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Adopting Political Declaration, General Assembly Pledges Greater Action to End Human Trafficking, Warning COVID-19 Pandemic Has Increased Risk for Vulnerable Groups

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GA/SHC/12387

PLENARY
SEVENTY-SIXTH SESSION, 37TH MEETING (AM & PM)

Stressing ‘Pity Is Not Enough’, Victims’ Rights Groups Say Survivors Need Voice in Forming Anti-Trafficking Laws, Policies, as Delegates Outline National Strategies

Survivor wisdom must be leveraged to forge effective policies and action plans that can better protect women and children and end impunity for traffickers, many delegates and survivors themselves said today, as the General Assembly adopted a Political Declaration at the opening of its two-day high-level meeting on the appraisal of the United Nations Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons.

Acting without a vote, the Assembly adopted a resolution endorsing the 29‑paragraph Political Declaration, by which Member States expressed grave concern that the COVID‑19 pandemic has exacerbated existing situations of vulnerability to trafficking in persons. Member States also agreed to take action to address this and other pressing issues, including a commitment to carry out appropriate measures to facilitate access to justice and protections for victims.

“At this pivotal moment, the Political Declaration can help to generate the momentum needed to take decisive action against this crime,” Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary‑General of the United Nations, said in opening remarks. Women, girls, children, refugees and migrants are especially targeted by and vulnerable to traffickers, who have delved deeper into the dark web on the Internet and are exploiting pandemic-related travel and movement restrictions to flout authorities. As such, she urged Member States to make the most of this opportunity, to help get back on track to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in the Decade of Action, and to work together to end the scourge of trafficking once and for all.

Malaika Oringo, a survivor and the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Footprint to Freedom and Survivor Trafficking in Persons, stressed that: “Pity is not enough; survivors need more opportunities to thrive.” She called on Member States to leverage survivor wisdom and for more meaningful partnerships with them, saying that while they are the most significant stakeholders in trafficking discussions, less than 10 per cent of their voices are included in negotiations that lead to policy and laws.

Yasmeen Hassan, Global Executive Director of the women’s rights organization Equality Now, said the international community is failing women. Echoing the call to grind to a halt the ever-widening trafficking networks, she said Governments must enforce anti-sex trafficking laws and provide equal rights and education for all people, and they must end impunity for offenders. To combat new threats posed by the Internet and technology, she said Governments must take swift action, adding that: “Traffickers are hiding behind unlimited impunity; there is no time to waste, and inaction is not an option.”

Ghada Fathi Waly, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), pointing to the negative impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic on the victims of trafficking due to lockdowns and learning disruptions, said more time spent online has also led to more exploitation. Highlighting the Office’s victim‑centred approach, she pointed to the assistance provided to more than 5,000 victims per year through frontline non‑governmental organizations, while commending the practice of listening to survivors in the elaboration of the Political Declaration.

Siobhan Mullally, Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children, said action must address the root causes alongside the brutalizing trend of the commodification of women and girls’ bodies. Other areas also need urgent attention, she said, underscoring the importance of expanding safe, orderly and regular migration. This includes moving beyond responses built on push-backs, erecting walls and criminalizing migration. In addition, while digital technologies can assist in preventing trafficking, effective action is not being taken by technology companies, or by States, to combat impunity for trafficking with technologies, she said. Moreover, victims of trafficking continue to be detained, imprisoned, punished and denied the possibility of recovery.

General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid (Maldives) said trafficking is first and foremost a severe human rights violation that thrives off prejudices and systemic inequities, including gender inequality, discrimination, racism and xenophobia. Going forward, it is essential to prioritize a victim- and survivor‑centred approach, he said. Through collaboration, the international community can build strong legal and policy frameworks, to empower human rights defenders, and enhance victims’ access to justice, he said, underlining the need for more research, data, and analysis on how those crimes are being carried out and who is being targeting and affected.

During the meeting, ministers and representatives spotlighted national and regional efforts and pointed to pressing challenges ahead. A representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, said trafficking in human beings demands a united approach, as it is a transnational and global crime. However, concerns remain about increased risks of people being trafficked, including the dire situation in Belarus, which is currently instrumentalizing migration on a large scale for political purposes, a practice that amounts to migrant smuggling. More broadly, a comprehensive approach is needed, she said, with the adoption of the Political Declaration being crucial in the multilateral effort to fight against trafficking.

