‘I Didn’t Have Any Identity’, Survivor Recalls, Stressing that Outcome Document Must Come to Life in Communities Across Globe
Survivors of human trafficking today recounted painful stories of kidnapping, violence and rape — often the result of criminals exploiting their hopes for a better life — as the General Assembly adopted a Political Declaration aimed at combating that brutal practice.
The Assembly endorsed the “political declaration on the implementation of the United Nations Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons” by consensus at the outset of its two‑day high‑level meeting on human trafficking, which many speakers described as “modern-day slavery”. Member States reaffirmed their commitment to that instrument, and to the related 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In particular, they agreed to address the many social, economic, cultural and political factors that increased people’s vulnerability to trafficking, including poverty, unemployment, inequality, conflict, humanitarian emergencies and gender discrimination.
“It is so important to hear the voice of survivors,” emphasized Grizelda Grootboom, a civil society representative from South Africa, as she described her emotional personal experience. Having grown up in Cape Town in the Nelson Mandela era, she recalled that her expectations for a better life had been exploited by a friend who forced her into sexual slavery in Johannesburg. “My journey ended up in the hands of someone who knew I was desperate for hope and for freedom,” she said, recalling that upon her arrival the traffickers had injected her with drugs, duct‑taped her mouth and undressed her. When the first client arrived, he was told that “fresh meat is on the market”.
After years spent working from brothel to brothel, and later as a drug trafficker for her pimps, she said she eventually escaped after a beating landed her in hospital. However, she continued to be stigmatized for having been a sex slave. “I didn’t have any identity,” she said. Even today, it hurt to see headlines reporting that trafficking persisted. “Sex slavery is just another form of oppression, especially for the black child,” she emphasized, expressing hope that the Global Plan of Action would not exist merely on paper, but in every community, township and city across the globe.
Secretary-General António Guterres said tens of millions of people around the world were victims of forced labour, sexual servitude, recruitment as child soldiers and other forms of exploitation, with such abuse gripping the weakest and most vulnerable. Countless businesses in both the global North and South benefited from that misery, he said, adding that in recent years, conflict, insecurity and economic uncertainty had brought new tests, with millions of people spilling out of their countries towards safety. While thousands died at sea, in deserts and detention centres, many others found themselves “at the mercy of merciless people”, he said.
General Assembly President Miroslav Lajčák (Slovakia), stressing that the will to fight human trafficking must be manifested in action, said the horrors and complexity of that abuse affected people everywhere. Echoing calls for a victim‑ and survivor‑centred approach, he said the United Nations had a duty to be a voice for victims. For people to live freely and peacefully, they must be free from the threat of trafficking. “Prevention is better than cure,” he asserted, urging States to prioritize efforts to starve traffickers of benefits, while also addressing both demand‑ and supply‑side problems.
Mira Sorvino, actress and Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said words must be transformed into meaningful, robust action to help those tormented by trafficking. Member States could not look away from the plight of victims. Conflict, climate change and the resulting migration patterns were creating massive displacement, she said, describing those factors as a “direct pipeline” to victimhood. Calling for private sector cooperation and the involvement of survivors at all levels of policymaking, she said law enforcement efforts must take a child‑centred, evidence‑based approach, and investigators must work to ensure that the testimony of victims was not their only hope of justice.
Yuri Fedotov, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, said today’s Political Declaration would help sharpen responses to an “odious crime” that exploited and victimized the most vulnerable. Since the adoption of the landmark Plan of Action in 2010, much had been done to reverse the phenomenon. Nevertheless, enforcement gaps remained, with more action required in prosecuting trafficking lords in particular. Calling for victim‑centred criminal justice responses and better evidence collection, he echoed calls to address root causes and urged States to support the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons.
Speakers throughout the morning’s plenary session voiced support for both the new Political Declaration and the original 2010 Action Plan, while also outlining national laws and strategies to combat human trafficking. Some raised concerns about at‑risk populations — including refugees fleeing crises in Syria and other hotspots — while others warned that global instruments would do little to address the horrors of human trafficking if States failed to implement them.
Anifah Aman, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Malaysia, noted that his was both a transit and destination country, and that its citizens were often targeted as victims. In response, the Government had aligned its national anti-trafficking strategy with the 2010 Action Plan, and was engaged in bilateral and regional cooperation efforts under the auspices of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Expressing concern that the Rohingya people fleeing Myanmar could easily become victims, he repeated Malaysia’s calls to that country to end the violence, expressing hope that the measures outlined in today’s political declaration would serve as a strong basis for action going forward.
The European Union representative said the bloc had put in place a framework to address trafficking in a victims‑focused, human rights‑based, gender‑specific and child‑sensitive manner. As the world’s largest donor of aid and funding for related projects, the European Union was working with partners to build capacities and promote standards. She called for greater efforts to address trafficking in the context of migration and the refugee crisis, and for the purposes of sexual abuse and exploitation — including of children and online. “We must step up our efforts to discourage the demand that fosters all forms of exploitation in both legal and illegal economies,” she asserted.
Andrei Dapkiunas, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belarus, asking whether the United Nations meeting would ignite the “fire of hope” in the hearts of victims, said “we all know the answer to that question”. Indeed, words would only matter if they took the form of practical action. Urging all States to place efforts to combat trafficking above national interests, he warned against attempts to use the issue to pursue narrow political aims. All countries, along with United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations, must adopt an open, honest approach. “Until we do that, the human traffickers will sleep soundly,” he stressed.
