Subject: News/International: WOMEN FOREIGN MINISTERS SEEK END TO HUMAN TRAFFICKING
Date: Wed Oct 13 1999 - 09:50:13 EDT
Inter Press Service
Copyright 1999 Global Information Network
Tuesday, October 5, 1999
RIGHTS: WOMEN FOREIGN MINISTERS SEEK END TO HUMAN TRAFFICKING
By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Oct. 5 (IPS) -- Fourteen women foreign ministers,
including US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, have written to UN
Secretary-General Kofi Annan seeking an end to the widespread practice
of trafficking in women and children.
"On the edge of the 21st century, it is unacceptable that human beings
around the world are bought and sold into situations -- such as sexual
exploitation, domestic servitude and debt bondage -- that are little
different from slavery," their letter said.
The 14 women ministers -- who thanked Annan for focusing international
action on "this heinous practice" -- were from the Bahamas, Barbados,
Bulgaria, El Salvador, Finland, Niger, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg,
Madagascar, Mexico, Mongolia, South Africa, Sweden and the United
Describing themselves as "concerned women" -- the foreign ministers
gave their "strong support for the struggle to end the repulsive
trafficking in human beings."
"We recognize the importance of close international cooperation to
defeat the traffickers at every stage of their criminal activities,"
The ministers also pledged to build strong links among themselves --
and called on other nations to join them. "Our governments are committed
to the eradication of such (human) trafficking," the ministers
They also pledged support for the proposed UN Convention against
Transnational Organized Crime and the protocol on trafficking in
persons, both of which are currently under negotiation.
"Together, we call for the earliest possible completion and full
implementation of the convention and protocol, and commit ourselves and
our governments to doing all that we can to achieve this goal," the
Last week, speaking on behalf of the 15-member European Union (EU),
Finnish Foreign Minister Tarja Halonen expressed concern over the
discrimination of women worldwide.
"We underline the significance of international human rights
instruments designed to protect and promote the human rights and
fundamental freedoms of women," she said.
Halonen said trafficking in human beings violated many of the most
basic human rights and most of the victims of this practice were women
She said that concerted international action was needed in the fight
"The EU supports the work done to develop international standards to
prevent these crimes and to punish the perpetrators," Halonen said.
"Measures must be taken to help victims of this type of exploitation."
The European Union considered human rights essential in the
maintenance of international peace and security, she noted and added
that the United Nations had a primary role in the promotion of universal
respect for human rights.
"They must be further integrated in all UN activities. The promotion
of universal respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms is
central also to the activities of the European Union," Halonen said.
The United Nations, meanwhile, also planned to probe the appalling
working conditions of women migrant workers in the Middle East, many of
whom toiled under conditions of near-slavery.
Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against
Women, said that her office was examining the possibility of a visit to
the Middle East to examine some of the problems facing migrant workers
in the region.
Currently, millions of women workers, mostly domestic servants from
the Philippines, Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh, were reportedly
working under horrendous conditions in Western Europe, East Asia and
primarily in Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait,
the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman. Most Middle Eastern
countries have resisted attempts to open their doors to UN scrutiny.
In a 1995 study titled "Punishing the Victim: Rape and Mistreatment of
Asian Maids in Kuwait", the Middle East Watch said that housekeepers of
Indian, Sri Lankan, Bengali and Philippine origin were targets of rape,
physical assault, non-payment of salaries, debt bondage and abusive work
conditions because of their nationality."
The International Labor Organization (ILO) has reported numerous cases
of maltreatment, sexual harassment and abuse, and excessive workloads.
"The high incidence of non-completion of contracts and premature
returns, especially among women migrating to the Middle East, has been
interpreted as indicative of the stressful nature of their situation,"
Salma Khan of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination
against Women said abuses committed against female migrant workers was
of great concern to her Committee. "Many of the women migrant workers
were being trafficked and abused," she added.
Khan also said that migrant workers were not provided with the
information and training they needed before proceeding to work overseas.
Most migrant workers, who left their spouses and children, caused new
social problems, including broken homes and single parent families.
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