Ladies and gentlemen,
I am pleased to address this high-level event, organised by the Government of Belgium in collaboration with Switzerland, and I am thankful for their leadership to combat the growing scourge of trafficking in persons in conflict and crisis situations.
Today the world is facing the highest number of violent conflicts since 1945.
Two billion people are currently living in conflict areas.
And we witnessed a record number of 56 State based conflicts in 2020.
This situation is ripe for human traffickers and smugglers to thrive.
Conflict fuels impunity and the breakdown of law and order.
But it is not only conflicts: severe climate and droughts, poverty, joblessness, and vulnerability are all on the rise.
Such crises enable criminal networks to operate unchecked, including across borders.
It destroys our institutions.
It destroys our communities.
And it destroys our humanity.
Women become commodities, bought and sold for sex. Or they are abducted and forced to marry.
Children are used as soldiers, weaponized to fight and kill, at the orders of armed groups, militias, and extremists.
And victims escaping conflicts may be enticed into undertaking long and hazardous journeys or pressured into signing contracts from which there is no escape. They are exploited sexually and as laborers, or forced into criminality.
We have seen this in Afghanistan, Syria and the Sahel.
We have seen this in Libya, Venezuela, and with the Rohingyas crisis.
Recent research shows that human trafficking was present in 90 percent of the 171 global wars and conflicts that broke out between 1989 and 2016.
Listening to these statistics, it is easy to forget the individuals behind them, their trauma, and their suffering.
As we sit here in our comfortable meeting room at the Vienna International Centre, the battlefields feel far removed.
But it is our collective job to help protect the people we serve.
Those who are vulnerable or victimised by human traffickers.
The judiciary, law enforcement, the humanitarian sector and civil society – all have a significant role.
No one organisation can fight this menace alone.
The private sector -- especially social media platforms, internet service providers, and technology companies -- must do more.
Political instability, economic turmoil, and misuse of technology constantly create new challenges.
We must come together to adapt and work harder to stay ahead of the perpetrators and protect vulnerable people.
This starts by ensuring victims are afforded their rights and protections. And that preventative actions to combat trafficking are integrated into the Women, Peace and Security agenda.
Because the international community has said it clearly: no more human trafficking.
The UN Protocol on Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, is almost universal, with 179 State parties.
Promoting the rule of law and access to justice is at the heart of UNODC’s work.
We support countries to develop national action plans, strategies, and legislation to counter trafficking based on prevention, protection and prosecution.
We support countries to strengthen their judicial systems and comply with the protocol.
We help to train people working in the criminal justice sector, from police officers to Judges.
UNODC also assists countries to strengthen their border management and cross-border collaboration.
And we call on our criminal justice systems to do more to collaborate, share data, intelligence, and information to stop traffickers.
Equally important is our support to empower humanitarian agencies to integrate measures to combat human trafficking across their work.
Because it is critical that anti-trafficking responses are initiated at the very outset of a conflict.
We must also hit the traffickers hard and where it hurts most – their finances.
For example, UNODC is currently working on a regional study to expose how financial flows are linked with trafficked people and smuggled migrants coming from Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.
As digital technology becomes more sophisticated and widespread, traffickers are using social media platforms to identify and attract their victims. In a sample of cases reviewed by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in 2020, more than 50 percent of victims identified had been trafficked through social media channels.
We need to raise awareness among social media users.
We need to equip responders with the knowledge, skills, and software to tackle the threat posed by cyber-enabled trafficking.
UNODC works in countries confronting crises and conflicts around the world.
We are still present in Afghanistan. We have an expanding programme in Iraq. And we work in Jordan and Lebanon to identify and protect victims of trafficking among Syrian refugees.
In Malawi, UNODC collaborated with its partners to control the widespread exploitation of refugees in the Dzaleka Refugee Camp. This has led to the rescue of over 90 victims and the arrest of five suspected traffickers.
In Mali, together with our partners, we trained police officers serving in the MINUSMA peacekeeping operation to identify and respond to human trafficking and migrant smuggling in 2020.
The result: MINUSMA trained officers are supporting eight investigations of possible trafficking in person cases and seven investigations of possible smuggling of migrants cases conducted by the security forces of Mali.
We are also engaged with partners at the national and international levels to address the threats to Ukrainian refugees. And we support drug-dependent people living in Ukraine, to offset the risk they fall prey to traffickers.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Females represent half of all identified trafficking victims globally. Seventy percent of trafficked women, and 25 percent of girls, are sexually exploited.
I strongly believe in the importance of providing education and life skills for girls, to protect and empower them throughout their lives.
I also believe in the role of civil society to support trafficking victims, not only with shelter and food but also education, skills development, and reintegration.
We support victims around the world through the ‘United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking Persons, Especially Women and Children”.
To date, the Fund has reached over 45,000 victims in more than 60 countries, with over 150 grants implemented by NGO and grassroots organizations.
And our Blue Heart Campaign helps to remind us of the individuals behind the statistics, by raising global awareness about human trafficking and its impact on people and society.
We also strive to provide platforms at the highest level of the United Nations, to give survivors a voice, and the opportunity to influence policy.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
To be effective, anti-trafficking stakeholders must work together in cooperation and coordination.
Because it is clear: we cannot let human traffickers destroy more lives and with it our humanity.