Excellencies, distinguished panelists and participants,
I wish to thank the Governments of Liechtenstein, Argentina, Australia, Belarus, Kenya and the Netherlands for inviting me as a panelist in this important subject.
After much neglect and indifference, the world is waking up to the reality of a modern form of slavery. Today, there is greater global recognition that many armed groups and terrorist organizations are using sexual violence to advance core strategic and ideological objectives. This includes raising revenue through the sale, trade and trafficking of women and children for purposes of sexual exploitation, including sexual slavery, forced marriage, forced prostitution and forced pregnancy. The promise of ‘wives’ or sex slaves has also become a powerful incentive in the recruitment and retention of young men to their cause.
Indeed, this is a modern manifestation of slavery which is on the rise in numerous conflicts. I have witnessed this first-hand in a number of the situations monitored under the auspices of my mandate:
Last year, in Iraq, I met with many survivors of sexual violence, including from the Yezidi community, who were former captives of ISIS. Over the past few years reporting by my Office has put a spotlight on the open slave markets in Raqqa, Syria, and exposed price lists and so-called Fatwas which regulate the sale, transfer and trafficking of sex slaves. Online sales platforms indicated how enslaved women and girls are being traded for cigarettes or sold for up to $25,000, as an integral part of the political-economy of conflict and violent extremism.
In July 2017, in Nigeria, I met with the Chibok girls as well as other survivors of Boko Haram. These girls were not “abducted” or “kidnapped”. They were enslaved. My meetings with survivors helped me to better understand that Boko Haram’s fighters do not “capture” people: their standard procedure whenever they raid a village is to kill the men and treat women and children as booty of war, to be bargained over and sold for profit.
In May 2018, in Southern Unity South Sudan, 132 women and girls were abducted and sexually enslaved. In another incident in October in Western Equatoria, 505 women and 63 girls were abducted for the purpose of sexual slavery.
Internally displaced populations, refugees and migrants fleeing conflict or passing through conflict zones also face huge risks, such as in Libya and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa. While I was in Niger last year, I met refugee women, girls and men trafficked through Libya, who, devastated by sexual violence and stigma, had nowhere to go even after finally receiving protection.
In 2017 and 2018, I met with Rohingya women and girls devastated by brutal sexual violence in Myanmar, and now also acutely vulnerable to trafficking including for sexual exploitation and prostitution in the camps in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh.
Essentially, these examples show that trafficking and sexual violence, including sexual slavery are not just incidental or opportunistic, but systematic, institutionalized and strategic. Dealing with such a widespread phenomenon requires a concerted global response that is gender-sensitive, survivor-centered and human rights-based.
Therefore, I wish to offer five recommendations to inform our collective response:
- We must ensure that the root causes of trafficking in women and girls are addressed in all trafficking prevention efforts and responses, including structural gender-based discrimination as one of the main drivers;
- Although most countries have criminalized human trafficking, the rate of convictions remains far too low, and victims are not always receiving the protection and services countries are obligated to provide. Therefore, prosecution is required as an integral aspect of prevention. This will be the only way to convert cultures of impunity into cultures of accountability and deterrence.
- We must ensure comprehensive and multi-dimensional services for survivors, including medical and psychosocial care, as well as family tracing and reunification, reparations and financial and livelihood assistance;
- We must strengthen international cooperation and information exchange among Member States, including through bilateral and regional agreements informed by civil society and victims associations, in order to identify victims; judicial cooperation for accountablity; and stemming financial flows from human trafficking networks;
- And finally, in the context of the work of the UN Security Council, I encourage the inclusion of the issue of trafficking in persons for the purposes of sexual slavery and exploitation as a criterion for sanctions, building on the recent designation of 6 traffickers under the Libya sanctions regime.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Nadia Murad, the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize laureate – a young Yezidi woman who was enslaved and raped by ISIL terrorists after they destroyed her village and killed members of her family, reminds us that we must always listen to the people who have been harmed by the crimes we seek to stop, that their testimonies can inform and strengthen our responses, to improve prevention and protect victims.
I urge all governments to heed Nadia’s call.
Women and girls cannot be reduced to a “currency” in the political economy of armed conflict and terrorism. They cannot be bartered, traded, trafficked or ransomed, because their human, sexual and reproductive rights are non-negotiable.