Top United Nations officials are today urging the UN General Assembly to fully implement key anti-human trafficking treaties and to cooperate more closely to counter the multi-billion dollar industry which has trapped some 21 million men, women and children in forced labour.
“No effort must be spared to bring to an end the servitude of millions, while helping the survivors rebuild their lives,” General Assembly President Vuk Jeremic told the opening of the two-day high-level meetings on improving the coordination of efforts against trafficking in persons.
He said that human trafficking is now a global criminal enterprise that ensnares millions of people into forced labour and domestic servitude, sexual work and child soldiering. According to 2005 estimates released by the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO), profits generated in the sex industry alone are as high as $32 billion a year.
During the high-level meeting, countries will examine progress made on the UN Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons. Adopted in 2010, the Plan calls for integrating the fight against human trafficking into the United Nations' broader programmes to boost development and strengthen security around the world.
Today’s discussions focus on its four pillars – preventing trafficking, prosecuting offenders, protecting victims and forming partnerships to fight trafficking.
The Plan also set up the UN Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.
In his remarks, Mr. Jeremic urged Member States, philanthropic organizations and the private sector to increase its support for the trust fund, created by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, noting that it “provides indispensible humanitarian, legal and financial aid for those most directly affected.”
Nearly one-third of all victims of human trafficking officially detected around the world between 2007 and 2010 were children, according to a report released in December 2012 by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) citing data from 132 countries.
Also addressing the Assembly, the Secretary-General reiterated calls for support to the Fund, urging Member States and partners to give “generously.”
He also noted the importance of universal ratification of key international treaties, including the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children. More than 154 countries have now ratified the Protocol which has been in force since 2003 and is overseen by UNODC. As well as the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime to which 175 countries are parties.
“Human trafficking is a vicious chain that binds victims to criminals. We must break this chain with the force of human solidarity,” Mr. Ban urged meeting participants.
In this effort, he noted, it is important to listen to the victims. He retold a story from the UN International Labour Organization (ILO) about a young woman who was held and tortured by her employer. When she was released, the woman said she wanted to man prosecuted for what he had done to her.
“To achieve justice, we need a strong foundation in the rule of law,” Mr. Ban said. “This demands putting a stop to the corruption that pollutes so many transactions. We have to strengthen judicial systems and help governments earn the trust of their people.”
He also noted the need to raise living standards overall through the eight anti-poverty targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the post-2015 development agenda that will continue and improve on the work of the MDGs after the target year is reached.
Yury Fedotov, UNODC Executive Director, echoed calls from Mr. Jeremic and Mr. Ban in calling on Member States that have not already joined, to ratify and fully implement the UN protocols and convention, including the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime which marks ten years since in entered into force.
He also urged the 39 Member States that still need to ratify the Protocol to do so for universal implementation.
Mr. Fedotov praised the UN Global Action for concrete achievements, such as increasing the percentage of countries that have proper legislation to combat human trafficking to 83 per cent from 60 per cent, while the number of countries in Africa and the Middle East with anti-human trafficking legislation has doubled in the past three years.
He also noted that a quarter of the countries reporting marked an increase in convictions in recent years. However, more efforts need to be channelled to fight impunity, improve collection of data and analysis, and contribute to the Trust Fund.
“Three years ago the Global Plan of Action gave the international community a powerful sense of direction in the fight against human trafficking. We now need to recalibrate our approach,” Mr. Fedotov urged, but stressed that this does not mean throwing away the compass, but simply adjusting the present direction.
The General Assembly will also hear from Alyse Nelson, President of Vital Voices Global Partnership, and Mira Sorvino, UN Goodwill Ambassador Against-Human Trafficking and advocate for the UN’s Blue Heart campaign again human trafficking.
Later today, participants will meet in a high-level panel to discuss relevant legal instruments and effective partnerships to protect and assist victims of human trafficking, and another to discuss best practices and lessons learned from prevention and prosecution in the implementation of the Global Plan of Action.
UN’s efforts to end human trafficking are supported by the UN Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT) which works with governments, business, academia, civil society and the media. It is comprised of UNODC, ILO, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the UN-partnering International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).