Ghada Waly

Director-General/Executive Director


20th Alliance against Trafficking in Persons, OSCE

  20 July 2020

Minister Lleshaj,

Distinguished panelists,

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be back at the OSCE, this time for the Alliance against Trafficking in Persons. I thank Valiant Richey, the OSCE Special Representative on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, for organizing this important event. 

Far too often the exploitation and abuse of people for profit goes unpunished. The COVID-19 crisis and economic downturn are leaving more women, men and children at risk of being trafficked.

I welcome this meeting to end the impunity, protect the vulnerable and stop this crime.

The Alliance represents a valuable platform bringing together international and regional organizations with civil society partners in the fight against human trafficking.

The OSCE helped to pioneer this multi-stakeholder approach with the launch of the Alliance in 2004.

This experience served the OSCE well when it became the first regional multilateral organization to co-chair the Inter-Agency Coordination Group Against Trafficking in Persons, or ICAT, for 2019-2020.

As the standing coordinator for ICAT, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime has welcomed the OSCE’s support in promoting synergies and harmonized approaches to support Member States to enhance legislation and criminal justice capacities to end impunity for traffickers.

In this context, I very much welcome the inclusion of trafficking in persons among the priorities of Albania’s 2020 OSCE Chairmanship.

At UNODC, we are currently preparing an institutional strategy, to be finalized by the end of the year, as well as a Strategic Vision for Africa 2020-2030, in which the fight against trafficking in persons will be positioned as an important area of expansion.

Facilitating law enforcement and criminal justice cooperation, promoting victim-centred responses focused on women and youth, and improving the world’s knowledge on trafficking trends are among key dimensions which we will be developing.

Today’s meeting is timely as evidence is mounting that the COVID-19 crisis has further increased vulnerabilities and compounded trafficking risks, as highlighted in the ICAT call to action issued in response to the pandemic in April.

Some 60 per cent of the world’s students are still affected by school closures, and the equivalent of 400 million full-time jobs were lost in the second quarter of 2020.

Women and young people are among the worst affected by the crisis. 

Almost 40 percent of all employed women work in hard-hit sectors, according to ILO, and women are more often employed in the informal sector, without social protection.

Almost 77 per cent of the world’s young workers are in informal jobs.

Women and girls also account for more than 70 per cent of detected trafficking victims, while 30 percent are children.

The increase in screen time and online interactions are creating occasions for traffickers to find, contact and exploit victims through online channels.

At the same time, rising poverty and fewer opportunities in the COVID-19 economic downturn threaten to leave many more people at the mercy of human traffickers.

The nexus between poverty, organized crime and human trafficking is becoming increasingly evident, and UNODC research points to learnings from past economic recessions which resonate as warnings in today’s context.

UNODC analysis of trafficking dynamics during and after the 2008 global financial crisis found increases in cross-border human trafficking from countries that experienced the hardest and longest falls in employment.

On the other hand, countries that recovered faster saw fewer outflows of victims.

Governments need to step up action to prevent exploitation in the COVID-19 crisis, to identify and support trafficking victims, and bring perpetrators to justice.

The UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Trafficking Protocol have supported progress on these fronts for the past two decades.

Since the Protocol’s entry into force, more and more victims are being detected. Data collected by UNODC, in its role as guardian of the Protocol, shows a clear link in more than 40 countries between the introduction of anti-trafficking measures and increases in victim detection.

Such measures have also led to more trafficking convictions. The share of countries recording no convictions for trafficking in persons declined from 40% to 9% from 2003 to 2017.

The conviction rates, however, are still very low in many countries.

We look to the OSCE and its region as reliable partners to reinforce efforts to end the impunity of traffickers and secure convictions.

UNODC’s extensive technical cooperation programme supports countries in building the required expertise and strengthening prosecutions.

UNODC has been present in South-Eastern Europe since the early 1990s, and is currently working on the basis of the Regional Programme for the period 2020-2023, which includes a component on trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants.

By helping to establish networks of criminal justice practitioners, including prosecutors, national coordinators and anti-money laundering officials, we are increasing knowledge and information sharing about transnational crime syndicates, and facilitating cooperation on current cases.

One of the most notable achievements of this cooperation was the arrest of perpetrators and the rescue of child trafficking victims in France following a 2018 meeting between French, Romanian and Bosnian investigation teams, which enabled them to exchange critical information.

UNODC is also assisting law enforcement authorities in Central Asia to develop Standard Operating Procedures and police training.

We will be further strengthening our support with the placement of a regional anti-human trafficking advisor in our office in Tashkent later this year.

Furthermore, our Office produces legislative guidance materials and analyses good practices in prosecuting trafficking.

Victims of human trafficking are often also compelled to commit crimes in connection with their victimization. Guidance to criminal justice practitioners and victim-centred approaches are crucial to ensure we punish traffickers, not victims.

UNODC resources for practitioners include a Human Trafficking Knowledge Portal, gathering information on more than 1,500 cases from more than 100 different jurisdictions globally.

Cases from this database are being used in UNODC technical assistance activities, such as capacity building training in the criminal justice sector conducted in 14 countries in South-Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The Knowledge Portal is powered by the electronic platform SHERLOC, to which the OSCE contributes data for its region.

Looking ahead, we will be organizing a joint event together focused on responses to trafficking for sexual exploitation in South-Eastern Europe, scheduled to be held in Croatia in October.

This October, we will also hold the Tenth Session of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, where the new review mechanism for the Convention will offer a valuable opportunity to assess and address challenges in the Protocol’s implementation.

At the ICAT Principals meeting in November, we will have the opportunity, under the OSCE co-chairpersonship, to advance a common vision for ICAT to support coordinated anti-trafficking responses, leveraging our respective expertise and mandates.

This will build on the good work we have been doing together on key issues such as trafficking risks in global supply chains and the impact of technology on trafficking.

We will also be submitting this month, at the request of the European Union, our joint ICAT input to the new EU anti-trafficking strategy.


Ladies and gentlemen,

We look forward to continuing our strong cooperation with the OSCE through ICAT and the Alliance, to help states end the impunity of traffickers and offer protection and assistance to victims.

Last Friday, Secretary-General Greminger and I signed the 2020-2022 Joint Action Plan.

The Plan will further advance our anti-trafficking work and keep this priority high on the international agenda, as we work towards the General Assembly’s appraisal of the Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons in 2021.

Before concluding, I would like to mention that next week, on 30 July, we will be marking the World Day against Trafficking in Persons.

This year, UNODC is launching a campaign that highlights the role of frontline actors in identifying victims and supporting them on their path to justice.

We will also use this opportunity to promote the UNODC-managed UN Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons, which has provided assistance to 3,500 victims a year through civil society partners, including in Serbia, Moldova and Ukraine.

I urge OSCE participating States to contribute to the Fund and its good work.

I hope that you will join our advocacy efforts on the World Day and I look forward to continuing our mutual support and work together to end human trafficking and achieve justice for victims.

I wish you a successful event. Thank you.