Closing remarks

UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa

Vienna Forum to Fight Human Trafficking, 15 February 2008


  • This meeting has been a success, from an organizational, conceptual, institutional and a mediatic point of view. That means that the UN.GIFT intuition we developed about one year ago proved quite novel, and risky - but it worked. 
  • My thanks to all those who contributed to the success - first and foremost to you, the participants. Also my sincere gratitude to the dedicated members of the UN.GIFT team. And again I thank the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi for his generous support.
  • Was it also a success in terms of substance, namely on the impact we expect this Initiative to have on fighting human trafficking?
  • The UN.GIFT mission statement contains two parts: first, improving knowledge and awareness of this tragedy, and second, implementation of the "3 Ps" (as per the Protocol). How did we score?

Awareness has been raised  

  • Media attention was significant: human trafficking is now more visible to both the public and policy makers. Overnight, the UN.GIFT brand - its logo, acronym, and what it stands for - have become recognized worldwide. Of course, brands wither away rapidly, unless nurtured: the challenge is to see how we can strengthen this brand.
  • This journey, which we should undertake together, is symbolized by Emma Thompson's installation, called "the Journey", that we hope to reproduce in different parts of the world and to represent others forms of human slavery. 
  • The Film Forum also contributed to greater awareness. I urge you all to make use of this resource. I am told that some of the films touched national sensitivities. But this is an issue that transcends borders and we have to be honest about it. Nobody is singled out for criticism because we are all guilty. Films were chosen to raise constructive awareness, not to criticize. My thanks to the Suzanne Mubarak Foundation whose support will enable the Film Forum to be shown in other cities.
  • I urge you all - especially the artists, entertainers, celebrities, the media and NGOs who reach a wide audience - to continue your high profile work that brings attention to this tragedy. In the coming months, we hope to trigger large manifestations - such as concerts and exhibits - to mobilize especially the young.

"3 Ps" and implementation of the protocol

  • Long ago we decided not to have any official conclusions for this Forum. The road ahead is already mapped in the UN anti-trafficking Protocol.
  • What is lacking is a mechanism for reviewing implementation of the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, and its Protocols. I hope this will be realized at the Conference of the Parties later this year. The greater the role of Member States in the monitoring, the greater the sense of ownership, and the greater the impact.
  • Roughly one third of UN Member States (76 countries) have not ratified the Protocol. Some major countries have not even signed. It's time to move.
  • For the 116 State Parties to this strong legal instrument, it is time to speed up implementation: to prevent this crime, to criminalize it, and to protect and assist victims. Indeed, a recent study by my Office, soon to be released, shows that implementation of the Protocol is characterized by gaps and omissions. 
  • If these gaps and omissions are the result of neglect, you are now motivated to do something about it. If they are due to lack of capacity, UNODC can help through the provision of technical assistance.  

Technical assistance

  • Fighting human trafficking is not just a legal issue, it is a capacity issue - train your law enforcement officials, judges, and social workers to be sensitive to dealing with human trafficking cases, drawing on good practices that have been highlighted here (for example in the mock trial). UNODC, and other organizations in this hall, can assist.
  • Technical assistance is resource-intensive. Additional UN.GIFT resources are needed to fund capacity building in Member States.
  • We also need better tools. This week I was pleased to launch the Witness Protection Manual. It will enable victims to be assisted, and to collaborate so that justice can be done.

Operational outcomes are becoming concrete

  • A number of specific initiatives have been examined this week. Some of them apply to national conditions, others to industries. Some require public-private partnership.  
  • We need to turn these into concrete projects that will have an impact on the ground:

-         tracking and blocking credit card payments for internet human trafficking transactions.

-         technology to identify, monitor and disrupt human trafficking routes

-         codes of conduct to curb sex tourism ,

-         help lines to report suspected child prostitution or sex slavery

-         social services to stop street begging by exploited children .

-         better supply chain management and corporate self-certification to keep slave-made products off the shelves.

-         targeting human trafficking clusters - regions where this crime is especially acute.

  • During this week, the gruesome issue of the forced removal and trade of human organs received considerable attention. I am looking forward to guidance from Member States on what to do about this problem. 

