FW: Address by UNHCHR on Trafficking and the Sex Industry

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Subject: FW: Address by UNHCHR on Trafficking and the Sex Industry
From: Gillian Caldwell (caldwellg@LCHR.ORG)
Date: Tue Jun 22 1999 - 10:16:09 EDT


                    ADDRESS BY MARY ROBINSON


                         Geneva, 21 June 1999

 Ladies and Gentlemen, Madame Chairperson,

 I would like to begin by welcoming you all to this important event.
In particular I extend a warm welcome to the Organizers: Anti-Slavery
International, The International Movement Against Discrimination and
Racism; the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women; and the
International Human Rights Law Group. I also welcome the Chairperson
and members of the Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery;
representatives of international agencies and representatives of
non-governmental organizations.

 It is a significant achievement to have assembled so many of the key
players in one room. I am sure you share my hope that this unique
opportunity results in practical progress on this critical issue of

 Everywhere I travel I see evidence of the growing problem of
trafficking and its links to the global sex industry. Invariably, the
picture presented by the victims of trafficking is of money being made
at the expense of human dignity and freedom. During a visit to
Cambodia in January 1998 I heard first-hand accounts of the brutality
inflicted on women and girls who had been trafficked into
prostitution. When I went to the Former Republic of Yugoslavia and
neighbouring States in May of this year I found that the growing
problem of trafficking was adding to the miseries of the refugee
population in that part of the world. I have just returned from Russia
where I heard stories of huge numbers of Russian and Ukranian women
being tricked or coerced into situations of danger and exploitation.
Poverty, inequality and discrimination seem to be the unifying factors
in each of these sad situations.

 The sheer scope of the worldwide trade in human beings and the misery
it generates can appear overwhelming. In the face of such odds I am
encouraged by the energy and determination which I have witnessed in
the non-governmental community. That is what struck me while visiting
the makeshift women's shelter in Cambodia. Today I see it again in
this room. It is thanks to you and to your compatriots in the field
that trafficking is on the international political agenda. We must
continue the fight in order to ensure that this attention results in
the kind of policy and attitudinal changes which are so necessary.

 While congratulating ourselves on certain successes we must remain
aware of the fact that ideological and conceptual differences have
prevented significant progress. I refer in particular to the debate over

prostitution which has both energized and polarized the anti-trafficking

community. We must accept the fact that opinions will differ on certain
key issues. Differences of opinion are to be expected and can even be a
positive force. Such differences should not, however, be allowed to take

over. The resulting paralysis does a great disservice to the women,
children and men who most need our help. I see this meeting as an
important step forward. I encourage participants to identify the many
commonalities which should allow us all to work productively together.

 My own position and that of my Office is based on two fundamental

 - First: that human rights must be at the core of any credible
anti-trafficking strategy; and
 - Second: that we must work from the perspective of those who most
need their human rights protected and promoted.

 These two principles are of course, interrelated. By placing human
rights at the centre of our analysis, we are forced to consider the
needs of the trafficked person - and thereby to confront the poverty
and discrimination which is at the root of this phenomenon. I note and
take great encouragement from the fact that human rights are to be the
focus of these Consultations

 What does it mean to make human rights the core of our
anti-trafficking work? For me it means first and foremost,
acknowledging that trafficking and related practices such as debt
bondage and forced prostitution and false marriage are themselves a
violation of the basic human rights to which all persons are entitled.
The right to life; the right to dignity and security; the right to
just and favourable conditions of work; the right to health; the right
to be recognized as a person before the law. These are rights which we
all possess - irrespective of our sex, our nationality, our social
status, our occupation or any other difference.

 A human rights approach also demands that we acknowledge the
responsibility of governments to protect and promote the rights of all
persons within their jurisdiction. This responsibility translates into
a legal obligation on governments to work towards eliminating
trafficking and related exploitation. Passivity and inaction are
insufficient. Tolerance or complicity are inexcusable.

 Finally, for me, as High Commissioner, a human rights approach to
trafficking means that all parts of the United Nations, not just my
Office, should integrate human rights into their analysis of the
problem and into their responses. This is the only way to retain a
focus on the trafficked person: to ensure that trafficking is not
simply reduced to a problem of migration, a problem of public order;
or a problem of organized crime.