In the afternoon, the Assembly held two panel discussions featuring United Nations officials, civil society representatives and survivors of human trafficking, among others. The first addressed themes related to the Global Plan of Action and effective partnerships for the prevention and prosecution of trafficking in persons, with a focus on achievements, gaps and challenges. The second discussed the Global Plan of Action and effective partnerships, with a focus on the role of the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons.
Also speaking during the plenary session were Ministers from Luxembourg, Indonesia, Eritrea, South Africa, Qatar, Zimbabwe, Panama (also speaking on behalf of the Human Security Network), Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt (also speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends United against Human Trafficking), Guyana, Namibia, Dominican Republic, Ukraine and Malawi, as did the Secretary for Relations with States of the Holy See.
Representatives of Sudan, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Israel and Turkey also participated.
The Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 28 September, to conclude the high-level meeting.
MIROSLAV LAJČÁK (Slovakia), President of the General Assembly, said the will to fight human trafficking must be manifested in action. Human trafficking understood no borders. The horrors and complexity of trafficking in persons affected people everywhere. While today’s meeting would track progress made in the fight against human trafficking, it also must recognize how much work remained ahead. He pledged the Assembly’s recommitment to fight all forms of human trafficking and called for respect of human rights and the “dignity of our people”.
Stressing that mitigation efforts required a victim‑ and survivor‑centred approach, and a multi‑stakeholder perspective, he said the United Nations had a duty to be a voice for victims. For people to live freely and peacefully, they must be free from the threat of trafficking. Prevention efforts must be strengthened, he said, recognizing that peace and security challenges amplified the threat of human trafficking. Thus, preventing conflict would help to prevent human trafficking. “Prevention is better than cure,” he asserted. The priority must be to starve human traffickers of benefits while addressing demand‑ and supply‑side problems. Traffickers’ focus on women and children threatened to unravel the fabric of society, he warned.
Indeed, human trafficking was a “complex and many-sided” problem, he said, and to best address it, Member States must concentrate on existing plans while recognizing the new political declaration as an important instrument. He called for continued contribution to the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking, which was an important tool to assist victims in recovering, reclaiming dignity and minimizing the risk of revictimization. The scale of human trafficking also required resources that matched the scale of the problem, he said.
ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said tens of millions of people around the world were victims of forced labour, sexual servitude, recruitment as child soldiers and other forms of exploitation and abuse. “Human trafficking is all around us,” he said, adding: “It grips the weakest and most vulnerable — women, girls and boys cruelly exploited for sex and vital organs, children forced into endless begging and men into brutal labour.” Countless businesses in both the global North and South benefited from that misery and the phenomenon was often intertwined with racial, gender and other forms of discrimination. In recent years, conflict, insecurity and economic uncertainty had brought new tests, as millions of people spilled out of their countries towards safety and often found themselves “at the mercy of merciless people”.
Indeed, he said, thousands of people had died at sea, in deserts and detention centres, and at the hands of traffickers. Criminal networks had used that disorder and despair to expand their brutality and reach. Terrorist groups including Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) and Boko Haram continued to attempt to capture and enslave women, girls and boys. “These gangs and groups are global,” he stressed. They were well organized, technologically savvy and highly proficient at exploiting gaps in governance and weak institutions. “We must be equally determined in countering this menace,” he said, emphasizing that too often human traffickers operated with impunity and received less attention than traffickers in drugs.
Fighting human trafficking required making greater use of the United Nation Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children — also known as the Palermo Protocol or Trafficking in Persons Protocol — among other instruments. The New York Declaration adopted in 2016 was a welcome step, and the Assembly’s seventy-third session would convene a conference to adopt a global compact on safe, orderly and regular migration, which would provide an additional milestone. Recalling that, as Prime Minister of Portugal, he had viewed the threat of drugs as a possible threat to his own children, he said he had not sufficiently recognized or acted on the risk posed by human trafficking. It was the responsibility of all world leaders to address that phenomenon. As refugees and migrants were especially vulnerable — and their plight was compounded when they were treated as criminals by host Governments and communities — the international community must create legal and safe migration channels, while also upholding the rights of refugees to asylum.
YURI FEDOTOV, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said today’s political declaration would help sharpen responses to an “odious crime” that exploited and victimized the most vulnerable. Since the adoption of the landmark Plan of Action in 2010, much had been done to reverse the phenomenon, with 171 Member States having acceded to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, and most aligning their national policies to its provisions. Nevertheless, enforcement gaps remained, with more action required in prosecuting trafficking lords in particular. The UNODC was engaged in those activities, he said, calling on Member States to make better use of the established legal framework to protect victims and hold perpetrators accountable.
Calling for more victim‑centred criminal justice responses, better evidence collection and greater common efforts were needed to achieve the anti‑trafficking targets under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. He said stronger inter‑agency and cross‑border cooperation was also critical. The root factors that made people more vulnerable to trafficking must also be tackled. Urging States to support the United Nations Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking, he said those efforts would help victims become survivors.
The Assembly then adopted, without a vote, a draft resolution titled, “political declaration on the implementation of the United Nations Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons” (document A/72/L.1).