Vladimir Makei, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belarus, said trafficking is now being used as a weapon in conflicts at a time when new and emerging ways to exploit, recruit or target victims are appearing year after year, including traffickers that are moving into the shadows of digital spaces. Noting that his country has launched an anti-trafficking initiative, he said improving coordination among nations is key to combating this crime.

Some delegates offered models of how best to tackle trafficking while drawing attention to the needs of victims. Liechtenstein’s representative said her country’s “Finance Against Slavery and Trafficking” initiative places financial institutions at the heart of the battle by outlining action in the areas of compliance, responsible investment and financial innovation.

New legislation and programmes targeting traffickers and protecting victims were among steps some Member States were taking. The representatives of Algeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dominican Republic and Peru said part of their efforts include newly drafted or adopted laws and policies. Qatar’s Minister of Labour said his country is a leader in the region to completely abolish exit permits for workers.

Representatives of several affected countries suggested solutions based on their experiences. Greece’s delegate said concrete steps to fight human trafficking, with a special emphasis on unaccompanied minors, include a national referral mechanism launched in 2019, recent amendments to the Penal Code and a new law on asylum and referral procedures.

Burkina Faso’s delegate said the Government is focusing on prevention, protection, rehabilitation and cooperation to address an escalating situation that has seen the country become a zone of origin, transit and destination for trafficking victims. However, the ongoing presence of criminal organizations and a spike in terrorism have impacted these efforts, she said, emphasizing that the major challenge is to establish synergies between different actors to effectively track connections between criminal networks, recruiters and internally displaced people, particularly women and children.

The meeting — held to appraise the United Nations Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons, in line with General Assembly resolution A/RES/75/283 — featured two interactive panel discussions on the themes “The Global Plan of Action and enduring trafficking issues and gaps including, inter alia, the trafficking of women and children, particularly girls, for the purpose of sexual exploitation” and “The Global Plan of Action and emerging issues, such as trafficking in persons in the context of COVID‑19, and the misuse of information and communication technologies to facilitate trafficking, including trafficking of children for the purpose of sexual exploitation on the Internet”.

Also delivering statements during the opening segment were ministers and representatives of Colombia, Equatorial Guinea, Jamaica, Cuba, Luxembourg, Philippines, Malta, Netherlands, Ireland, Guyana, Thailand, Austria and China.

The Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 23 November to conclude the high‑level meeting.

Opening Remarks

ABDULLA SHAHID, President of the General Assembly, observed that human trafficking deprives millions worldwide of their dignity and freedom. “It undermines national security, distorts markets, and enriches transnational criminals and terrorists, and is an affront to our universal values,” he said. Moreover, human trafficking is linked to a few crimes, including illicit money flows, the use of fraudulent travel documents, and cybercrime. The international community must address the root causes that facilitate trafficking, he said, adding that through the General Assembly’s adoption of the Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons, Member States recognized that poverty, unemployment, gender-based violence, discrimination, and marginalization are among the contributing factors, many of which have been exacerbated by COVID‑19.

More research, data, and analysis on how those crimes are being carried out and who is being targeted and impacted are needed, he said. In addition, it is essential to prioritize a victim- and survivor-centred approach, he emphasized, noting that, through collaboration, the international community can build strong legal and policy frameworks to empower human rights defenders and enhance victims’ access to justice. Trafficking is first and foremost a severe human rights violation, one that thrives on prejudices and systemic inequities, including gender inequality, discrimination, racism, and xenophobia. Migrants are among the most discriminated-against and marginalized communities, and therefore among the most vulnerable to human trafficking. Pointing out that the Assembly will hear from survivors during the meeting, he noted that “their mere presence here testifies to the fortitude of the human spirit”.

AMINA MOHAMMED, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, said reinvigorated global action against the crime of human trafficking is needed now more than ever before. Increased economic hardship, conflict, and health and climate emergencies are compounding vulnerabilities to trafficking, exploitation and abuse. Global crises, including the continuing pandemic, have set back progress on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and survivors in many countries are finding it harder to access shelter, food, health care, legal aid and other essential services. Law enforcement authorities face additional challenges in detecting human trafficking, in view of pandemic-related restrictions on travel and movement.

