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Homeland Security


Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

19 July 2007

Actress Julia Ormond, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Goodwill Ambassador against human trafficking, today called for concerted action by Governments, civil society, the private sector and individuals, bolstered by an honest global analysis of all the data, to combat this modern form of slavery, which was fast becoming one of the most profitable criminal activities worldwide.

Horrified by the extent of the problem, the depth of the experience for the victims, and the extraordinary level of profit to the traffickers, Ms. Ormond told reporters at Headquarters this afternoon that ultimately what was needed was “a transnational organized response to transnational organized crime”. The billion-dollar trade in human beings included everything from child soldiers forced into combat and young boys kidnapped and turned into camel jockeys, to women duped into domestic work far from home and young fishermen boys forced to dive in the dark and drown.

Speaking to the press following informal, closed-door talks among the Security Council, global experts on human trafficking and top United Nations anti-crime officials, she said that the same criminals who trafficked in weapons and drugs were increasingly shifting to human trafficking largely because “virtually nothing” was being done to address demand and, tragically, there was a phenomenal, endless supply of vulnerable people. To this end, she urged Governments to ensure implementation of the United Nations Anti-Trafficking Protocol as part of a much-needed holistic response to a global threat.

She also stressed that trafficking was “not just about prostitution”. In fact, forced labour in agriculture and mining were now thought to be the most prevalent forms of human trafficking. There was also a misconception that trafficked persons tended to be illegal aliens, visa violators or asylum abusers, which led them to be viewed suspiciously as criminals.

That mistaken belief shifted the focus from the real criminals -- the traffickers -- to the victims, who were often pursued and expelled from countries rather than supported. She stressed that some States, which were tightening border controls or placing sever restrictions on transit between countries, were actually pushing desperate people into the hands of traffickers “by making immigration illegal”. Indeed, many trafficking issues could be addressed by providing temporary visas -- a sure way to take money out of the hands of traffickers.

She believed that a breakthrough was on the horizon as the links between trafficking -- particularly prostitution rings -- and terrorist groups were being uncovered. Trafficking was about profit -- it was about criminals creating opportunities to make profit, and experts had begun to discover many terrorist actors were now financing their operations through various forms of human trafficking.

By example, she highlighted academic research that had revealed, among other things, that the traditional practice of trafficking girls from Nepal to the brothels of India had been taken over by Nepalese insurgents to fund their fight against the State. Further, in northern Uganda, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) was abducting young children and forcing them to fight as soldiers or turning them into sex slaves.

Responding to questions, she said that there was a lot of finger-pointing when figures were tossed around, but the statistics everywhere were horrific. The one reality was that trafficking was going on everywhere and “none of us has done enough”. It must be addressed through a holistic approach -- at national, regional, subregional and local levels -- with an emphasis on a global analysis of all the research and all the statistics, which was “completely lacking”. Without clear statistics, traffickers could find protection gaps and continue their abuse of innocent vulnerable people.

Joining Ms. Ormond was Antonio Maria Costa, head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, who said that one of the main things that had become clear during the discussions with the Council was that the problem was bigger, more widely spread and more violent that was commonly thought. “Those who don’t see it are not looking for it,” he said, stressing that: “We all can do something, whether it is Governments, individuals, the private sector or civil society.”

Most of all, he added, the international community could do more to ensure implementation of the Protocol, for which support had been seriously lagging. He said the United Nations Global Initiative against Human Trafficking (UN-GIFT), was gaining momentum. That Initiative, generously funded by one Gulf State, aimed to, among other things, raise awareness about the crime and mobilize people to stop it, strengthen prevention efforts and boost support for victims.

The briefing was opened by British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry, who had chaired the Council’s discussions. He told reporters that, during the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the abolishment of the trans-Atlantic slave trade this past March, many Governments had pledged to fight against all forms of modern slavery, especially trafficking, which was taking place on a scale that was largely unappreciated. Indeed, it had been estimated that, over the past decade in South Asia alone, some 30 million people, mostly children, had been trafficked.

“This is the scale of the challenge,” he said, stressing that the global nature of human trafficking undermined States and was intertwined with organized crime and terrorism. It was a business where the risks were low and the profits were high, and “we have to change that balance drastically”. There was a great need for the United Nations as a whole, not just the Security Council, to tackle the problem. He also said that the UNODC should be given more resources to deal with the myriad challenges posed by human trafficking.

Asked by a reporter about the state of the negotiations on a just-circulated Security Council draft resolution on the status of Kosovo, Ambassador Jones Parry said that there was “still some disagreement” about the text that had been tabled by the United Kingdom, France, and the United States. “Indeed, one permanent member of the Council had said that the text had a ‘zero probability’ for its adoption,” he added, noting that that particular country could say that with confidence since it possessed a veto. He could only conclude that “we run the risk that we’re not going to progress in the Council”.

At the same time, he stressed that it would be “deeply irresponsible” to imagine that the Council was not going to try to proceed and try to tackle the issue, particularly since it was a source of tension in the region and was clearly one of the “last pieces in the Balkan jigsaw-puzzle” before the establishment of relations between the region and the European Union. There was a plan in place to move towards a “very carefully managed status that would lead to independence”, but done on a controlled basis. “Anyone who prevents that and unwittingly precipitates problems in the region bears a heavy responsibility.”

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For information media • not an official record

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