By Santo D Banerjee
NEW YORK | VIENNA (IDN) – Human trafficking is a global problem particularly affecting people fleeing armed conflict, including women, children, internally displaced persons and refugees who are forced into modern slavery that fetches its perpetrators some $150 billion.
The UN Security Council is determined to put an end to this serious crime and violation of human rights, and has passed a resolution, which the Executive Director of the Vienna-based United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Yury Fedotov, describes as "historic".
“The resolution offers a powerful recognition by the international community that persons desperately fleeing armed conflict are especially vulnerable to trafficking in persons and to other forms of exploitation,” said the UNODC Chief, according to UN Information Service (UNIS) in Vienna.
Fedotov was speaking at a high-level Council debate on trafficking in persons in conflict situations held under the Spanish Presidency. Other speakers in the debate included the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, UNODC’s Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking, Nadia Murad, and Ameena Saeed Hasan, an active civil society member.
The resolution is the culmination of a series of presidential statements, as well as reports of the Secretary-General and outlines recommendations stressing the importance of the Palermo Convention and its protocols on human trafficking and migrant smuggling, analysis of human trafficking financial flows that fund terrorists, victim identification mechanisms and access to victim protection.
Nadia Murad, in her remarks to the Security Council, asked the international community to “support the UN Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children which provides critical assistance to the victims”.
Fedotov in his speech underlined the need to deploy “the full arsenal of tools that we have to disrupt organized crime networks and terrorist groups, to fight money laundering and counter terrorist financing”.
UNODC's 2016 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons analyses the impact of human trafficking. According to the report, 63,251 victims were detected between 2012 and 2014.
The report examines the connections between conflict, migration and trafficking and shows that an increasing number of trafficking victims from conflict-affected countries such as Syria, Iraq and Somalia have been detected in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
Due to the work of UNODC and its many partners, 158 countries have criminalized most forms of human trafficking in their domestic laws under the Palermo Convention and its human trafficking protocol, UNIS said.
Confronting human trafficking was given added momentum in September 2015 when it was included as a specific target in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development where it appears in Goals 5 (gender equality), 8 (decent work and economic growth), and 16 (peace, justice and strong instituions).
The outgoing UN Secretary-General Ban in his remarks at the Security Council ministerial open debate thanked the Spanish presidency of the Council, led by Mariano Rajoy, for convening the meeting.
Ban urged the Member States to take steps to help victims of trafficking today, and prevent further cases in the future by paying attention to immediate crimes and underlying causes. "Trafficking is a global problem, but the most vulnerable people are those caught in conflict: women, children, internally displaced persons and refugees," he said.
"War provides oxygen to terrorist groups. It gives them space to flourish. Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab and others are using trafficking and sexual violence as a weapon of terror — and an important source of revenue," Ban declared.
Both ISIL and Boko Haram have engaged in the sexual enslavement of women and girls through trafficking. Yazidi girls captured in Iraq are trafficked into Syria and sold in open slave markets as if they were things, not people. Before the conflict in Syria began, there were few, if any, human trafficking victims from that country.
Now, victims from Syria — along with Iraq, Somalia and other conflict-torn countries — are found in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, Ban noted. He drew attention to the fact that traumatized Syrian refugee children are being forced to work. Instead of studying and playing, they are sewing clothes, serving food and selling items on the street.
"We have to fight trafficking for the sake of the victims. When we do, we will also decrease funding for terrorists and make everyone safer," said Ban whose second five-year term ends on December 31.
Action is required on two fronts, said Ban. First: Justice and accountability. These are heinous crimes that demand immediate, international action. International law needs to be respected and implemented.
The United Nations, he said, is actively engaged in preventing sexual exploitation and abuse perpetrated by peacekeepers. States must also train peacekeepers and others to respond to trafficking in persons and prevent sexual exploitation and abuse, he added.
"We should intensify training on preventing trafficking in persons as well as sexual exploitation and abuse. The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime is a vital tool. I call on all States that are not party to its protocol on trafficking in persons to join right away," said Ban.
He also urged countries to adopt dedicated anti-trafficking laws and national action plans. States should consider creating multidisciplinary law-enforcement units or specialized prosecutors’ offices to address this threat, he said.
Some States had successfully suppressed trafficking syndicates by targeting money-laundering and criminal proceeds. "We should step up this action. Governments have to respond, especially when their own nationals are involved. I call on all States to investigate and prosecute cases, including where their own nationals commit this crime abroad. All perpetrators must be brought to justice."
The problem of trafficking is international in nature and only an international response can succeed. The UN is bringing together Governments, other organizations and civil society groups, the UN Chief said.
"I call for increased support to United Nations entities that are confronting the problem of trafficking. I encourage contributions to the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking and the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery. These initiatives are helping victims to heal and become agents of change."
The second front, Ban said, is human rights and stability. "If conflict gives oxygen to traffickers, human rights and stability suffocate them. That is why it is so important to advance the 2030 Agenda [for Sustainable Development] and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals."
The 2030 Agenda promises a life of dignity for all people and it focuses on helping the farthest behind first. "To fulfil this promise, we have to stand for the human rights of all victims and vulnerable people. I call for all countries to ratify all international human rights, refugee, labour rights and crime prevention conventions, and to put efforts into their effective implementation."
Since the majority of trafficking victims are women and girls, the UN Member States response must include special attention to their rights. States must adopt gender-sensitive and rights-based migration policies.
"We need strategic leadership in ending war and also in preventing conflicts and sustaining peace," said Ban, adding: "That is why I have strengthened the United Nations commitment to supporting Member States in early action and in preventive diplomacy." [IDN-InDepthNews – 21 December 2016]
Image credit: osce.org
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