As a crime that is often hidden in plain sight, trafficking has retreated further into the shadows of the global economy and the dark corners of the Internet, she said. Women and girls are disproportionately targeted, and children comprise one third of detected victims ‑ a share that has tripled over the past 15 years. Refugees and migrants are especially vulnerable to traffickers, as trafficking in global supply chains continues to go underdetected and unpunished due to a lack of appropriate frameworks and reporting mechanisms. Indeed, victims themselves are the ones facing punishment. To end this suffering and injustice, she said, countries need support to build strong legal institutions and frameworks to respond to this crime, with survivors being at the centre of policies to bring perpetrators to justice and provide effective access to remedies.

“We now have strong tools for international cooperation,” she said, citing several examples, including the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and the Global Plan of Action, which has established the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons. While nearly all States parties have enacted national legislation criminalizing trafficking in persons, practical responses continue to vary widely. More technical assistance and support are needed to strengthen common action as well as enhanced measures to protect vulnerable migrants from falling prey to trafficking, in line with commitments under the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. Stronger coordination between United Nations entities and others to detect and respond to trafficking in emergency situations and humanitarian crises is needed. “At this pivotal moment, the Political Declaration can help to generate the momentum needed to take decisive action against this crime,” she said, adding: “I urge Member States to make the most of this opportunity, to help get back on track to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in the Decade of Action, and to work together to end the scourge of trafficking once and for all.”

GHADA FATHI WALY, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), pointing to the negative impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic on the victims of trafficking due to lockdowns and learning disruptions, noted that more time spent online has also led to more exploitation. UNODC has aligned its responses to the new reality, she said, drawing attention to the Office’s latest global report on trafficking in persons, which analysed how social and economic conditions, such as those caused by the COVID‑19 recession, make people more vulnerable to trafficking.

Noting that UNODC published a landmark study identifying ways to better support victims and frontline organizations in future crises, she stressed that the Office’s global programmes have already assisted 55 countries in 2021 to advance implementation of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. The support includes building digital capacity, adopting public procurement processes and policies, addressing human trafficking in supply chains as well as encouraging public-private partnerships. Highlighting UNODC’s victim-centred approach, she pointed to the assistance provided to more than 5,000 victims per year through frontline non-governmental organizations while commending the practice of listening to survivors in the elaboration of the Political Declaration.

SIOBHAN MULLALLY, Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children, said that more than a decade after the adoption of the Global Plan, trafficking in persons continues with impunity, within States and across borders. Women and girls are particularly at risk of exploitation because of continuing systemic discrimination and violence against them, and the material consequences of such discrimination results in poverty, restrictions on movement and education and “a brutalising commodification of women and girls’ bodies”, she said. Also pointing to the targeting of indigenous peoples, minority communities, stateless persons, refugees and internally displaced peoples for exploitation, she said that such trafficking persists with impunity because of State failures to ensure protection without discrimination. The legal and policy tools are available to States; however, implementation remains weak, she pointed out.

Stressing the importance of expanding safe, orderly and regular migration, she said: “We need to move beyond responses to migration that are built on push-backs, building of walls, externalisation, and criminalisation of migration.” Restrictive work permits, failure to protect domestic workers’ rights and limited enforcement of labour laws create vulnerabilities to exploitation. While digital technologies can assist in preventing trafficking, effective action is not being taken by technology companies, or by States, to combat impunity for trafficking through the use of technologies. Even though a non-punishment principle is central to a human-rights-based approach, she pointed out, victims of trafficking continue to be detained, imprisoned, punished and denied the possibility of recovery. Calling for the full and effective implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and its Optional Protocols on the involvement of children in armed conflict and on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, she said that attacks against schools and hospitals are often used by traffickers as tactics to abduct or recruit children.

Actions to combat trafficking should also be incorporated into peacekeeping transition processes, she underscored, adding that combating trafficking in persons for all purposes of exploitation and ensuring protection of trafficked persons and those at risk of trafficking must be explicitly stated in the mandates of peacekeeping missions that include protection of civilians. “It is not enough to assume its inclusion,” she said, adding that while terrorism, conflict and forced displacement contribute to heightened risks of trafficking, such risks are rooted in continuums of exploitation linked to structural discrimination, violence, poverty and exclusion, “which are part of the everyday and are not exceptional”. It is essential, therefore, to focus on everyday poverty, discrimination and exploitation, the underlying persistent root causes of trafficking, she stressed.

