United Nations General Assembly urges stronger action against human trafficking

4 June 2008 - At any given time, millions of people are probably suffering the exploitation of modern-day slavery.  No country is immune from human trafficking, a crime that that shames us all. UNODC reports that victims from 127 countries undergo exploitation in 135 nations. And human trafficking is big business. The United Nations and other experts estimate the total market value of illicit human trafficking at $32 billion.

This global challenge cannot be dealt with successfully by any government alone. On 3 June, the United Nations General Assembly, representing all 192 UN Member States, held a thematic debate to consider the most effective ways to combat human trafficking.  

The Organization's "global parliament" urged States to make good on their promises. General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim asked: "Why with all these laws and international agreements in place, why is the problem getting worse? I would argue that our increasing interdependence has provided new avenues for criminal networks to operate on a global scale".

UNODC is custodian of the the key global instrument to fight this crime - the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children , which came into force in 2003. UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa encouraged all States to come on board. "Political will is growing, as evidenced by the increasing number of countries that have ratified the UN Protocol against Trafficking in Persons (currently 119) - although that means that there are still more than 70 countries that have not signed up. Now is the time," Mr. Costa said.

The thematic debate focused on the three "Ps" of the Protocol: prevention, protection and prosecution.  It built on the momentum generated by the first-ever global forum held in Vienna in February 2008 by the UN Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT) and UNODC.  That forum brought together 1,200 government and civil society representatives, as well as celebrities, philanthropists, the media, parliamentarians, business leaders and faith-based organizations from 116 countries to launch an unprecedented global effort. 

The Global Initiative was established in recognition of the fact that human trafficking takes many forms and that coordinated action is required from all sectors of society. UNODC manages UN.GIFT in cooperation with the International Labour Organization; the International Organization for Migration (IOM); the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF); United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  

Mr. Costa said awareness of human trafficking was growing, thanks to the Global Initiative. But he acknowledged the dearth of information about the extent of the problem. "We still do not have an accurate picture of the true extent of this crime: about trafficking routes, trafficker profiles, as well as vulnerable groups and regions. To overcome this information deficit, we are undertaking a data collection exercise that will provide a global overview of the human trafficking situation based on official information and data".  He asked States for their help in this process.

K eynote speaker, US actress and philanthropist Ashley Judd, said that during her travels she had also met countless children born in brothels and watched them hide under the very beds where their mothers were subjected to the most degrading life. "Children are the collateral damage of human trafficking," she said.

Kyung-wha Kang, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights stressed that human rights are at the centre of anti-trafficking work. "We must not be so callous and short-sighted as to think that trafficking can be dealt with solely as a problem of law enforcement or organized crime," Ms. Kang said.