Enabling factors

  • To move ahead, we need suitable conditions - what we call enabling factors.
  • We need further resources to enter a more operational phase focused on the implementation of projects and research. The UN Foundation provides a useful tax-free vehicle.
  • We also need to improve our knowledge base - build up information and data, and our understanding of what goes on with the double purpose of: first, making policy evidence-based and second, identifying the best way of delivering technical assistance.
  • Throughout the meeting I was asked by the media and government, "how big is the problem"? "Is it growing"? My social scientist training prevents me from passing judgement because the evidence is so shaky. We see the tip of the iceberg, but how deep is this problem below the surface? I appreciate the offers of support from research institutes. UN.GIFT can be a hub for pooling information. Our next report on human trafficking will be released later this year.
  • A less tangible, but equally important, enabling factor is partnership to strengthen our ability to work together. Therefore the importance of strengthening alliances. I was impressed by the high-powered Women's Leadership Council. You are influential leaders and mentors who can drive forward our common agenda, and promote the abolitionist cause among women around the world. I am impressed by the list of specific actions that you have identified this week, and by the fact that the Council is becoming institutionalized. I especially congratulate Baroness Mary Goudie for being elected Chairperson of the Council. UN.GIFT is proud to support you. 
  • I have also been impressed by:

-         The manifestation of corporate responsibility that has been made by the business coalition to make products "slave free". 

-         The work of so many NGOs taking action at the grass roots (to mobilize 1.5 million signatures is amazing).

-         The initiative of members of the media who volunteered to set up an advisory panel to promote films on human trafficking.

-         Parliamentarians have deepened their commitment to, and knowledge of, the cause. At the Parliamentary Forum I was pleased to share the Handbook for Parliamentarians that should assist in putting the Protocol into action.

-         We all appreciated the work of faith-based organizations: they inspire ordinary citizens as much as leaders. Above all they can assist those who are vulnerable, preventing their fall, or assisting their recovery.

Attacking the problem at both ends, reducing supply and demand

  • We must reduce the severity of the problem by attacking it from both ends: reducing supply and demand
  • Concerning trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, at both ends of the spectrum there is a problem of mindset - societal and cultural attitudes towards women.
  • In terms of supply, trafficking is too often the result of gender discrimination. Yes, poverty is a factor, but it is an insult to poor people everywhere to suggest that economic hardship alone would cause them to sell their children. It is a sad truth that in societies where children are sold into slavery, it is usually the girls who are victims. I appeal to parents in such dire straits: love and cherish your daughters as much as your sons.
  • If supply is very much an issue of developing countries, demand - at least for sexual exploitation - is largely the problem of the developed world. So let us not be too quick to pass judgement on sexual discrimination in poor countries. Sexist attitudes, life-styles that insult the dignity of women, and expensive media and advertising campaigns that exploit their bodies create a market for gender-based exploitation.
  • Then there is the issue of labour exploitation - we must understand its complexity. We have yet to resolve the eternal dilemma between the constant quest for low wages, on one hand, and the impact of poverty on the other that dictates that a low wage is better than no wage. The vulnerable are trapped in the middle.
  • A lot has been said this week about children in conflict situations - boys with their guns, girls with their vulnerability. We know the role of organized crime in perpetuating these conflicts. I urge you to use the Convention against Organized Crime as an instrument of peace.
  • We also focused on the mindset of trafficking victims. The psychological scars that they carry are as deep as the physical ones - yet we don't know enough about the healing process, if it takes place at all. Many survivors, even when they are free, can not escape the mental enslavement.
  • UN.GIFT will therefore pay more attention to the mental health of trafficking victims, for example reducing vulnerability to post-traumatic stress disorder, so that these survivors can return to society and rebuild their lives with dignity. We need to engage specialists in this field to make it possible. 
  • We must also better understand the grey areas between human trafficking and illegal migration, forced labour, paedophilia, child exploitation, civil conflicts, and coerced prostitution. Progress in one area can have a positive impact on others.

A tipping point

  • Ladies and Gentlemen, I hope that we have reached a tipping point in the fight against human trafficking. 
  • For that to be true, we must build on the momentum and energy that has been generated this week.  
  • As I stressed in my opening remarks, this Forum should be the beginning of a process, not the end.
  • I urge the UN.GIFT team to provide the background for the upcoming General Assembly thematic debate on human trafficking, and help the GA prepare its own comprehensive strategy for the following year.
  • Ladies and Gentlemen, this Forum has brought out some of the best qualities of humanity to fight against some of its most evil. 
  • Let us say once and for all, human beings are not for sale.