YASMEEN HASSAN, Global Executive Director of Equality Now, said the women’s rights organization is working around the world to sound the alarm bell on sexual exploitation and using the courts to work on behalf of victims and survivors. Despite significant progress, sex trafficking is increasing in complex ways. The international community is failing women. More than 50 per cent of the victims of trafficking are involved in sex trafficking, which is the most profitable for traffickers. Existing laws are not being implemented and prosecutions are abysmally low. The international community has been working on sex trafficking issues for many years. “The impact on these women and girls is devastating, if they can make it out,” she said. In Mexico for example, women and girls are recruited by so-called modelling agencies and brought into drug cartels. In the Gulf region, young girls are taken on virginity sales tours.

Governments must enforce anti-sex-trafficking laws and provide equal rights and education for all people, she said, and they must end impunity for offenders. Resources and training are needed as well as crackdowns on antipathy to and lack of concern about human trafficking. There are new threats posed by the Internet and technology, she said, pointing out that digital technology has allowed sex trafficking to grow. Governments must address these issues. “Traffickers are hiding behind unlimited impunity,” she said, stressing: “There is no time to waste, and inaction is not an option.”

MALAIKA ORINGO, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Footprint to Freedom and Survivor Trafficking in Persons, said that when traffickers show up in an area, it is a result of years of instability and poverty that has been underreported and unnoticed. She went on to observe that while survivors are the most significant stakeholders in trafficking discussions, less than 10 per cent of their voices are included in negotiations that lead to policy and laws. As survivors know first-hand the tactics and strategies traffickers use, she called on Member States to leverage survivor wisdom and called for more meaningful partnership with those stakeholders.

In addition, there is a need to improve the treatment of victims during legal proceedings with non-discriminatory support. She went on to recall that, as a trafficking survivor, she was left undocumented for 10 years with no access to medication, shelter or education. Moreover, there is a need for enhanced accountability, not only for traffickers but all involved agencies. For example, Governments, civil society and the private sector need to be accountable for the systems in place that facilitate the demand for exploitative services. The United Nations should foster survivor inclusion when forming policy research and reintegration, she said, stressing: “Pity is not enough; survivors need more opportunities to thrive.”

The General Assembly then took up the draft resolution “2021 Political Declaration on the Implementation of the United Nations Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons” (document A/76/L.11).

The representative of the United States, explaining her delegation’s position before the action, said her country has long been committed to combating trafficking and to implementing obligations under the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children. However, there is no obligation to implement non-mandatory provisions, she said, adding that the United States does not view the language in the Political Declaration as amending or expanding its obligations under either instrument.

Acting without a vote, the Assembly then adopted the resolution.

The representative of Hungary, explaining her delegation’s position, disassociated herself from paragraphs containing references to the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, to which her country is not a party.

The representative of Algeria expressed reservations about the mention in the resolution of the Global Compact. This instrument does not contribute to the fight against illegal migration, she said, adding that it merely glosses over the root causes, from conflict to food insecurity.

Statements

MARTA LUCIA RAMIREZ, Vice President and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Colombia, noting that the Political Declaration adopted today will favour the establishment of more partnerships between States, called for a greater focus on prevention, which enables a more effective curbing of this heinous phenomena. Noting that 65 per cent of victims of human trafficking are women and girls, she said sexual exploitation remains the main driver of exploitation around the world, accounting for 50 per cent of identified cases, with forced labour being the second most prevalent driver. The economic recession triggered by the COVID‑19 pandemic has increased trafficking in persons and exacerbated the vulnerability of its victims, she said, pointing to another group — irregular migrants — who are significantly exposed to sexual and labour exploitations as well as slavery. Detailing her country’s efforts to fight human trafficking, she emphasized the President’s initiative to offer temporary protective status to Venezuelan migrants in order to provide them with holistic humanitarian assistance. In this context, she urged States to use the principle of humanity and security when dealing with the migrant issue, noting that “in the midst of these migrants there can be people, who are exploited”. This calls for the application of a principle of solidarity and that of shared responsibility, she said.

ALFONSO NSUE MOKUY (Equatorial Guinea), joining other speakers in noting the difficulties imposed by the pandemic, said these restrictions have hampered Governments’ abilities to meet their commitments to fight trafficking. Equatorial Guinea has been working with the United States Government to combat trafficking in persons. It is necessary for all governmental and non-governmental actors to build partnerships to combat this problem, he said. His Government has made protection of trafficking victims, especially women and children, a top priority, as evidenced by the 2019–2021 national action plan, which has served as a guide in the past two years. As the plan comes to an end, it will be adapted to current needs as well as to the new dynamics caused by the pandemic. The Government is working to adapt national legislation to fill gaps and loopholes, he said, noting that it has created an inter-institutional action protocol to help victims, with a corresponding legislative process to be approved. Further, a 2004 law on illegal trafficking was adapted in line with the Palermo Protocol.