MIRA SORVINO, actress and Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, called for words to be transformed into meaningful, robust action to help those tormented by trafficking, stressing that failure to protect the most vulnerable segments of society was unacceptable. Member States could not look away from the plight of victims, she said, adding that the scale of the problem required that everyone work to uplift victims and survivors in order to foster a freer and more prosperous world. Conflict, climate change and the resulting migration patterns were creating displacement on a massive scale, she said, describing those factors as a “direct pipeline” to victimhood.
She went on to call for private-sector cooperation in the fight against trafficking and for the involvement of survivors at all levels of policymaking. Law‑enforcement efforts must take a child‑centred, evidence‑based approach, and investigators must work to ensure that the testimony of victims was not their only hope of justice. Human trafficking called for a vigorous attack on the root causes of vulnerability, she emphasized. Donations to the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking was a direct way to help victims, she said, noting Italy had recently donated $1 million to the Fund. She called upon all Member States to match or add to that gift.
GRIZELDA GROOTBOOM, civil society representative and human trafficking victim from South Africa, said that being a street kid in Cape Town during the Nelson Mandela era had meant expectations of hope and freedom. However, a friend had exploited that hope. “My journey ended up in the hands of someone who knew I was desperate for hope and for freedom,” she said. That hope had turned into a nightmare as she was trafficked all the way to Johannesburg. Entering a home in that city, she had lain down for a nap, only to be awakened by a punch to the stomach. The traffickers had then injected her with drugs behind the knees, duct‑taped her mouth and undressed her, she recounted. The first client had been told upon arrival that “fresh meat is on the market”.
The rapes had continued for two weeks, she continued, adding that she had then been replaced by younger girls and kicked out into the Johannesburg streets. From that day onwards, she had worked from one brothel to another, raped by all kinds of men — old, young, black, white, rich, poor. She had fallen pregnant, and after six months, her madam had told her that her child’s “breed” was not welcome in the industry. An in‑house abortion had been conducted and she had returned to work just hours later. “In that minute, I knew that the life I thought I was going to have was taken from me,” she said, recalling that she had finally decided to say “no”. However, when she had refused the next client, she had been beaten badly and had ended up in hospital, marking the beginning of her exit journey.
“I didn’t have any identity,” she continued. Even after leaving the industry she had been stigmatized for having been a sex slave. She had returned to the pimps and then had become their drug trafficker, working from one city to another until she had found herself back in her home city of Cape Town. “Today I stand here with images of girls that I’ve lost through the 18 years,” she said, adding: “I’m blessed to be alive.” However, it hurt to see headlines reporting that trafficking continued unabated, she added, noting that today, serious health problems constantly reminded her of her past.
Welcoming the fact that the United Nations were gathered to address human trafficking — and that Member States had committed to implementing the Global Plan — she pointed out that women and girls made up 96 per cent of trafficking victims. “Sex slavery is just another form of oppression, especially for the black child,” she said. “It is so important to hear the voice of survivors,” she said, adding that it was also important for victims and survivors to see the commitment of the United Nations to helping them. She stressed that she was not speaking because she wished to be an activist, but because she understood the true pain of being a sex slave. She concluded by expressing hope that the Plan of Action would not take action merely on paper, but in every community, township and city across the globe.
FÉLIX BRAZ, Minister for Justice of Luxembourg, said human trafficking was a serious crime and gross violation of fundamental rights. His country combatted the phenomenon through a multidisciplinary approach focused on prevention, protection and promotion of victims’ rights, and prosecution of the perpetrators and co-perpetrators. Policies also focused on providing adequate training for law enforcement authorities.
RETNO LESTARI PRIANSARI MARSUDI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Indonesia, reiterated the importance of partnership and cooperation in curbing trafficking, particularly with source, transit and destination countries. Indonesia adhered to the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocol on Trafficking in Persons, and had taken actions to prevent crime, prosecute perpetrators and protect victims. Effective measures included imposing a minimum threshold to identify trafficking cases, increasing consular officers as first responders, creating an e‑platform for data collection, enhancing law enforcement to help the prosecution process, and compensating victims. Regionally, Indonesia supported efforts to implement the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Convention on Trafficking in Persons especially Women and Children, and the Bali Declaration on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime. In that context, she highlighted the situation in Rakhine State, which required measures to prevent refugees from being exploited by traffickers.
ANIFAH AMAN, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Malaysia, strongly condemning the phenomenon of human trafficking, said his country was both a transit and destination country, and that its citizens were also often targeted as victims. In response, the Government had put in place a national plan to combat human trafficking, which was aligned with the 2010 United Nations Plan of Action, and was engaged in many bilateral and regional cooperation efforts on that issue. For example, Malaysia was a party to the 2015 ASEAN Convention against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, along with other regional instruments. “We believe in a comprehensive approach with an emphasis on victims,” and addressing the phenomenon’s root causes, he said. Expressing concern that the Rohingya people currently fleeing Myanmar could easily become victims to human trafficking, he repeated Malaysia’s calls to that country to end the violence against the Rohingya, and expressed hope that the measures outlined in the political declaration would serve as a strong basis for action going forward.
OSMAN MOHAMMED SALEH, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Eritrea, noting that his country was at the forefront of the fight against human trafficking, called for focused international cooperation to eradicate that phenomenon. If efforts did not address the root causes of trafficking, any future appraisal meetings would only expose gaps and not show progress. Human trafficking and smuggling of migrants were great causes of instability in Africa, he said, with young people most affected, facing abduction, torture and death. The problem had deepened as impunity persisted in the region. A clear assessment of human trafficking in the Horn of Africa was needed to bring an end to injustice and ensure those responsible faced punishment. No case could go unprosecuted, he said, adding that Eritrea would continue its fight against trafficking and expose its sponsors.
