Opening Statement of
Pino Arlacchi
to the
International Seminar on Trafficking in Human Beings

28-29 November 2000



Your Excellency Vice President Maciel,
Your Excellency Minister Gregori,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The timing of this seminar is perfect. Less than two weeks ago, the United Nations General Assembly approved the new Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, along with Protocols on the smuggling of migrants and the trafficking in human beings. The three instruments will be opened for signature on December 12th at a major conference in Palermo.

Your work here during these two days will place Brazil among the leaders in converting the Convention into reality on the ground. This has already begun, in fact. I salute President Cardoso for issuing a directive declaring the fight against trafficking in human beings to be a national priority.

In approving the Convention, the world’s governments have declared that it is also a global priority. Trafficking in persons is now the third most profitable business for organized crime, behind drugs and arms. It is also the fastest growing form of international crime, already generating 7 billion dollars per year in criminal proceeds. There are even reports that some trafficking groups are switching their cargo from drugs to human beings, in a search of high profits at lower risk.

We will succeed in our efforts to stop this form of crime only if we achieve a high degree of international cooperation. No country can do it alone. The crossing of borders is no problem for the traffickers. They apply whatever resources are required to move their cargo. And they are always ready to offer bribes when needed.

Cross-border cooperation between law enforcement authorities, on the other hand, can be very difficult. Laws and procedures are different and not always compatible. Some countries have almost no laws at all in this area. The Palermo Convention and Protocols provide standards for national legislation and a framework for countries to cooperate with each other.

Let us look at some figures:

  • Between 300 and 500 thousand women and children are trafficked into Western Europe every year.
  • Around 250 thousand are sold every year in Asia.
  • As many as 50 thousand women and children are trafficked into the United States each year. 10 thousand of them are from Latin America.
  • The total number of women and children trafficked worldwide is somewhere between 700 thousand and 1 million per year.

If we look into the detail, the scope of the human tragedy becomes more apparent:

  • A teenage girl can be bought in Albania for as little as 15 hundred dollars for work in a brothel in Western Europe.
  • Illegal immigrants from China’s Fujian Province pay up to 60 thousand dollars to dealers called "snakeheads"to be smuggled to Canada. Those that reach their destination often find themselves trapped in the drug trade or the sex industry on arrival.
  • 40 to 50 thousand Thai women are working illegally in Japan as prostitutes. They must work up to a year to pay back the 15 to 20 thousand dollar purchase price paid by the brothel owners.
  • A Belgian trafficker charged bordello operators 8 thousand dollars to buy women he had imported from Africa.
  • German brothel owners retain over 90% of the earnings of illegal prostitutes smuggled from Eastern Europe.
  • A 15-year old Cambodian girls is "rented out" for three months for as little as 200 dollars.
  • 30 women are repatriated from Spain to Brazil every month. These represent only those cases detected and successfully prosecuted.

Slavery goes beyond the sex industry:

  • One Mexican crime group has made millions of dollars by forcing handicapped people to become beggars.
  • Domestic servants brought in from abroad are routinely denied their freedom – passport and wages held, movement restricted -- a practice found in several parts of the world.

The catalogue could continue. We are confronting what can only be called the modern form of slavery. Millions of people are being denied the most basic of human rights. They are suffering from physical abuse. Their dignity as human beings is stolen.

Every victim has a story to tell. But very many of these tragic stories never get told – because of fear.

A very important aspect of the Palermo Convention and the Protocols is their emphasis on the protection of witnesses and victims. A prostitute being held in a form of debt bondage is unlikely to go to the authorities for help. The result would be punishment – in some cases death – at the hands of the criminal group that has taken charge of her life.

That is only one part of the threat to her. Instead of gaining her freedom, she may herself be the one who ends up in prison for prostitution. Her situation is further complicated by the fact that she is a foreigner, unfamiliar with local customs and in the country illegally. This also leads her to prison or expulsion. No matter which way she turns, she is the victim.

A potential witness in a case against organized trafficking groups is also likely to hesitate to speak up. Intimidation is a routine practice for organized crime groups.

The Convention and Protocols require governments to provide protection to victims and witnesses. They must know that they will be safe when they tell the truth. Without this assurance, the chances for successful prosecution are greatly reduced.

International cooperation is essential, but prosecution must ultimately take place at the national level. That is the focus of this seminar. By examining the experience of other countries and by exchanging views among Brazilian specialists, you will try to determine what will be the best approach in Brazil.

I take this opportunity to thank the resource persons who will facilitate this process. My special appreciation is extended for the support given by the Ministry of Justice and the Governments of Portugal, Spain, the United States, the United Kingdom, Israel and the Netherlands, along with INTERPOL, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Scotland Yard.

We at ODCCP are committed to supporting the efforts of Governments to strengthen their capacity to interdict the trafficking in human beings. I will soon be signing a project for cooperation with Brazil to reinforce the mechanisms that counter this traffic. The project will support situation analysis and increase investigative capacity and prosecutions. Ultimately, every law enforcement unit, every prosecutor and every judge will need to do his or her part.

Success also depends on the support of the public, a very important factor in a democratic country like Brazil. The public needs to be informed about the nature and extent of the problem so that it can express its will to the leaders of the country. Non-governmental organizations and advocacy groups play a vital role in this regard and must be part of any national strategy against organized crime. The project will provide training for them in how to mount effective public awareness campaigns on the issue of trafficking in human beings.

The clear policies of the Brazilian Government will be supported through this Brazil/ODCCP project. I am very pleased that Brazil will be taking its rightful place as a major partner in our Global Programme against the Trafficking in Human Beings. And I am confident that Brazil will be among the first to sign and ratify the Palermo Convention.

It is not by chance that the new Convention is being signed in Palermo. The victory of the authorities and people of Palermo and Sicily over the Mafia is cause for celebration, and the leaders of the world will join in that celebration when they come to Palermo for the signature.

The real winners in Sicily are the children, women and men whose lives will be safe from exploitation and violence. Our task is to ensure the same security to the entire world. The trafficking and enslavement of fellow human beings is among the most horrible of crimes. We must spare no effort to put an end to it.

I wish you every success in this seminar and in the work you will undertake in Brazil in the years to come.