Press Conference on Human Trafficking by High Commissioner for Human Rights

21 October 2009

Press Conference on Human Trafficking by High Commissioner for Human Rights

21 October 2009
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Human Trafficking by High Commissioner for Human Rights

It was crucial to listen to victims when addressing the scourge of human trafficking, Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, told correspondents this afternoon, as she announced a Headquarters event that will provide a platform to four survivors of the scourge tomorrow.

“We must be very careful to ensure that we listen and hear from victims and survivors, to not only hear their experiences but to hear what kind of action they would like to see taken to combat human trafficking,” Ms. Pillay said on the importance of the special event, “Giving Voice to Victims and Survivors of Human Trafficking”, which will be opened by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and take place in the Economic and Social Council Chamber from 1:15 p.m. to 2:45 p.m.

“Tomorrow I will be asking them what I, as the High Commissioner could do,” stressed Ms. Pillay, who was joined at the press conference by Ruchira Gupta, an anti-trafficking activist from India who will moderate tomorrow’s event, and Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons.

Ms. Pillay said the four speakers at the event included a Ugandan woman who was abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army for sexual slavery at age 14 years, and a Nepalese man who thought he was coming to the United States but was instead taken to Iraq, where he was forced to work at a United States military base for 15 months, surviving an insurgent attack that killed his twelve companions. 

Also speaking tomorrow would be a Venezuelan woman who was forced into prostitution by a man she thought of as her boyfriend, and a woman who survived sexual exploitation as a teenager and founded an organization to aid trafficking victims in New York City, she said. 

Ms. Gupta said part of the reason it was important to listen to victims was that there was a disconnect between the policies being instituted on their behalf, in accordance with global treaties, and the policies they wanted.  “Survivors want accountability,” she stressed, noting that they wanted the consumers of trafficked labour and sex to be dealt with, not just the providers. 

Many newly instituted laws, seeking to prevent transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, protected buyers and treated victims as carriers of disease, she said.  Victim-friendly legislation was crucial, survivors all over Asia had been telling her, and would, she predicted, affirm tomorrow when their voices were heard.

Ms. Ezeilo said that the wide geographical origins and histories of victims speaking at tomorrow’s event showed that trafficking affected every country in the world -- whether as a place of origin, transit or destination.  It also showed that trafficking took diverse forms of sexual and labour exploitation, affecting men, women and children, though it was estimated that some 70 per cent of victims were women and children, and 56 per cent of trafficking was for sexual exploitation.

She stressed the “five Ps” and “three Rs” of action on trafficking:  protection of victims; prosecution and punishment of perpetrators; prevention of the crime; and partnership among countries and organizations; and redress; rehabilitation; and reintegration for victims rounded out the list.  

Asked how Governments could be made accountable for trafficking, particularly when it was a huge source of income, Ms. Ezeilo said a large part of her job was to examine policies that encouraged trafficking, whether intended or not, and to engage Governments, along with non-governmental organizations and individuals, in dialogue.

She could only point out specific problems in individual countries when she visited them, however, and hoped such specifics would be examined in the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council.  It was not just about “naming and shaming” but opening dialogue and sharing good practices.  She was also advocating national rapporteurs in every country for those purposes.

Ms. Pillay said that, alternatively, there should be an open invitation to rapporteurs and other special procedures in all countries to address trafficking and other related human rights violations. 

On the effects of the economic crisis on trafficking, panel members said that they had received information that it had increased, but there was little reliable data available in general on trafficking.  It appeared, however, that the practice of cutting costs through exploitation of labour was growing, as was the need for greater household income for survival.  Due to drought, Ms. Gupta said, farmers’ wives in one village were selling themselves and were being taken to brothels in Bombay, for example. 

Asked about trafficking from and through Pakistan, the panel described work that was done through United Nations agencies to stop the trafficking of South Asian boys for use as camel jockeys in the United Arab Emirates.  That situation they said, pointed out the specific vulnerabilities of certain groups, particularly children caught up in armed conflict.

On the situation in other areas, they said that Poland had turned quickly from a country of origin to primarily a country of destination and transit when it joined the European Union and was not prepared to deal with foreign victims.  They also noted that asylum seekers leaving Sri Lanka in boats were not defined as trafficked persons per se but that situation could turn once they landed without resources and were vulnerable to exploitation -- exploitation being the crucial term in defining human trafficking. 

Asked what kind of children’s education could prevent children from being trafficked, the panel replied that education directed at possible victims could be very valuable if carried out in the right way, but it was also important to provide education that could stem the demand for trafficked sex workers, for example.  The demand for prostitution had become normalized, they pointed out, and that attitude must change.

Asked for more specific statistics on trafficking, they explained that quality data was hard to come by partly because most information was garnered from victims who were receiving services.  Also, victims were often deported without being identified.  What is certain, they agreed, was that “the numbers were going up and the age was coming down”.

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