MICHAEL MASUTHA, Minister for Justice and Correctional Services of South Africa, said today’s political declaration demonstrated the global political will to end human trafficking. South Africa’s law enforcement and criminal justice systems were engaged in the constant fight against that phenomenon, having arrested, tried and convicted many perpetrators. South Africa also provided support to victims. Relevant laws had been consolidated under the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act, which centred on prevention and prosecution, and was in line with the Protocol. To ensure nationwide participation, the Government had established an intersectional committee comprising representatives from civil society, faith-based organizations, traditional leaders and others, which were working directly with communities. However, the transnational nature of trafficking required cooperation with and mutual assistance from both other countries and intergovernmental organizations.
ISSA BIN SAAD AL-JAFAKU AL-NUAIMI, Minister for Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs of Qatar, said efforts to tackle human trafficking should focus on causes, such as social, economic, cultural, political and ideological factors or the lack of the rule of law. The inability to find just and decisive settlements to conflict had led to the rise of terrorism and armed groups, which engaged in trafficking. Qatar had put anti-trafficking legislative measures in place and established a national committee to consolidate the work of State institutions and civil society. Regionally, Qatar worked in cooperation with UNODC and the League of Arab States to build and rehabilitate national capacities to combat trafficking. On the international level, Qatar was a member of the Group of Friends United against Human Trafficking and the Group of Friends to End Modern Slavery. It was also a major donor to the United Nations Trust Fund.
PRISCAH MUPFUMIRA, Minister for Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare of Zimbabwe, said her country was a source, transit and destination country for trafficking in human beings. For that reason, it had ratified the Convention, and the Palermo Protocol. Zimbabwe’s response strategy was anchored on “the four Ps”: prevention, protection, prosecution and partnership. Anti-trafficking programs had been decentralized to local levels for greater effectiveness, she added. Under the protection pillar, the Government had facilitated and funded the repatriation of 138 victims since 2016. Zimbabwe was also working with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to establish income-generating projects for victims. Thus far, 100 women had each received up to $1,500, she added.
ALEXIS BETHANCOURT YAU, Minister of Public Security of Panama, speaking on behalf of the Human Security Network, recognized efforts taken by the United Nations to tackle human trafficking and include the issue in both the 2030 Agenda, and the Global Plan of Action. He emphasized the need for universal ratification and implementation of all international legally binding instruments addressing that crime. A holistic approach to combating trafficking, by including the “human security” aspect, offered the most balanced solution to protect vulnerable groups, including women and children. He urged Member States to contribute to the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund.
Speaking in his national capacity, he said Panama had aligned its national anti-trafficking plans with the United Nations Convention, dismantling 14 trafficking networks and achieving three important convictions. Among other steps, it was working to bring perpetrators to justice, protect victims and establish partnerships. Panama had also established a National Commission against Trafficking in Persons, comprising private sector representatives, and was putting in place relevant laws. In October, the National Commission would meet to establish five strategic lines of actions, he said, adding that efforts were under way to raise public awareness and bolster prevention. As Vice-President of the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund, he urged Member States to offer support, and cited his country’s shelter for victims as the only one in the region.
EMMANUEL ILUNGA NGOIE KASONGO, Minister in Charge of Congolese Nationals Abroad of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said Africa faced an acute migrant crisis that was exacerbating issues of human trafficking. Trafficking was a cross‑cutting threat with global implications, he said, stressing that the Democratic Republic of the Congo was a transit and destination country, and that Congolese girls were trafficked for sexual exploitation. Legal measures had been taken to prevent trafficking, he said, drawing attention to an upcoming forum aimed at developing strategies in that regard. Preventive work and assistance was being offered to victims. Such efforts sought to help re‑establish peace in the east of the country and end cycles of war. He welcomed the expertise of all partners in efforts to implement relevant recommendations.
NAELA GABR MOHAMED GABR ALI (Egypt), on behalf of the Group of Friends United against Human Trafficking, welcomed the political declaration as a meaningful supplement to the Global Plan of Action. The 2030 Agenda and the related Goals served as reminders to end this “heinous crime”, notably by reducing poverty and inequality. “The international community has to bring forward a better, more just, more equitable and more comprehensive response to tackle this scourge,” she declared. To that end, the Group of Friends would work with partners around the world, and recognized the role of the Inter-Agency Coordination Group against Trafficking in Persons. She invited all stakeholders to take part in the forthcoming review of the Global Plan of Action, and to the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund.
Speaking in her national capacity, she said Egypt had been fighting trafficking since 2007, with a national strategy based on prevention, protection and prosecution. The national action plan and related legislation were closely aligned with the 2010 United Nations Plan of Action, and sought to raise awareness, support victims’ rights, accelerate development in slums and other poor areas and underscore the close connection between trafficking and illegal migration. Regional cooperation was also critical, she said, as was respecting the human rights dimension of trafficking. Noting that Egypt was working with non‑governmental organizations to raise awareness, she also cited the country’s participation in the “Aware Migrant” campaign, alongside Italy and IOM.
