Ghada Waly

Director-General/Executive Director


Panel Discussion Commemorating the 20th Anniversary of the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children and the 75th Anniversary of the Founding of the United Nations

  9 October 2020

Deputy Secretary Biegun,

Ambassador Craft,

Ambassador Richmond,

Excellencies, distinguished participants,

My thanks to the US, Peru and Sierra Leone for holding this important event on how we can advance the fight against human trafficking and better protect victims – challenges that have gained a special urgency in the COVID crisis.

The adoption of the UN Protocol against trafficking in persons in 2000 represented a landmark achievement in addressing this too-often hidden crime affecting the most vulnerable in our societies.

Criminal groups target the most vulnerable in our societies to traffic them for sexual exploitation, forced labour or use in criminal activities in every region of the world, rich and poor.

According to UNODC’s latest data, over 60 per cent of detected trafficking victims are women and girls, while nearly one-third are children.

Human trafficking violates, exploits and abuses. But just two decades ago, human trafficking was shockingly not always viewed as a crime. The women and men trafficked were not always seen as victims. Sometimes they were even blamed for their own misfortune.

Failing to recognize a crime as a crime leaves those trafficked without help or hope, while their traffickers carry on with impunity, failing the crime victims and failing the cause of the justice.

The Protocol offered the first internationally recognized definition of the crime of trafficking in persons. which is now reflected in the national laws of nearly 170 countries around the world. And thanks to the Protocol, we have come a long way in the past twenty years, changing attitudes and improving criminal justice responses.

Together, we have built on the Protocol to develop a comprehensive framework, supporting international cooperation as well as national implementation of its provisions.

The Protocol notably represented a major advance in putting victims at the centre of anti-trafficking responses, and we have continued to strengthen the protection elements of the Protocol in the decades since.

The General Assembly has continuously improved this framework, including through regular review of its Global Plan of Action against Trafficking in Persons.

The Security Council has put the spotlight on human trafficking in conflict and the use of trafficking by terrorist groups by adopting milestone resolutions in 2016 and 2017.

UN action has been underpinned by regional anti-human trafficking instruments and action plans drawing on the Protocol. 

UNODC provides in-country support on the ground through legislative assistance and technical cooperation.

Our experts in Vienna and in more than 40 other locations around the world deliver direct advice and support to police officers, prosecutors and judges as well as victim assistance providers.

Our collective efforts have made a difference.

UNODC, as mandated by the General Assembly, produces the biennial Global Report on Trafficking in Persons. We will be launching the 2020 report in December.

Our comprehensive research covering 145 countries shows that greater investment in capacities has resulted in better investigation and prosecution rates overall.

Since the entry into force of the Protocol, the average number of victims identified globally has tripled, as has the number of traffickers convicted.

Through Protocol implementation, the international community has improved its understanding of trafficking patterns and flows.

This has helped to shed light on less visible forms of exploitation, such as trafficking in persons for organ removal, identify vulnerable groups – including domestic workers, migrants and asylum seekers – and to tailor interventions to women and children.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Building on these hard-won results offers the best hope for preventing more people from falling victim to criminal traffickers.

The COVID crisis and deepening socio-economic inequalities has left many more children, women and men at heightened risk of being trafficked.

As life has moved online during the pandemic, cybercrime and online exploitation are expanding.

There remains much work to be done to address gaps in human trafficking responses.

Trafficking investigations and prosecutions remain low compared with other crimes.

In many countries, traffickers continue to get away with light sentences, and illicit proceeds are often laundered and become difficult to trace or confiscate.

Victim assistance, social protection and effective rehabilitation programmes remain limited.

UNODC is firmly committed to providing comprehensive support to Member States to address these challenges.

Working within the UN system and with other partners, we will help strengthen holistic and coordinated responses, including to address root causes by promoting the empowerment of women and girls as well as facilitating fair work.

Next week, the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocols starts in Vienna.

After years of negotiations, governments have committed to a regular peer review of implementation. This offers a powerful means to identify technical assistance needs and encourage further progress.

The best way for us to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Protocol and the 75th anniversary of the UN is to reaffirm and redouble our commitment to protecting the most vulnerable among us.

We need developed and developing countries alike to share best practices and information, so we can better understand risks and trafficking flows, now more than ever as we deal with unprecedented challenges in the COVID crisis and economic downturn.

We are grateful for the strong support of donors like the United States, and we rely on you to help ensure that the Protocol and review mechanism can live up their potential.

Greater action relies on greater solidarity, to clean up global supply chains, in the private sector as well as in public procurement; to strengthen the capacities of all countries; to address root causes of poverty and lack of opportunity; and to support vulnerable groups who are most at risk

I urge all Member States to make the best use of this opportunity.

Thank you once again for this timely and necessary discussion.