Press Conference to Launch United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Global Report on Trafficking in Persons

12 February 2009

Press Conference to Launch United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Global Report on Trafficking in Persons

12 February 2009
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York




A Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, launched today by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), offered the first global assessment of the problem’s scope and measures to address it, agency chief Antonio Maria Costa said at a Headquarters press conference today.

Mr. Costa, Executive Director of UNODC, said the report sought to evaluate progress in implementing the United Nations Protocol against Trafficking in Persons, but, unfortunately, not all countries had been equally cooperative in providing information on human trafficking.  A large number of States that had ratified the Convention against Organized Crime (to which the Protocol is related) were not taking it seriously.

“Are we making some progress?  I wish we were,” he said, noting that, despite significant progress in such areas as drug trafficking, law enforcement in the field of human trafficking was not very successful.  Only 1 in 100 victims was rescued.  Countries had documented 22,500 cases of victims rescued in 2006, but ILO [International Labour Organization] estimated that about 2 million people were forced into slave conditions each year.  “Twenty-two thousand rescued; 2 million in the pool; 99 per cent of the victims are still victimized -– I would like Member States to take this more seriously.  This is a very strong message.”

The determination of countries to fight modern slavery could be judged by the number of indicted people, Mr. Costa emphasized, pointing out that some 40 per cent of the sample provided –- which was more than half the Member States of the United Nations -- had not convicted a single person.  That meant the instrument provided to them was idle.  Based on data gathered from 155 countries, the report includes an overview of trafficking patterns, legal steps taken in response, and country-specific information on reported cases of trafficking in persons, victims and prosecutions.

According to the report, the most common types of human slavery included trafficking in women and children, forced labour, and the recruitment of child soldiers and sweat shop workers.  Based on the statistics provided by countries, about 80 per cent of those crimes related to sexual exploitation, but that might be “an optical illusion”, because those kinds of crime were the most commonly reported and thus the most visible, especially in rich countries.  About 19 per cent of human slavery cases related to forced labour.

In some countries, he said, most victims of sexual exploitation and modern slavery were under 18 years of age, he said, adding that up to 20 per cent of sexual exploitation cases worldwide were perpetrated against minors.  An unusual aspect of human trafficking was the high presence of women perpetrators, who comprised up to 60, 70 and 80 per cent of the traffickers in some Eastern European and Central Asian countries.  The majority of perpetrators in some African countries were also women.

He said trafficking in people happened not only among countries and regions, but also within national borders, with many individuals “preying on their own kin”, ethnic groups and others “close to home”.

Responding to questions, he said China, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Iran were among the countries that had not provided information on human trafficking.

Regarding the number of victims, he clarified that UNODC had been using an indicative number of about 2 million provided by ILO a year and a half ago.  At the same time, it was important to separate the floor from the stock:  2 million victims reported by ILO was a net addition every year.  Having subtracted those who had died and those rescued, the very large number of people remaining under bondage could be well beyond 10 million.

He said the Protocol had entered into force in 2003, but the report provided information starting only in 2005 and 2006.  Statistically, it was difficult to determine the trends on that basis, but one was led to believe that the problem had grown, particularly with the advent of globalization, easier movement of persons and commodities and more relaxed controls over the past quarter-century.

On the impact of the global financial and economic crisis, he said that, as they faced greater hardship, a greater number of people were likely to become vulnerable to trafficking, especially for labour-related forms of exploitation.  On the other hand, financial difficulties encountered by many businesses, including “internationals”, could very well induce them to use cheap sources of labour, including those stemming from modern slavery.

In response to a question about human trafficking in Latin America, including Guatemala and Brazil, he said he would feel uncomfortable speaking about specific countries, but personally saw no specific problems in either of those two countries.

Accompanying Mr. Costa was Fabrizio Sarrica, the report’s lead researcher, who added that Brazil’s country profile registered a large number of cases detected, but it was difficult to give a positive or negative interpretation to those figures.  On the whole, the region was affected by intraregional trafficking.  For example, Guatemalan victims were being detected in Central America and, to some extent, North America.

Asked about human trafficking in Eastern Europe, Mr. Costa said that, following the collapse of communism, the region had become a major source of human trafficking, especially for sexual-exploitation purposes.  Now, due to improved economic conditions, among other factors, the flow had been reduced significantly.  In some instances, as in the case of the Russian Federation, the country of origin had become a destination country.

Regarding a possible inter-relation between investigations of human trafficking and the deportation of undocumented immigrants, he said the relevant international conventions provided “a neat classification between legal migration, illegal migration and human trafficking”.  Unfortunately, those distinctions were often not easy to detect in real life.  In many cases, victims of trafficking escaped slavery and became immigrants, but without papers or money.  In fact, until the Protocol’s entry into force, such people would be expelled as illegal immigrants.  Now, States had clear obligations under the Protocol to keep trafficking victims inside the country.  All those developments had resulted in a significant amount of administrative litigation.  For example, many illegal immigrants, once identified, declared themselves victims of trafficking.

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