CARL GREENIDGE, Vice-President and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Guyana, said trafficking in persons had become the second most profitable criminal enterprise in the world. Combating it called for a focus on awareness efforts, effective prosecution and assistance for victims. The fight against human trafficking also must be grounded in the principles of prevention, protection and prosecution. Guyana’s Ministerial Task Force on Trafficking in Persons had begun to engage in awareness‑raising efforts with law enforcement and civil society, while awareness campaigns encouraged civil society to assume responsibilities pivotal to mitigating trafficking in persons, he said.
ERASTUS AMUTENYA UUTONI, Deputy Minister of Home Affairs and Immigration of Namibia, said traffickers had taken advantage of an imbalanced global economy. “As long as there is a rich global North and a poor global South, traffickers will continue to take advantage of the need for labour in rich countries,” he said, where laws providing labour migration favoured highly skilled workers and prevented semi-skilled personnel. In Namibia, “some suspects” had been acquitted due to a lack of evidence. Although trafficking was criminalized under the Prevention of Organised Crime Act, efforts were underway to enact a law to specifically address that crime. A manual also was provided to immigration and law enforcement officers, and joint trainings carried out for border officials, police and immigration officials. He called for training migration officials, providing shelter for trafficking victims, enhancing cooperation between the North and South, facilitating lawful migration, and respecting the human rights of migrants.
ANDREI DAPKIUNAS, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belarus, asking whether the fact that the United Nations was meeting to address the crime of human trafficking would ignite the “fire of hope” in the hearts of its victims, said “we all know the answer to that question”. Indeed, the Organization’s words would only matter if they took the form of practical action. Urging all States to place efforts to combat trafficking above national interests, he warned against attempts to use the issue to pursue narrow political aims. All nations, along with United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations, must adopt an open, honest approach. “Until we do that, the human traffickers will sleep soundly,” he stressed. Participation in the Convention and its Protocol was a moral imperative, he said, noting that the global community remained divided. Belarus had recently made its third contribution to the Trust Fund and he urged others to do the same, also calling on States to take “decisive and uncompromising” action against trafficking at the national level.
MARJORIE ESPINOSA, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Dominican Republic, said that following her country’s ratification of the Convention and its Protocols, and the 2010 Global Action Plan, it had begun to align its national laws and policies with those instruments. The Foreign Ministry had held several meetings to develop and implement a national plan against trafficking and migrant smuggling, and now was devising a second such plan for the period 2017‑2020, bringing together Government agencies and various sectors. The Dominican Republic was developing campaigns to prevent the exploitation of children and teenagers in particular, with the help of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and IOM. She also cited the creation of a victims assistance unit and the building of shelters for victims, stressing that efforts to combat trafficking must include countries of origin, transit and destination, both through bilateral agreements and regional instruments to exchange information.
NATALIA FEDOROVYCH, Deputy Minister for Social Affairs of Ukraine, expressed support for commitments in the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants to combat trafficking, noting that Ukraine had set up a counter-trafficking response and a national referral mechanism to identify, assist and protect victims. While Ukraine had ratified the Convention, the Palermo Protocol and the Council of Europe Convention against Trafficking in Human Beings instruments could not be implemented in non-Government controlled areas. Three years of Russian aggression against Ukraine had led to numerous cases of trafficking and forced labour in areas outside Government control. They had been largely unaddressed due to lack of safe access of monitoring missions. She pointed out that the Russian Federation did not have comprehensive mechanisms for effective investigation, prosecution and punishment of perpetrators.
ABD ELGHANI AWAD ELKARIM, Under-Secretary, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Sudan, said his country supported all international efforts to prevent and restrict trafficking. Economic and social dimensions, particularly poverty, must be taken into account when tackling its root causes. Sudan was a transit country that had made tireless efforts to fight organized crime, including police operations that had freed hundreds of trafficking victims, most of them women and children. Emphasizing the need for integrated action and a holistic approach, he called on the international community to meet its commitments under the European Union-Horn of Africa Migration Route Initiative (Khartoum Process).
JEAN KALILANI, Minister for Home Affairs and Internal Security of Malawi, called for stronger efforts to end the “degrading modern day slavery” of human trafficking, whose barbarism had no place in the world. Noting that the Global Plan of Action was now complemented by the 2030 Agenda’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals — three of whose targets specifically addressed human trafficking — she recalled that Malawi had ratified the United Nations Convention and two of its Protocols in 2005. Today, the national Trafficking in Persons Act provided a legislative framework for prevention, based on a human rights approach, and sought to provide victims with care and support. Noting that Malawi’s implementation efforts included specific and time-bound measures, she nevertheless said more support was needed. She called for greater efforts to mobilize resources and create more effective partnerships.
MYRIA VASSILIADOU, Anti-Trafficking Coordinator of the European Union, said the bloc had put in place a comprehensive framework to address trafficking in a victims‑focused, human-rights‑based, gender‑specific and child‑sensitive manner. The European Union had demonstrated its commitment to implement the Global Plan of Action and to uphold the legal standards enshrined in the United Nations Convention, its Protocols and other international legal instruments. As the world’s largest donor of aid and finances for projects promoting anti‑trafficking, the European Union was working with partners to build capacities and promote anti‑trafficking standards.
She said greater efforts were needed to address trafficking in the context of migration and the refugee crisis, the nexus between conflict and trafficking, the risk of trafficking in supply chains and trafficking for the purposes of sexual abuse and exploitation — including of children and online. The factors that made people vulnerable also required attention, and the European Union would work towards achieving its 2030 Agenda commitments in that regard. While it was crucial that traffickers were legally punished, she said prevention and partnerships were also essential. “We must step up our efforts to discourage the demand that fosters all forms of exploitation in both legal and illegal economies,” she asserted.
