Ladies and gentlemen,
I am pleased to be with you to launch the new UNODC toolkit on the investigation and prosecution of trafficking in persons for organ removal.
I am confident that none of us sitting here today could imagine being in such a desperate situation to be coerced into selling their kidney to a trafficker.
That your life is so bleak, that you are so impoverished, that you believe your only hope for a better future is to sell your liver.
Trafficking in human organs is not the imaginary stuff of Netflix.
There is a severe shortage of organs available for transplant worldwide. It is estimated that only 10% of global needs are covered.
The organ trade, including trafficking in organs, generates approximately $840 million to $1.7 billion US dollars annually.
But unlike the movies, the trends we see are that:
-- This is happening in high-end private hospitals as much as at lower-resource hospitals,
-- It is a highly organised transnational crime, that affects all regions in some way – either as a source, transit or destination, and
-- Most of the reported victims are men.
Over the last 15 years, UNODC reported over 700 victims of trafficking in persons for the removal of their organs.
Most of these victims were in 25 countries in North Africa and the Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Central America, Western and Central Europe and Eastern Europe.
But these reported cases are the tip of the iceberg.
There is a lack of reliable global data on the true scale of the problem.
Because trafficking in human organs is a hidden crime.
If we do not actively look for it, traffickers will continue to operate under the radar.
I commend the Governments of Spain, Guatemala, Iraq and Pakistan for drawing attention to this heinous crime. A resolution on trafficking in organs is currently being debated here at the United Nations in New York.
And I trust that with its passage, that the international community will be in a stronger position fight this horrific offence.
And I thank the European Union for its generous support to help the UNODC better understand the extent of this crime. And to expose and end the impunity of traffickers in human organs.
Today’s launch of the toolkit will help investigators and the medical community to join forces to better fight this crime.
The initiative is part of our programme on ‘Global Action against Trafficking in Persons and the Smuggling of Migrants in Asia and the Middle East,’ funded by the European Union.
The toolkit is endorsed by the World Health Organization and peer reviewed by leading transplant surgeons.
It is the first time that this form of trafficking is addressed in depth in any existing manual.
It will give criminal investigators and prosecutors the power to understand the methodology for establishing a complex case of trafficking in persons for organ removal.
And it could not have come soon enough.
Investigators told UNODC that entering a transplant operating theatre was like ‘walking into Mars’. They had no idea where to start in terms of collecting evidence, nor did they know how to do safely and ethically.
Law enforcement from multiple regions also reported to UNODC that they did not have the necessary skills and understanding of the transplant process to start proactively investigating.
Three years in the making, the toolkit outlines the legislative framework, the legitimate transplant process, and the needs of victims.
It includes methods to detect the crime using specialised investigative techniques,
It helps investigators to understand what evidence should be gathered and how.
As well as the most effective ways of prosecuting and proving trafficking in persons cases, including the evidence needed to establish the crime.
The toolkit includes a virtual reality/video tool – whereby thousands of photos from a photo shoot at a hospital in Asia, were put together on a restricted access web platform for training purposes.
Investigators can ‘walk through’ the hospital, identify evidence or lines of inquiry and possible witnesses – from the dialysis ward, the lab, the waiting room, and two operating theatres.
Investigators learn about the key medical equipment, and medicines, used in kidney and liver transplants worldwide.
Given the high level of shame reported by victims, the toolkit also includes a protocol for interviewing victims on this sensitive topic.
Although most of the victims we know about are men, women and children are also affected in gendered ways without male victims able to be breadwinners for the family.
Victims suffer high levels of depression, substance abuse and high suicide rates. Leaving women and children to pick up the pieces.
The toolkit strives to ensure that any victim of organ removal is protected, and that their access to justice is improved.
Our ultimate aim is to identify potential victims before illicit transplants take place.
UNODC will start to roll out the kit in Iraq, Bangladesh and Pakistan before the end of the year.
Moreover, this toolkit strives to bridge the criminal justice response to human trafficking with the medical transplant world.
This requires careful relationship and trust building.
The World Health Organization, and leading transplant surgeons, stand ready to help us to implement the toolkit.
We can only address this crime effectively, if we work alongside our partners, and medical professionals, health officials and civil society.
We must come together to end this abhorrent crime, that so demeans human dignity and the value of life.