Traffickers in Human Beings Should See an Oncoming Train, Strong Laws, Broad Alliances, Concerted Action, Zero Tolerance, Says Secretary-General

13 May 2009

Traffickers in Human Beings Should See an Oncoming Train, Strong Laws, Broad Alliances, Concerted Action, Zero Tolerance, Says Secretary-General

13 May 2009
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks to the General Assembly thematic debate on human trafficking, today, 13 May, in New York:

I thank the General Assembly for organizing this important debate.

Let me begin with a story.  You may think it is about the victim, and in many ways it is.  But it is also about someone else who had the will and the courage to act.

Grace Akallo was a young high school student in Uganda who dreamed of being the first person from her village to go to university.  Then came the Lord’s Resistance Army.  Rebels took her and 138 other girls from their dormitory and marched them into the forest.

Grace told her story at the Security Council last week.  I listened with the heaviest of hearts.  “My spirit died”, she said, recounting how she was forced to kill and was repeatedly raped.

She was followed into the forest by the headmistress, Sister Rachele, who confronted the rebels.  They threatened to kill her in front of the girls.  She was asked to leave, but instead she faced them down, risking her own safety so that others could be freed.  In the end, she was able to rescue more than 100 girls.

Grace was not among them.  But Grace did escape later and was reunited with Sister Rachele.

If this seemingly powerless educator from Uganda could face down armed rebels, surely we in this room can stand up to this threat with bold and decisive action.

Trafficking in weapons, drugs and blood diamonds has long been on the United Nations agenda.  Now, we must add people to that list.

I spoke just now about Uganda, but examples could be drawn from any of a number of countries from Asia, across the Americas, to Europe.  Millions are bought and sold like chattel, most of them women and children.

That is why, more than a year ago, I launched a campaign called “Unite to end violence against women”.  Human trafficking is, indeed, one of the worst forms of violence against women and girls.

We have made some progress, but we must do more ... clearly and simply we must do more.

Partners are coming together.  Member States are starting to shoulder a greater share of responsibility.  The Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking, known as UN.GIFT, has done invaluable work.  Many United Nations organizations, the non-governmental organization community and celebrities are actively raising awareness.  And I have just appointed a new Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, Marta Santos Pais.

But these efforts need greater coherence.  We have to take a tougher line against this crime.  Some liken human trafficking to modern-day slavery, and call for a new abolitionist movement.  In days of old, there was an underground railroad.  Today, we want traffickers to see an oncoming train.  Strong laws.  Broad alliances.  Concerted action.  Zero tolerance.

We can do this.  For evidence, look to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Just this month, staff from the United Nations mission there freed another nearly two dozen children from the integrated armed forces there. More than 1,300 children have been liberated since January this year.

This meeting is a call to action.

First, we need to criminalize human trafficking.  All countries must ratify the United Nations anti-trafficking Protocol.

Second, we must prevent victimization by teaching people about their rights and protecting them.

Third, we need to reduce demand.

Fourth, there must be an end to impunity.  When I visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I confronted the President, Prime Minister, and the Commander of the Congolese Forces in eastern Congo and told them that trafficking in women and sexual violence are crimes.  The United Nations has a list of five senior officials credibly accused of allowing their troops to perpetrate such crimes.  I asked for them to be called to account.  We should all do the same in every country where similar crimes are committed.

Fifth and lastly, we must protect the victims.

If we think about it, we understand that fighting human trafficking cuts across all fundamental issues.

It is about human rights, peace and security, development and family health.  In the most basic sense, it is about preserving the fabric of society.

That is why, to succeed, we have to mainstream our fight against human trafficking into broader programmes.  From poverty reduction to reducing gender discrimination.

Many of you here today have called for a Global Plan of Action.  I welcome your determination, and I say this:  we will achieve nothing without uniting and speaking out.  We will achieve nothing by offering fine rhetoric not matched by deeds.

Moral outrage is all-too-easy.  Real action takes real commitment.

I do not doubt our commitment here today, but let us not be under any illusions.  Our humanity and our effectiveness as an Organization will be measured by results.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your commitment and common cause.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.