By Alandra Scott, Dominican Volunteer
Recently The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the Group of Friends United against Human Trafficking held the event; In Stronger Partnership and Better Coordination of Efforts to Stop Human Trafficking: Eradicating Modern-Day Slavery through Sustainable Development. At this event, many ambassadors, state representatives and Civil Society Organizations gathered to discuss solutions to combat this atrocious injustice.
Keynote speaker Mira Sorvino is an Academy Award winning actress who in addition has been affiliated with Amnesty International since 2004. Mira Sorvino has been a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador to Combat Human Trafficking since 2009 and has lobbied Congress to abolish human trafficking in Darfur. At the meeting she told a compelling narrative of her first emotional outburst at an official UN meeting. She was angered with the slow pace of the UN processes. This reality was hard for Mira to accept when so many survivors as well as victims who are still enslaved have no time to wait for another resolution or a loosely agreed to policy. They need change now. Mira believes that there is but one battle and it is everyone’s to lose or to win. This is the battle against the sale and enslavement of humans, with particular focus on those most immediately vulnerable including– women, girls, boys, disabled persons, those in conflict- stricken regions, displaced persons, and migrants. A representative from International Organization for Migration then went on to explain the horrifying reality in which one of every three persons trafficked is a child, bringing attention to an incredibly vulnerable and increasing population of unaccompanied child migrants.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts peoples’ intrinsic right to be free, yet today over 20 million people are trapped in the grip of exploitation and slavery. Member states of the United Nations have accepted this declaration and therefore have an obligation and a responsibility to protect the rights of their citizens while simultaneously not infringing on the rights of others. The panelists reaffirmed the promotion of human rights as an essential tool in the fight against human trafficking.
As of 2014 the number of trafficked persons has increased by 30 million. A representative from The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees noted that more than 42,000 people are forced to flee their homes every day and this issue is more visible than it has ever been. Compounding the injustice of forced migration is the less visual violence occurring simultaneously and covertly, trafficking of human persons. In addition over the past two years over 10,000 vulnerable and unaccompanied children migrated to Europe and have disappeared after registering with state authorities. In Central America, South America and Asia conditions for migrants and vulnerable populations are worsening due to the illicit drug trade, violence, and lack of sustainable livelihoods. This has dramatically increased their susceptibility to being trafficked not only in their home communities, but on their travels after being forced out of their homes.
In 2010, the Global Plan of Action To Combat Trafficking in Persons was adopted by member states at the UN.3 This plan urges nations to take concrete action to protect the victims of trafficking and to prosecute those responsible. The Global Plan of Action calls for a mainstreaming of the reality of human trafficking into the consciousness of society. The panelists also praised Agenda 2030 – The Sustainable Development Goals, drawing attention to the following goals, all of which include targets aimed at eliminating human trafficking: goals 5 (Gender Equality), goal 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) and goal 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions). The panelists also expressed the need to address the root causes which create situations where people, particularly women and children, are at risk of being trafficked.
In the words of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, “all people have the right to live in inclusive societies, free from fear, violence and in a world of justice and accountability; a place where all dignity is recognized.” For solutions to be successful in the eradication of trafficking they need to be inclusive and sustainable. This collective vision calls for more meaningful international cooperation, stronger partnership and robust technical assistance. Many UN officials pointed to the hope they hold for the High Level Political Forum in September and the World Humanitarian Summit in May for additional strengthening of international cooperation and political will.
H.E. Ambassador Mendelson of the US Mission to the United Nations noted that both domestically and internationally there needs to be a continued commitment to the integration of human trafficking into the UN agenda. She expressed hope in the role of this event in identifying concrete steps to eradicate slavery. Ambassador Mendelson also mentioned the new advisory council on human trafficking created by President Obama. One of the most important aspects of this council is that it consists of eleven survivors. The council will aide in the formulation and the implementation of laws and policies aimed at eliminating trafficking.
For years Civil Society Organizations and Non-governmental Organizations have been advocating for better systems of identification of victims, identification of perpetrators and assistance for survivors. The panelists also reaffirmed this essential piece. Also brought to light at the event was the reality that today only one in one hundred victims will be rescued. This is unacceptable to say the least.
The last panelist, a survivor of child trafficking, highlighted the importance of survivor-led solutions. She spoke about the global Survivor Network Platform, a coalition of NGOs and CSOs worldwide, working tirelessly to abolish modern-day slavery. Through connecting survivors across the country, the platform “supports and encourages survivors to realize and develop confidence in their own leadership qualities and for others to learn to value their insight not just as survivors but as experts in the field.” As for corporate and private sector responsibility, she tells of the Freedom Seal Program a visual marker for businesses to express they are actively evaluating their supply chains for warning signs of trafficking and inhumane treatment of people. In closing she implores all of us to take the time to do something concrete in our daily lives on the behalf of the millions of people that are silenced.