Towards a Global Plan of Action to Fight Human Trafficking United Nations General Assembly PDF Print E-mail
UNODC Speeches (2002-2010)

21 April 2010


Honourable Co-chairmen and Cofacilitators,

Ladies and Gentlemen,


Two hundred years ago, revolutions on both side of the Atlantic, as well as Parliaments with landmarks legislations, put and end to the slave trade across the Atlantic.


The rest is history:  slavery was abolished.  Right?  I fear the past is not dead.  It is not even past.


While open slave trade has ended, human trafficking, exploitation and modern slavery persist as multi-billion dollars activities, at the expense of millions of victims.


Where are the victims deprived of liberty, duped or coerced into forced labour, locked up, abused and forced into servitude?  They all around us: in sweatshops, in mines or on farms, doing dirty, dodgy or dangerous work, or in the sex trade – enslaved and indebted to their masters, afraid or unable to escape.

How can we free them? The member states of the United Nations have taken a giant leap forward when – ten years ago – agreed to the Protocol Against Human Trafficking, that entered into force on Christmas day 3 years later.  Call the Protocol step-one of global efforts to free today-slaves.


Indeed, over the years, the Protocol has created the legal framework for action.  It has helped move the issue up the political agenda, with the support of the General Assembly, the Secretary General and many UN entities.   It has helped spark the attention of the public, and of those (media, celebrities, artists) that shape it.  Documentaries, films, press reports are now quite abundant.


Human trafficking is an issue that stems from so many root causes and cuts across so very different sectors.  It requires a coordinated response – within and among countries, as well as within the UN family.  We have had a number of attempts to work together against this crime:  many regional endeavours promoted by member states, additional legal instruments, and the multilateral initiatives like ICAT, UN.GIFT etc.  The Secretary General Report on Improving the Coordination of efforts against trafficking in persons provides abundant food for thought on how to move forward.  


Such coordination is essential because of the comprehensive nature of this crime, and the large number of actors involved.  Call this step two in the process.   For sure there is enough work for everyone.  But we need something more – and there I wish to pay tribute to the member states that had the intuition, actually the vision to envisage the constructive role a General Assembly-sponsored Global Plan of Action could do to help – and let’s call this step three in our joint work to free the slaves.


Also today only the tip of the human trafficking iceberg is in front of our eyes:  we need to push the rest of this massive problem out in the light.  A clearer view of global trends will ensure that policy is based on facts. I urge countries to collect and share information on human trafficking.  I hope the Plan of Action will ask for the development of technical guidelines and definitions to do so in a consistent manner.


Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,


Bonding legal and operational initiatives


You are discussing here the bonding of rules of engagement (the, Protocol, as a legal instrument) and operations (the Plan of Action).  I would like to recommend to progress to be made on two fronts, in parallel.


First, regarding the Protocol, we need to engage in a review process to show that progress is being made and the crime is being contained, even reduced in view of its elimination.  This can be best accomplished by taking seriously the Conference of the Parties of the UN Convention against Organized Crime (UNTOC) to take place in Vienna late this Fall.  The Antic-Trafficking protocol is part of this Convention:  if in Vienna the parties agree to a monitoring mechanism based on peer review, with the support of a UN secretariat (UNODC), then in not-such-a-distant future we shall be able to provide to governments in depth assessment of the situation on the ground, the progress being made, the need for technical assistance.  From that point your deliberations in fighting human trafficking will be evidence based:  they are not, at present. 


Second, I recommend that you make the Action Plan as concrete as possible, able to support and complement the protocol, but proactive in telling institutions and people how to bring about the fight against this crime.  The Protocol is about what to do, in terms of legal commitment.  The Plan of Action is about how to do whatever is needed.  I’ll no give several concrete aspects you may wish to consider, operational measures that will help turn the Plan into an operationalization of the Protocol.  You are by now familiar with the 3 “P” (prevention, prosecution and protection):  allow me to repeat some of the points I raised a few weeks, in a related statement.


Regharding prevention.  The Protocol requires member states to establish a national strategy.  On its part the Plan of Action should include:

1.       Measures to link up national campaigns with civil society, information and media, to warn potential victims of the dangers they face, with global efforts to raise awareness and discouraged demand.

2.       Poverty, ignorance and lack of opportunity are not legal, but contextual conditions:  The Plan should show how to mobilize funds to alleviate the vulnerability of people.

3.       Law enforcement agencies run networks to exchange information on trafficking routes, traffickers’ and victims’ profiles.  The Plan may offer advise how to plug into them

4.       National governments and specialized institutions like UNODC are at times too weak to face the global crime of modern slavery.  I recommend that the Plan suggests means for development institutions to channel assistance to vulnerable regions/groups. 

5.       Similarly I suggest that the Plan looks into ways for intelligence agencies cooperate to stop transactions?


Regarding prosecution, the Protocol requires governments to enact anti-trafficking laws.  On its part the Plan of Action may:

1.       Focus on the capability of each country’s judicial system to face what is indeed a difficult task of recognizing and protecting the victims, while establishing a system of penalties congruent to the severity of the crime.  Above all the Plan should examine ways to assess the much needed technical assistance, since most of the source countries (of victims), do not have adequate judiciary.

2.       The Plan may also consider ways to mobilize international institutions specialized in the protection of women and children.

3.       One of the problems UNODC has faced on the ground regards lack of domestic cooperation between social, humanitarian and law enforcement agencies.  The Plan may therefore advice on the needed coherence among specialized agencies, and show how international mechanisms can help.


Finally, the Protocol imposes victim protection programs for their physical and social recovery:  that is now the law of the (UN) land, so to speak.  The Action Plan must supplement this in various ways:

1.       I insist on the importance for the Plan to address the question of social workers ability to master the languages of victims coming from the four corners of the world.  There are specialized technologies now in place to alleviate the suffering:  the Plan must advocate their use of these high-tech tools – some developed by UNODC itself.

2.       Rescued victims require visas, housing and resources to start a new life, as well as compensation.  The Plan may wish to suggest the use specialized philanthropic services;


I have listed a few measures that can help available individuals and nations alike.  Yet to succeed, individuals and nations need to act together. The Protocol of course is all about governments’ role in fighting slavery:  it says little about the concrete role of individual UN entities and other stakeholders – media and the private sector -- whose involvement and coordination is crucial.  It is imperative for the Plan of Action to supplement the Protocol by developing ways and means for make individuals (and society at large) work together with governments. What can the media, the tourism industry, or the information technology do to help the cause?  Specialized dialogues with faith based communities, parliaments and the showbiz will help develop awareness among potential victims.


We, at UNODC, are looking for freedom fighters.  Make the Action Plan a call to sign up and volunteer.  Inspired by the abolitionists a couple of hundred years ago, make the Plan of Action robust and effective.  -- and plan using it at the national level with unmitigated determination.  The pre-conditions for success are here:  if we fail, history will not be kind to us.

Last Updated on Friday, 15 April 2011 13:32