IGOR DJUNDEV, Director for Multilateral Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, associating himself with the European Union, said combating trafficking in human beings should be set in the context of the two compacts regarding migrants and refugees. Special attention should be also given to prevention through awareness‑raising initiatives at all levels. Further, a more resolute and comprehensive approach on the ground was needed to protect and assist victims, and prosecute criminal groups.
NOA FURMAN (Israel), noting that the Israelite people had been slaves in biblical Egypt, said their past had informed current efforts to end trafficking and all forms of modern slavery. Israel had two national plans aligned with a range of ministries, and had enacted legislation covering all forms of trafficking. As a result, the United States Department of State had classified Israel as a “tier 1” country in the battle against trafficking. Further, Israel had reduced the most severe form of trafficking of women for prostitution, thanks primarily to a focus on prevention, prosecution, protection and partnership. Israel also had established shelters for victims, and through the appointment of an Anti-Trafficking Coordinator, expanded its partnerships with civil society. She called on all countries to ratify the Palermo Protocol and to transcend borders in the fight against human trafficking.
MEHMET SAMSAR (Turkey) said the four pillars of prevention, prosecution, protection and partnership were critical to fighting trafficking, as were inclusive, human rights-based approaches. As existing international humanitarian systems had failed to respond properly to the needs of people affected by catastrophes and emergencies, criminal networks had found fertile ground and exploited the vulnerabilities of migrants. Regrettably, trafficking had become a profitable business for such terrorist groups as Da’esh, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Recalling that the activities of the latter had been underlined in the United States 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report, he said that, as the country hosting the most refugees in the world — including 3.1 million Syrians — Turkey would undertake all necessary measures to prevent human trafficking, forced labour and slavery among those fleeing conflict. Underscoring the importance of ensuring legal pathways for migrants seeking a decent life, he also called for breaking down barriers to safe, regular and orderly migration, including through the 2018 adoption of the two Global Compacts on migration and for refugees.
PAUL RICHARD GALLAGHER, Secretary for Relations with States of the Holy See, said addressing the demand that fostered trafficking, especially of women and girls, would require a frank and courageous examination of practices which encouraged sexually addictive behaviour and the dehumanization of people as objects of gratification. There must be long-term investment in rehabilitation for victims, he said, emphasizing also the positive role to be played by partnerships between law enforcement agencies and faith‑based groups.
Panel Discussion I
The Assembly’s first panel discussion was titled “The Global Plan of Action and effective partnerships for the prevention and prosecution of trafficking in persons: achievements, gaps and challenges, also taking into consideration the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals”. Chaired by Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve (Belgium), it featured presentations by Purna Sen, Director of the Policy Division, United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women); Kevin Cassidy, Senior Communications and External Relations Officer, International Labour Organization (ILO); and Rani Hong, Chief Executive Officer, The Tronie Foundation.
Mr. PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE said interventions during the high‑level meeting had highlighted the emergence of new crises involving armed groups and the use of trafficked persons by terrorist groups in pursuit of their goals. While the Political Declaration took migration into consideration, it was now time to move from words to action. Human trafficking took place every day and everywhere in the world, and the international community must focus on establishing and enhancing effective partnerships to prevent it, as well as to ensure the effective prosecution of culprits and the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda in strengthening anti‑trafficking efforts.
Ms. SEN said the Global Plan of Action and the Political Declaration renewed the commitment to combat trafficking, a manifestation of the violence and discrimination that women and girls faced around the world. Its eradication would require comprehensive approaches. Noting that women and girls accounted for 71 per cent of victims, she said that clearly demonstrated that trafficking was a gender‑based problem and should be addressed as such. In order to eliminate all forms of violence, the international community must address the sexual exploitation of women and girls in all contexts, she emphasized. Additionally, it must address the root causes, including poverty, unemployment, migration and labour laws. Greater attention should be given to the linkages connecting trafficking, migration and gender, as there were numerous gender‑specific vulnerabilities and risks that made women especially susceptible. Member States must ensure specific responses to the gender dimensions of trafficking, including tailored health‑care services for victims, efforts to address stigmatization and providing economic empowerment programmes. Member States should also create conditions in which victims would feel safe enough to discuss their experiences, including by ensuring the availability of female police officers, building trust with high‑risk groups, establishing support centres and working with officials and other relevant personnel. Describing trafficking as a human rights violation, she stressed that victims must not be criminalized. Human rights must be recognized, and the safety of victims prioritized through trust, supportive policies and practices, assistance with reintegrating into society and supporting the prosecution of perpetrators, she said, highlighting the latest brief on the gender dimension of trafficking by the Inter-Agency Coordination Group against Trafficking in Persons, of which UN‑Women was a member.
Mr. CASSIDY said the appraisal of the Global Plan of Action had come at a timely moment as ILO released new global estimates. Of the 25 million people trapped in forced labour, 16 million were female, 9 million male and 4.3 million children located across the globe, he said, adding that those numbers could not be ignored. The ILO was working across multiple fronts to end human trafficking, supporting partnerships at the national, bilateral, regional and sub‑regional levels, as well with Governments, civil society, media, the private sector and NGOs, including Alliance 8.7, which was committed to eradicating forced labour and child slavery. No single actor could solve the problem alone, he emphasized, adding: “We must work together.” Alliance 8.7 objectives also included accelerating the end of human trafficking, boosting research and innovation capacities, and increasing and sharing funding resources. In cooperation with the United Kingdom, Alliance 8.7 and the United Nations had created a knowledge platform that would be hosted at United Nations University, he said, encouraging everyone to share data sets and draw from that platform once it became operational.
