Opening remarks Navi Pillay High Commissioner for Human Rights at the Special event devoted to the first observation of World day against trafficking in persons Geneva, 17 July 2014 Palais des Nations, Room XII

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Opening remarks Navi Pillay High Commissioner for Human Rights at the Special event devoted to the first observation of World day against trafficking in persons
Geneva, 17 July 2014
Palais des Nations, Room XII

Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

The trade in and exploitation of human beings through trafficking is one of the gravest and most comprehensive violations of human dignity that exist. The purposes of trafficking in persons range from forced and bonded labour to various forms of sexual exploitation, forced marriages, removal of organs and other contemporary practices similar to slavery.

Today we have gathered for an important event: the world’s first official day against trafficking in persons. We are here to renew our pledge to uncover and expose traffickers, and to safeguard vulnerable children, women and men from falling prey to exploitation. Above all, we are here to honour and to pledge protection for the victims of these crimes: people whom traffickers have coerced, defrauded and exploited. Young women who have been enslaved as prostitutes or abused as unpaid domestic workers. Girls and boys who have been forced to beg and steal on the street, or exploited in dangerous and back-breaking work. Men who have been trapped in everlasting servitude, in conditions that no human being should have to endure.

These victims of trafficking have frequently been made vulnerable by structural discrimination and inequalities. They may include, for example, teenage runaways, migrants, or members of discriminated minority groups. Often victims of trafficking are individuals in search of a better life for themselves and their families. Traffickers prey on them by offering false hope for a different future.

Every country experiences the crime of trafficking in persons, and every government has a responsibility to fight it, both directly – through investigations and prosecutions – and in the deeper sense of serious and sustained efforts at prevention, which aim to safeguard future generations from such ordeals.

To assist them, there are a number of complementary legal frameworks in place that address various aspects of trafficking in persons and its associated practices, seeking to ensure that such grave crimes are met with thorough investigations and appropriate punishment. They include human rights conventions and conventions on labour, slavery, and crime.

These legal frameworks also seek to promote proper concern for the protection of trafficking victims – ensuring for example that they are not inappropriately prosecuted. This question arises because often, after trapping their victims, traffickers exploit them in criminal schemes. They are therefore exposed to the possibility of being prosecuted as criminals or, because of irregular status, deported. It is vital that they instead be seen as the victims, not the perpetrators, of a crime and a serious human rights violation.

In 2002, OHCHR developed the Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Human Trafficking, in response to the evident need for practical, rights-based policy guidance. The Recommended Principles and Guidelines place the victim at the centre of our work and examine root causes of trafficking. Among them are persistent patterns of discrimination based on ethnic origin or gender; unjust distribution of power; and social exclusion and lack of employment opportunity which may drive people into the hands of trafficking. In receiving countries, patterns of trafficking are fuelled by demand for goods and services derived from exploitation, such as prostitution and cheap labour.

The Recommended Principles and Guidelines have given significant human rights-based emphasis to the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, which was adopted in 2000 as part of the Palermo Protocols. In 2010, further stepping up the UN’s efforts to fight trafficking, the General Assembly adopted the Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons, urging governments to take coordinated and consistent measures to defeat this crime. The Global Plan of Action also highlights the Recommended Principles and Guidelines, and reiterates their call to promote and protect the rights of victims of trafficking, including efforts to reintegrate victims into the community.

My Office supports the invaluable work of the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children; the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography; the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of Slavery; and the Special Rapporteur on Violence against women. I urge every State to extend standing invitations to them, in order to benefit from their recommendations and observations to improve responses to trafficking. I further encourage all States to refer to the work that my Office, in close cooperation with the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, presented to the Human Rights Council in June 2014: a set of basic principles, based on international laws and standards, which aims to provide Member States with useful guidance in implementing the right of victims of trafficking to an effective remedy.

Identifying, assisting, and protecting the victims and survivors of trafficking must be at the centre of our concerns. Firstly, because they have been treated as merchandise, often suffering years of almost unendurable physical and emotional violence. We therefore owe them respect, care, and remedy– insofar as it is possible to recover from such experiences and compensate for such wrongs. But in addition, we should use the services of survivors of these crimes because they have developed expertise from their experiences. They can provide us with the keys to understanding the root causes of trafficking; the operational methodologies of the traffickers; and the best way to hunt down and eliminate these appalling crimes in order to safeguard others.

In 1991 the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery was established to help finance projects that assist survivors. Well over half its grants go to survivors of trafficking, and on this World Day against Trafficking in Persons – which constitutes a significant milestone – I urge all Member States to contribute to the work of the Voluntary Fund.

The General Assembly's decision to mark the global calendar with an annual day dedicated to fighting human trafficking is welcome. Few topics could be as vital or as grave. All of us have a responsibility – and the ability – to help end human trafficking. And our work with survivors, coupled with strong global action by law enforcement, can open the door to real change.

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