3 June 2008
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

press conference on United Nations global initiative to fight human trafficking


There was a huge information gap in countries of origin in terms of the know-how available to tackle the problem of trafficking in persons, Ndioro Ndiaye, Deputy Director-General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said at a Headquarters press conference today.


Briefing on the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (GIFT), Ms. Ndiaye said the more that aspect of the fight against trafficking was neglected, the more difficult it would be to establish dialogue between sending and receiving countries.  IOM focused on the use of data in its counter-trafficking efforts and it was determined to deliver by building up the capacities of Governments.  The organization had set up a database on 78 countries covering the period from 1999 to 2006 and had rescued some 15,000 trafficked persons whose profiles it had placed in that database.


She said methodologies and procedures for fighting trafficking were available in an IOM-issued handbook published in English, Russian, Spanish and French.  Its translation into Arabic was under negotiation and was expected to be available in a few weeks.  The availability of capacity-building tools, for Governments in both sending and host countries, was important due to the need to scale up the capacities of both to carry out counter-trafficking.  In that regard, the necessary partnership could not be built if both parties were not on the same level in terms of availability of information, capacity to handle the issue and understanding of the problem.


Joining Ms. Ndiaye were Kyung-wha Kang, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights; Roger Plant, Head of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Special Action Programme to Combat Forced Labour; Doris Buddenberg of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC); and Richard Danziger, Head of ILO’s Counter-Trafficking Division.


Mr. Plant said ILO was aware of abusive recruitment practices which could land workers from Asian countries in situations of severe exploitation in the Middle East and other areas.  As such, it had commissioned the Bangladeshi Institute for Development Studies to produce a report identifying all the problems of both sender and destination countries.  The paper identified the urgent need for greater controls over the informal labour brokering system, which overcharged workers.  That overcharging could trap people in debt burden situations.


Ms. Kang said the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) worked to ensure human rights were integrated into all aspects of prevention, prosecution and protection with regard to trafficking in persons.  The Office had a huge human rights presence in Nepal, where it operated under a memorandum of understanding signed with the Government.  In Nepal, it was working with the national repertoire on trafficking to complete a research project on identifying the most vulnerable segments of the population, especially women and children, in two of the most impoverished regions.


Ms. Buddenberg said UNODC was the custodian of the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, of which the Protocol against Human Trafficking was a part.  Human trafficking was still not considered a crime in many countries that had not yet adopted the necessary national legislation.  UNODC was coordinating the United Nations Global Alliance to Fight Human Trafficking, a multilateral alliance involving IOM, ILO, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and OHCHR, aimed to join forces in the fight against human trafficking and to overcome the “separateness” of each agency working for itself.  The goal was to strengthen the agencies and ensure the added value of a coordinated approach to the problem of trafficking.


In response to a question on the trafficking of Nepali, Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Afghan Children to India and the United Arab Emirates, Ms. Ndiaye said that IOM had set up the Abu Dhabi Dialogue through which it had put together 10 sending and 10 receiving countries among the Gulf and Arab States.  Although IOM could not dictate to those Governments, it could, through that Dialogue, convey information and bring the Governments together to ensure they reached cooperation agreements.  Bangladeshi victims of trafficking were not confined just to Nepal, Pakistan and the nearby countries.  Last year in Mauritania, IOM had rescued some 100 people from Arab and Asian countries, identifying and helping to take them back home.


Also responding to a question, Mr. Plant said the problems associated with trafficking meant that more efforts must be focused in capacity-building for industrialized countries.  ILO was providing training for the Polish police and all kinds of United States agencies on how they could identify forced labour in accordance with ILO standards.  The agency was also discussing cooperation with the United Arab Emirates and had held a meeting on trafficking in Israel.  Other activities included a meeting in Atlanta on how United States businesses could cut forced labour out of their supply chains.  There was a great need to work with industrialized countries as that was where a large part of the problems lay.


He said that, while 171 of about 182 United Nations Member States had ratified the Forced Labour Convention and were, therefore, obliged to view forced labour as a serious criminal offence and provide penalties for it, as well as enforce them, many countries did not consider it an offence.  Thus, one of the current problems was how to capture the modern global economy’s very subtle forms of abuse and coercion.  In addition, the very high fees charged by labour brokers and recruiters were driving people into slavery-like conditions and debt bondage, but might not be captured in national laws.


He said ILO had just released a report on trafficking into and out of Portugal, covering the situation of Brazilians and others subjected to forced labour and trafficking within the European country.  The report also covered the risk that Portuguese workers could be exposed to in terms of forced labour in other countries.


Answering a question, Ms. Kang said OHCHR’s position was that Governments should guarantee basic safety and rights in all phases of combating trafficking.  The Office had prepared a set of recommended principles and guidelines on human rights and human trafficking that spelt out the basic idea that the human rights of victims should take primacy in the design of all policies.  Without integrating human rights, some of the measures taken, particularly on law enforcement, could end up doing great harm to the victims, for example those that failed to take victims’ safety into account.  In addition, making protection conditional was inappropriate as victims should be protected without any conditions being attached.


Responding to another question, Ms. Buddenberg said United Nations bodies, not being law-enforcement agencies, did not actively interfere on behalf of national authorities since only Governments and national authorities had that right, but they did work with international law-enforcement agencies like INTERPOL.  No country, whether in Western or Eastern Europe, remained unaffected by trafficking, either as a destination country, origin country or both, she added.


Mr. Danziger stressed that trafficking could not be solved through immigration.  Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had all joined the European Union about four years ago but trafficking from within their borders to old European Union member States had been increasing rather than decreasing.  The United Kingdom was a major destination country.


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