Ms. HONG, sharing her experiences as a former victim, said that she had been trafficked as a little girl, and had lived in a cage for months before being sold into the international adoption black market. There were 40 million slaves in the world today, but everybody forgot “the one,” she said. “Beneath all of us, there is a human being just like you, and we look for somebody to love us and take care of us,” she added. The way forward should be guided by the reinforced political will that States had pledged at the launch of the Global Plan of Action, she said, noting that she had partnered with local communities to bring tangible solutions on the ground. The Tronie Foundation had created the Freedom Seal as a symbol that could represent freedom in the workplace, she said, urging companies to be transparent and prevent slavery in the entire supply chain.
In the ensuing discussion, delegates underlined the need to address root causes, appealed for enhanced cooperation and suggested possible measures.
MICHAEL MASUTHA, Minister for Justice and Correctional Services of South Africa, emphasized the need to look at underlying factors, including inequality within and between nations, organized crime, drug trafficking, illicit capital transfers and illegal migration. He also stressed the importance of cooperation between Government and civil society, as well as among States.
PRAMILA PATTEN, Special Representative of the Secretary‑General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, said that for hybrid terrorist‑criminal networks, girls were currency in their political economy of war, noting that trafficking by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Boko Haram and other such groups had sent shockwaves around the world. Whether it occurred during or after conflict, trafficking was a gender‑based human rights violation as well as a criminal act, she said, underlining that no isolated response could end it. She recommended, among other measures, the enforcement of relevant legal instruments, increased awareness of conflict‑related trafficking, and rehabilitation programmes for trafficking survivors, in collaboration with grass-roots women’s organizations. Prosecution of traffickers would also help prevention, she said, emphasizing that vulnerable populations would be empowered if trafficking was confronted head‑on.
KATALIN ANNAMÁRIA BOGYAY (Hungary) described trafficking in women and girls as an open wound on the body of humanity, the transnational nature of which called for enhanced international cooperation. The 2030 Agenda represented the best chance to address and hopefully eliminate that deeply rooted challenge, she said, adding that survivors must be empowered and feel safe to speak out about their experiences.
YASMEEN HASSAN, Coalition against Trafficking in Women, said it was critical to invest in gender‑specific approaches and to address root causes. The Coalition welcomed partnership with Member States to incorporate the Global Plan of Action where trafficking existed, she said. Any knowledge platform must include disaggregated data on gender, age and type of exploitation, she added.
The representative of Ethiopia emphasized the need to recognize the positive role of migration, asking the panel about measures to expand legal channels for fair migration and ethical recruitment, and about ways to address legislative or administrative gaps.
The representative of the International Centre for Migration Policy Development said that a better understanding of the demand side of trafficking was needed in order to inform policy decisions.
The representative of Morocco emphasized the close links connecting trafficking, terrorism and transnational organized crime. More must be done to dismantle such networks, he said, emphasizing that effective responses must go beyond criminal sanctions to include preventative measures.
Ms. HONG said recommendations would be directed where gaps remained. She encouraged participants to take the comments and recommendations from today’s discussion to their national civil society organizations, and to seek partners who could help them advance the anti‑trafficking movement.
Mr. CASSIDY said the Political Declaration and the ongoing Global Compact for Migration process would require a large, systematic approach. The general principles and guidelines of ILO addressed fair recruitment, while numerous conventions signed by Member States addressed migration and trafficking as well as the profits gained from them. The structures are there and we must make use of them, he said. The ILO looked forward to working in the General Assembly’s Second and Third Committees, and to strengthening their resolutions and language. Alliance 8.7 had been created to complement that important work, he said, encouraging all participants to join it.
Ms. SEN said the 2016 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons provided numerous recommendations and remained available on the General Assembly website. The recommendations of UN-Women on the gender perspective of the Global Compact for Migration were available on the UN-Women website and on other valuable resources. She encouraged participants to consider carefully the connections between migration and trafficking, and to note where they overlapped and diverged. She also encouraged pursuit of partnerships with NGOs and survivors in order effectively to combat trafficking in persons.
Also speaking were representatives of the Dominican Republic and Egypt, as well as the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) in Europe.
The Assembly’s second panel discussion addressed the theme, “the Global Plan of Action and effective partnerships for the protection of and assistance to victims, including through the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, also taking into consideration the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals”. Chaired by Alya Ahmed Saif al‑Thani (Qatar), it featured three panellists: Benita Ferrero‑Waldner, Chair of the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons; Andrew Gilmour, Assistant Secretary‑General for Human Rights and Head of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in New York; and Joy Ezeilo, Executive Director of Women Aid Collective.