 That brings me to the work of my Office. Very soon after my
appointment I decided that trafficking must become a priority area of
our work. The recent allocation of financial and human resources has
enabled me to set up a modest Anti-Trafficking Programme. The basic
objective of the Programme is to work towards the integration of human
rights into international, regional and national anti-trafficking
initiatives. Our emphasis is on legal and policy development. We do
not aim to undertake large-scale projects or to otherwise duplicate
the excellent initiatives which are being undertaken elsewhere.
Instead, as far as possible we try to act as a catalyst and a support
for the work of others. I will try, in the very short time remaining,
to give you some examples of our work.

 At the international level my Office has been closely following the
development of two important Protocols to the draft Convention Against
Transnational Organized Crime. One of these protocols concerns illegal
migration. The other deals with trafficking of persons. We have
analysed both draft instruments from a human rights perspective and
submitted this analysis - together with specific recommendations - to
the Ad-Hoc working Group responsible for the drafting process. I need
not remind you all that this process represents the first legislative
consideration of the trafficking issue in over half a century. It is
very important to ensure that the end result represents a step forward
in eliminating trafficking and securing the rights of trafficked
persons. At a very minimum we must ensure that there is no retreat
from earlier legal commitments.

 It is equally important for us to make the link between illegal
migration on the one hand, and trafficking in persons on the other.
These are rightly being considered as two separate issues. However, the
cross-over potential is enormous. Today's illegal migrant may well be
yesterday's - or tomorrow's - trafficking victim. Both situations
present a grave threat to the protection of human rights and both
therefore deserve our closest attention.

 My Office is increasingly directing its anti-trafficking activities
to the regional and sub-regional levels. In Central and Eastern Europe
we are cooperating with the Council of Europe and IOM on a project
which is initially targeting refugees from Kosovo The purpose of the
project is to help prevent the trafficking of vulnerable refugee women
and girls out of Albania. This is an emergency and I am pleased to be
able to report that it is being treated as such. Our Office in
Sarajevo is also undertaking significant preventive and assistance
work throughout the territory of the Former Yugoslavia. We recently
established a small trust fund to enable this Office to provide
emergency support to trafficked women as well as to provide grants to
local NGOs working in this area.

 In the Asian region our attention is focussing on the draft
Convention on Trafficking in Women and Girls which is being elaborated
under the Auspices of the South Asian Association for Regional
Cooperation. My concerns here are identical to those I expressed earlier

in connection with the Vienna Protocols. The SAARC Governments are to be

congratulated for taking up this complex and problematic issue. At the
same time it is essential that all efforts be made to ensure that the
end result represents an advance for trafficked persons and their human

 In Nepal my Office is currently developing a project, along with the
local UNDP Office which will pilot a rights-based approach to the
trafficking problem. The pilot will initially be implemented in two
districts in Nepal. We are relying very heavily on the local NGO
community to ensure the success of this important endeavour.

 Finally, but importantly, recent and significant contributions to UN
Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery have enabled us to provide
a number of travel and project grants to NGOs working on behalf of
victims of trafficking.

 The continuing relevance of our Programme depends very much on
external feedback. For that reason I have asked my Trafficking Adviser
to schedule an informal discussion session during the course of this
week. I hope this session will give you a chance to learn more about
what we are doing. I also hope you take this opportunity to give us
your views on other ways in which my Office could contribute to the
fight against trafficking.

 Ladies and Gentlemen;

 We all agree on the enormity of the problem and on the difficulty of
developing credible solutions. We should not allow differences of
emphasis to turn into divisions that prevent us from realizing our
common goal - to stand up for the rights of victims of trafficking
wherever and whoever they are. We will only succeed if we harness our
collective endeavours. I urge you to work together in a constructive,
cooperative spirit. I urge you to take up the tools of human rights in
your fight against trafficking and to focus on the needs of trafficked
persons. That is the way forward and I am proud to be part of this

 Thank you.

FW by Harvetta Asamoah

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