By Santo D. Banerjee

NEW YORK (IDN) – With conflicts driving the desperation and disorder that enables human traffickers to thrive, Security Council has held an open debate on human trafficking, modern slavery and forced labour and highlighted the need for three P’s: Prevention, Protection, Prosecution.

The dimensions of the challenge are huge. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) suspects victims in 106 countries. The International Labour Organization (ILO) reports that 21 million people around the world are victims of forced labour and extreme exploitation. The perpetrators of such crimes cash profits of some $150 billion annually.

“Beyond these numbers is the human toll – the lives cut short, the families and societies torn apart, the gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.  Human trafficking takes many forms,” says Secretary-General António Guterres.

“Women and girls in particular are targeted again and again. We see brutal sexual exploitation, including forced prostitution, forced marriage and sexual slavery. We see the appalling trade in human organs,” he told the Security Council on March 15.

What is more, human trafficking thrives where the rule of law is weak or non-existent. Situations of armed conflict are especially virulent breeding grounds for human trafficking.

Against this backdrop, Ministers and Vice Ministers from more than 15 countries including the Central Asian Republic of Kazakhstan as well as the Permanent Representatives to the UN of some 40 countries participated in the open debate.

Other speakers included: the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, U. Bhula; the OSCE Special Representative for Combating Trafficking in Persons, Madina Jarbussynova; and representatives of the African Union, the European Union, the ILO, Interpol and several other officials.

Executive Director of the Vienna-based UNODC, Yury Fedotov, addressed by videoconference. Civil activist I. Elman from Somalia, and Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner K. Nyland from the United Kingdom also briefed the Security Council meeting.

The discussions revealed that a global norm against trade in human beings and related criminal practices has long been in place. Indeed, as Secretary-General Guterres told the Security Council, the very conscience of the United Nations was shaped by this disgraceful violation of human dignity.

But human trafficking and related criminal practices are not yet a thing of the past. On the contrary, trafficking networks have gone global.

According to UNODC’s December 2016 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, there are hardly any convictions for crimes related to human trafficking in conflict situations or elsewhere.

“The lack of aggressive investigations and prosecutions only adds to the injustice, allows perpetrators to function without fear, fuels corruption and creates widespread disillusion.”

Referring to the Global Report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Secretary-General Guterres pointed to the lack of investigation and sentencing of crimes related to trafficking in persons in conflict situations. He urged Member States to act within the framework of the UN Convention against Organized Crime and the Protocols Thereto, and to eradicate this crime by implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Speakers therefore called for cooperation on cross-border prevention, protection and prosecution in fighting the widespread impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of human trafficking and related crimes against the backdrop of mass displacement of vulnerable millions.

Participants noted that trafficking in human beings is a global problem that does not recognize national borders. To combat it, transnational methods that use international cooperation in the form of information exchange and mutual assistance are required.

Such a cooperation is envisaged in the Global Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings, endorsed by the UN in July 2010, which called on all relevant UN bodies to coordinate efforts to effectively combat trafficking and to protect the human rights of victims of such trafficking.

In view of the transnational nature of these crimes, Guterres urged all Member States to exchange information and strengthen cooperation on law enforcement, investigations and intelligence-sharing.

Madina Abylkassymova, Vice-Minister for National Economy of the Republic of Kazakhstan who headed the Kazakh delegation, made practical proposals to combat human trafficking, including calling for an increase in the level of coordination within the UN under UNODC leadership.

She stressed the need for strict implementation of the UN General Assembly Resolution 70/291 on the Review of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, in order to break the relationship between human trafficking and terrorism. She also spoke about the necessity for universal ratification of all international instruments in the sphere of human trafficking.

Abylkassymova emphasized that peace and sustainable development are the basis of a stable and prosperous society, and that criminal prosecution measures are insufficient in countries affected by conflicts. She therefore called for increased investment in the fight against poverty, education and the provision of services in such countries.

The head of the Kazakh delegation also reported on the country’s national and regional efforts to combat illegal migration and human trafficking, noting that the Almaty Process, established in cooperation with Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the ILO, serves as a platform for nine countries in the region to strengthen cooperation in combating illegal migration and trafficking in human beings.

In general, UN Member States have expressed a strong commitment to the implementation of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, adopted by consensus in 2006, and condemned the practice of contemporary forms of slavery used by terrorist groups such as ISIL/Da’esh and Boko Haram.

They have also expressed their readiness to take decisive measures to prevent trafficking in persons, prosecute and prosecute those crimes, and to suppress the activities of criminal networks and their elimination – in realization of the fact that, as the UN Secretary-General told the Security Council, “modern manifestations of servitude may touch and even implicate us all”.

He added: “Global supply chains have transformed many lives for the better – but not always without costs. In some situations, clothes, food, smartphones, jewellery and other consumer goods may bear, wittingly or unwittingly, the traces of exploitation. Gleaming new skyscrapers may owe some of their shine to the sweat of bonded labourers.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 18 March 2017]

Photo: Madina Abylkassymova, Vice-Minister for National Economy of the Republic of Kazakhstan, addressing Security Council in an open debate on March 15 on human trafficking, modern slavery and forced labour. Behind her is Ambassador Kairat Umarov, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United Nations. Credit: Kazakh Permanent Mission to the UN in New York.

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