Ms. SAIF AL‑THANI said today’s Political Declaration spotlighted the importance of respecting the human rights of victims and survivors, and of incorporating their voices into anti‑trafficking policies. It also stressed the need to ensure that survivors were not criminalized for having been trafficked, and encouraged States to support established channels of assistance. She urged participants to provide examples of good practice and lessons learned, especially from partnerships. Other questions should address how the Voluntary Trust Fund could increase strategic support to victims, how to better incorporate a human rights approach, and how those issues related to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Ms. FERRERO‑WALDNER, recalling that this morning, a survivor from South Africa had shown the courage to share her story, said 40 million victims existed around the world, and much more must be done. The United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund was instrumental in that regard, and she urged Member States not to forget that hands‑on aid should be provided through the grassroots. The Trust Fund had assisted an average 2,500 victims per year, “but that is not enough”. Efforts must help victims reunite with loved ones, repatriate if necessary, and find appropriate redress in court. The work of non‑governmental organizations (NGOs) supported by the Trust Fund was closely coordinated with national efforts, she said, adding that it provided strategic legislative support. Describing examples of good practice — including by NGOs in Mexico and Canada — she stressed that those efforts required money, and urged all States to contribute to the Trust Fund.
Mr. GILMOUR said that growing threats to human rights called for greater awareness of the scourge of trafficking in persons. Acknowledging links between security, human rights and development was crucial to mitigating the drivers of human trafficking and modern slavery. Conflicts and the desire for economic stability had resulted in increased migration, he noted, adding that people forced to migrate could easily be targeted by traffickers. He pointed to the positive shift towards a human‑rights‑based approach in combating trafficking and assisting victims. By grounding mitigation efforts in human rights, the causes of trafficking could be targeted, he said, urging Member States to implement non‑discriminatory assistance mechanisms for victims. He called for consolidating the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking and that for Contemporary Forms of Slavery as a means to provide life‑saving support.
Ms. EZEILO said economic resources did not match the political will to eradicate trafficking. For every four trafficked persons, one was from Africa and two were from Asia, with the rest from other parts of the world. Africa was a major source of trafficking due to intertwining problems of poverty, conflict, ease of travel and demand for cheap labour. She advocated moving from one-size-fits-all to tailor‑made solutions that facilitated the recovery and reintegration of victims. However, the bulk of assistance for victims was borne by NGOs, civil society and faith-based groups, all of which received little support and faced fundraising constraints. Other issues requiring attention related to partnerships, cooperation and funding, as well as victims‑centred and gender‑centred approaches, and the provision of technical assistance to victims organizations. Reiterating the need for resources, she said the multi-billion-dollar trafficking business could not be combated with a few million dollars. “The world can no longer pretend to be deaf to the cries of victims,” she said.
In the ensuing discussion, many speakers emphasized that the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund and its support to grass‑roots and community anti‑trafficking efforts was critical. Many highlighted the importance of both prevention and partnerships and outlined national strategies and policies in that regard.
Others, including the representative of Sudan, described particular challenges faced by their countries in combating human trafficking. Noting that hers was both a source and transit country, she said internal displacement, migration, foreign debt, the effects of climate change and unemployment — all of which threatened the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals — affected some countries more than others.
Many speakers also drew attention to the massive profits resulting from human trafficking around the world, underscoring the need to address both supply- and demand‑side issues and calling for the involvement of both formal and informal economies in that regard. With that in mind, the representative of Mexico called for better engagement with the private sector.
Meanwhile, the representative of the Netherlands emphasized the importance of identifying “hidden” victims. “Not all victims are the same,” he said, urging stakeholders to provide a variety of support services.
The representative of Thailand was among the speakers voicing concern that political will to fight human trafficking was not being matched by financial resources. Noting that his country had contributed to the Trust Fund, he called for deepened partnerships between origin and transit countries, as well as efforts to address the root causes of trafficking.
The representative of Namibia, describing the practice of luring trafficking victims online, said many who were offered marriage and a better life instead found themselves trafficked, enslaved or forced into criminal activities. He proposed that the United Nations and Governments use social media channels to raise awareness.
The representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) joined other speakers in stressing that children must be placed at the centre of anti‑trafficking efforts. Noting that almost a third of trafficking victims were boys and girls, and 8 out of 10 young migrants in the Mediterranean route had reported exploitation, she said all children were entitled to protection under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Social workers must be in place on the ground and officials must be closely linked to child protection services, she stressed.
The representative of the civil society organization Smile of the Child, striking a similar tone, expressed hope that today’s Political Declaration would give an extra boost to efforts to benchmark national anti‑trafficking legislation and the training of magistrates, police, airline staff, border guards and other critical personnel.
Some speakers, including the representative of the Holy See, emphasized the important work of faith‑based organizations around the world.
The representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), pointing to the Political Declaration’s references to the special risks faced by refugees and migrants, recommended that all persons be provided, upon their arrival in a new country, with instructions on how to report trafficking. Registration of all new arrivals should be prompt, comprehensive and accurate in order to identify those in special need of protection, while guardians should be appointed to unaccompanied minors. Young people also should be provided with safe and confidential spaces to meet with caseworkers, she said, as persons who were trafficked across international borders might be legally entitled to status as refugees or asylum‑seekers.
Responding to a question by the representative of the United Kingdom on how to better support victims, Ms. FERRERO-WALDNER said it was crucial first to identify victims, and then to provide them with financial and legal resources.
Mr. GILMOUR said a human‑rights‑based approach was critical, and required training at many levels.
Ms. EZEILO reiterated that “there is no one-size-fits-all” support for victims. “We are dealing with human beings who have gone through tremendous crises and trauma,” she stressed, also urging developing nations not to “play victims” but to address such push factors as poverty and poor governance.
Also participating were the representatives of Qatar and Kiribati, as well as the civil society groups Good Shepherd International and Apne Aap Women Worldwide.