HORACE CHANG (Jamaica) reiterated his country’s commitment to advance a comprehensive anti-trafficking response to protect, prevent and prosecute the scourge of trafficking. Cognizant of the impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic to push victims of trafficking further underground, Jamaica continues to implement public education and awareness-raising campaigns to inform the general public and persons at risk of being trafficked. With regards to strengthening the institutional framework, he noted that since its establishment in 2015, the Office of the National Rapporteur for Trafficking in Persons has been resourced to allow it to function more effectively. In 2019, an Anti‑Human Trafficking Officer post was created in the organization and the team was further strengthened in 2020, with the addition of a Research Analyst. Stressing the need to establish mechanisms for cooperation between source, transit and destination countries, he called for information-sharing and greater collaboration and partnership at the global level.

YLVA JOHANSSON, a representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, said as a transnational and global crime, trafficking in human beings demands a united approach. The European Union stands firm behind the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocol on trafficking in persons. Migrant smugglers are often organized criminals, who also engage in other crimes like trafficking. Irregular migration increases the risks of trafficking, with traffickers targeting and abusing vulnerable migrants. “It is highly concerning that Belarus is currently instrumentalizing migration on a large scale for political purposes ‑ a practice that amounts to migrant smuggling,” she said. The dire situation in Belarus increases the risk of people being trafficked. “This is unacceptable,” she stressed, condemning the Belarus regime’s instrumentalization and abuse of migrants.

The fight against trafficking in human beings is a European Union priority, she said, pointing out that the European Strategy on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings sets forth concrete actions to combat this crime. It focuses on four main areas of action: reducing the demand that fosters trafficking in human beings for all forms of exploitation; breaking the business model of traffickers, online and offline; protecting, supporting and empowering victims, especially women and children; and promoting international cooperation. In the European Union, criminals mainly traffic their victims for sexual exploitation. Nearly three-quarters of all victims in Europe and 92 per cent of the victims trafficked for sexual exploitation are women and girls. One in four victims of trafficking is a child. These trends are also reflected at the global level. Reducing demand is essential to deprive traffickers of their criminal profits and ensure crime does not pay. A comprehensive approach is clearly needed. The adoption of the Political Declaration is crucial in the multilateral effort to fight this horrible crime.

ROBERTO ALVAREZ (Dominican Republic) observed that the COVID‑19 pandemic has hampered the fight against human trafficking and increased the vulnerability of women and children. His Government is working to prepare its third plan of action against human trafficking and reviewing current laws in place with the support of the United Nations, he reported. In addition, it has enacted a new law prohibiting child marriage and is stepping up support for centres that provide refuge for victims. However, vulnerable women and girls can only be protected if the structures of power that perpetuate their exploitation are destroyed. Combatting human trafficking should include the protection and exemption of victims from legal prosecution, he said.

OSCAR SILVERA MARTINEZ, Minister for Justice of Cuba, noting that trafficking is minimal in his country, said promoting effective actions to prevent the crime is a priority. In 2017, Cuba received the Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children, who was able to confirm the very high priority given by the Cuban Government to confronting this crime. However, politicizing the issue does not improve international cooperation, he said, rejecting the inclusion of Cuba in the report on trafficking in persons published by the United States, which has baselessly accused his country of slavery and trafficking. Drawing attention to Cuban medical teams that have helped and continue to help many countries, including in the fight against COVID‑19, he said Cuba will continue saving lives and protecting the well-being of people around the world.

DOMINIQUE HASLER (Liechtenstein) said the international community agreed, long ago, on the universal abolition of slavery in all its forms. And yet, to this day, modern slavery and human trafficking persist around the world, with shocking levels of impunity. Leveraging the essential role of the financial sector in ending human trafficking must be a crucial part of this effort, he stressed, welcoming that this year’s Political Declaration clearly references the need for public-private partnerships to prevent and detect human trafficking, and recognizes the important role played by financial institutions and Member States. In this regard, she recalled Liechtenstein’s “Finance Against Slavery and Trafficking” initiative that places financial institutions at the heart of the fight against human trafficking and modern slavery by outlining action in the areas of compliance, responsible investment and financial innovation.

