Following is UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the high-level meeting of the General Assembly on the appraisal of the United Nations Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons, in New York today:
I thank the General Assembly for convening this important meeting on the United Nations Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons, and I congratulate you, members of the General Assembly, on your successful deliberations on the Political Declaration to be adopted this morning.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, tens of millions of people are victims of forced labour, sexual servitude, recruitment as child soldiers and other forms of exploitation and abuse. Human trafficking is all around us, in all regions of the world. It grips the weakest and most vulnerable, women and girls, but also boys cruelly exploited for sex and vital organs, children forced into endless begging and men into brutal labour.
Countless businesses in the global North and South alike benefit from the misery. From construction to food production to consumer goods, a great many enterprises are touched by the stain. And often, trafficking is intertwined with racial, gender and other forms of discrimination.
In recent years, rising conflict, insecurity and economic uncertainty have brought new tests. As millions of children, women and men spill out of their countries towards safety, they find themselves at the mercy of merciless people. Thousands of people have died at sea, in deserts and detention centres, and at the hands of wretched traffickers.
Criminal networks have used the disorder and despair to expand their brutality and reach. Terrorist groups, such as Da’esh and Boko Haram, continue to seek the capture and enslavement of women, girls and boys. Others use their victims for forced labour. These gangs and groups are global. They are well organized. They are technologically savvy, and highly proficient in taking advantage of gaps in governance and weaknesses in institutions.
We must be equally determined in countering this menace. Too often, human traffickers operate with impunity, and receive much less attention than, for instance, drug traffickers. This must change. I have seen many drug lords in jail — and rightly so. I have never seen a human trafficking lord in jail.
Fighting human trafficking requires us to make greater use of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, as [the President of the General Assembly] has referred, as well as the United Nations Convention against Corruption and other relevant instruments. It also requires much stronger cooperation among Member States, involving the full range of their instruments.
Because traffickers prey upon vulnerable and marginalized people, the problem can seem remote from those members of society who are more fortunate, including political decision makers. By contrast, the threat of illicit drugs typically feels very close — and therefore receives attention and resources from all Governments.
I remember when I was Prime Minister, almost 20 years ago, I always thought my children could one day be victims of drugs. I never thought they would be victims of trafficking. That is why, probably, my Government introduced, and with a lot of commitment, a new drugs policy that even today is considered by many as a reference. But, we did not do enough in relation to human trafficking.
It is clear to me that it is our responsibility as leaders to make human trafficking a real priority for international cooperation. The New York Declaration adopted last year was a welcome step. Next year’s General Assembly conference to adopt a Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration is a further potential milestone.
Refugees and migrants are especially vulnerable, and their plight is only compounded when they are treated as criminals by their host Governments and communities. The international community must create legal and safe migration channels. And in combating trafficking, we must simultaneously uphold the right of refugees to asylum. International cooperation is essential, including for information sharing, law enforcement and legal assistance.
The Security Council has adopted important resolutions targeting the financing of both terrorists and traffickers. We must strengthen support to victims, particularly through the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons, which provides crucial assistance to survivors. No one should have to confront the trauma of their experiences alone. A survivor-centred approach is critical.
Yet, another tool is the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which addresses some of the root causes that make people vulnerable to trafficking. Often, trafficking is abetted by poverty and inequality. Fighting trafficking and advancing sustainable, inclusive development go hand in hand. Our efforts should also involve awareness campaigns. The more people know about the dangers of trafficking, the better equipped they can be to avoid its horrors.
As long as this crime exists, we cannot tell young people that the future will be better than the past; we cannot deliver on a world of hope and opportunity for all; and we dare not look at ourselves without a sense of abiding shame. Now is the time to stand together and stamp out this abominable practice.