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Human Trafficking: UN Gives Voice to a Silent Crisis

Open Debate at the UN Security Council with a resolution on the issue of modern day slavery

human trafficking

A young girl stands outside a tent at the Vinojug reception centre for refugees and migrants in Gevgelija, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Photo: UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson VII

In the UN "2016 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons", 71 percent of all victims of human trafficking are women and girls and one third are children. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the Security Council stated: “If conflict gives oxygen to traffickers, human rights and stability suffocate them”. Italian Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi drew attention to the specific plight of refugees, migrants, and internally displaced persons

Every day, men, women, and children are abducted, abused, and exploited in the name of profit. On December 21st, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime released the 2016 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, and according to this document, 71 percent of all victims of human trafficking are women and girls and one third are children. The UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov reported that “Trafficking for sexual exploitation and for forced labour remain the most prominently detected forms, but victims are also being trafficked to be used as beggars, for forced or sham marriages, benefit fraud, or production of pornography”.

Although human trafficking is criminalized in 158 countries, conviction rates for perpetrators remain much too low and victims often do not always receive adequate protection and services that countries are obligated to provide. Fedotov also underlined the link between armed groups and human trafficking, noting that these groups often engage in trafficking by coercing women and girls into sexual slavery or marriage, and men and boys into forced labor or to act as soldiers. The UNODC report showed that people escaping from war or persecution are particularly likely to become victims of trafficking, as they are often more vulnerable or apt to make dangerous migration decisions due to the perilousness of their situations. Other risk factors that may exacerbate rates of trafficking are the presence of transnational organized crime in the country of origin and a victim’s socio-economic status.

security council human trafficking

Security Council unanimously adopts resolution condemning in the strongest terms all instances of trafficking in persons in areas affected by armed conflicts. (UN Photo/Manuel Elias)

At a special UN Security Council meeting held the previous day and dedicated to the issue, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon affirmed the importance of tackling the root causes of human trafficking by focusing on conflict resolution. The link between situations of conflict and human trafficking is undeniable, and Ban Ki-moon reiterated this with his statement: “If conflict gives oxygen to traffickers, human rights and stability suffocate them”. Due to the disproportional effect of trafficking on women and girls, he also highlighted the need to adopt gender-sensitive and rights-based policies in order to fight the root causes of trafficking, as well the need to decrease funding for terrorist groups and to suppress trafficking syndicates through targeting money laundering and criminal proceeds. “The problem of trafficking is international in nature — and only an international response can succeed,” the UN Secretary General said, then adding “Let us work together to help today’s victims of trafficking while creating a more stable and just world for all”. UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Hawa Bangura also spoke at the meeting, where she explained that a number of extremists groups are using sexual violence and exploitation as a means of advancing their various aims, and noted that “To disrupt human trafficking was to disrupt the business of terrorism”. As a result of the open debate, the Security Council came to consensus resolution 2331 in which it called upon all UN member states to take “decisive and immediate action” to prevent, criminalize, investigate, prosecute, and ensure accountability for all those who engage in human trafficking.

Intervening at the open debate at the Security Council, Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi, Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations, reaffirmed his country role in the investigation and prosecution of those involved in trafficking of persons. He stressed that Italy, at a national level, “remains focused on prevention, demand reduction, victim protection, anti-discrimination measures, strengthened law enforcement, and judicial cooperation”, in order to reduce the rates of human trafficking, but also recognized the need for a coordinated and concentrated effort regionally, nationally, and internationally to properly address the problem. Ambassador Cardi drew attention to the specific plight of refugees, migrants, and internally displaced persons that face a particularly high risk of trafficking, and pledged Italy’s continued vigilance and urgent actions to prevent, prosecute, and stop human trafficking.

The Security Council resolution is just the first step in the long, twisted road to finding a way to effectively stop human trafficking.  The nature of the issue is so complex, global, and pervasive, that it can only be solved through concerted international effort to prevent conflict, share responsibility, and ensure the protection and rights of all people.

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