavery: a visual journey through 20 years of assistance to victims of contemporary forms of slavery” is on display at the UN office in Geneva. The exhibit brings together 56 pieces of art from two renowned photographers and 17 organizations which received grants from the fund and presents a visual journey from slavery to freedom.

The organizations featured in the exhibit have developed ground-breaking projects to combat contemporary forms of slavery, including assistance to former child soldiers and victims of sexual slavery in armed conflicts, and education to children working in quarries or locked in the basements of carpet factories.


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