ALI BIN SAEED BIN SMALKH AL MARRI, Minister of Labour of Qatar, welcoming the adoption of the Political Declaration, detailed efforts of his country to fight trafficking in persons. To this end, he highlighted creation of a dedicated National Commission, which produced a national plan and a follow-up mechanism to fight the phenomenon, as well as cooperation with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UNODC. He further noted that his country is a leader in the region to completely abolish exit permits for workers. In addition, Qatar is one of the leading donors to the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking, he said.

ANIBAL TORRES VASQUEZ (Peru) said his Government has adopted public policies and laws to guide the State’s activities combatting human trafficking in the years ahead. Peru has taken into account the recommendations of the United Nations and civil society. The policies aim to integrate the works of all actors at the national, regional and local levels. Stressing that human trafficking is a crime that violates a person’s human rights and dignity, as well as physical, social and emotional integrity, he said it is essential to assess the impact of States’ intervention in these violations. Peru’s criminal laws specify that any consent that victims give to their exploitation are null and void and violate human dignity. Peru is providing civil reparations to victims for medical, social and psychological harm and providing for employment and educational opportunities. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights is providing free legal advice and has assisted 3,906 victims from 2018 to August 2021. Today’s Assembly discussion is very useful to identify tools to combat trafficking in persons, he said.

JEAN ASSELBORN (Luxembourg) observed that COVID‑19 has increased the vulnerability of migrants to human trafficking and condemned the exploitation of migrants by Belarus along its border. Efforts to combat trafficking will require a human-rights-based, multi-disciplinary approach, he said, pointing out that vulnerability stems from intergenerational poverty, discrimination and other systemic factors. The fight must not only be anchored in criminal law, but should be underpinned by gender equality, human rights and sustainable development. Luxembourg, for its part, is drafting its second national action plan against human trafficking, he reported. To ensure the cross-cutting nature of policies against trafficking, his Government established an interministerial committee that will facilitate effective and qualitative action.

VLADIMIR MAKEI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belarus, noting that his country has launched an anti-trafficking initiative, cautioned that new and emerging ways to exploit, recruit or target victims are appearing year after year. Indeed, traffickers are moving into the shadows of digital spaces, and trafficking is now being used as a weapon in conflicts. Suggesting several steps to strengthen the response to these threats, he said improving coordination among nations is key. Belarus has joined the Group of Friends United against Human Trafficking in proposing a related draft resolution, which he urged Member States to support.

VICTORIA OUEDRAOGO KIBORIA (Burkina Faso), noting that human trafficking has been escalating at an unprecedented rate in her country, said Burkina Faso has become a zone of origin, transit and destination for victims. She called for specific and effective measures to boost the effectiveness of the global fight against human trafficking. To that end, she urged more action in support of capacity-building, detailing her country’s focus on prevention, protection, rehabilitation and cooperation. Noting that the ongoing presence of criminal organizations and a spike in terrorism have impacted Burkina Faso’s efforts to fight trafficking, she said the major challenge is to establish synergies between different actors to effectively track connections between criminal networks, recruiters and internally displaced people, particularly women and children.

TEODORO LOCSIN(Philippines) said that by treating humans not as fellows but as chattel, trafficking affronts every distinguishing mark of humanity. Globalization has only made the practice more wicked with the progression of technology, communication, financial transactions and transport, he said, adding that unlike regular commerce, human trafficking thrives in failing economies, especially conflict-riven countries. Despite its pervasiveness, trafficking remains a hidden crime because societies are complicit, he said, adding that for every 10 victims, five are women and two are girls, mostly migrants. “We are a labour‑sending country of mostly women, but most victims are not Filipinos,” he said, adding that his country has put in place protections and has consistently ranked in Tier 1 of the United States Trafficking in Persons Report. Calling for increased extra-budgetary resources for UNODC and the Inter-agency Coordination Group against Trafficking in Persons, he said human trafficking must be ended by its enablers in Governments.

OWEN BONNICI(Malta) noted the far-reaching repercussions of human trafficking, from physical violence and the torture of victims to the psychological and emotional trauma they endure and the economic and political implications of the crime. Traffickers prey on the poor, isolated and weak, he said, adding that his country is raising awareness about the underlying causes of human trafficking, such as inadequate employment opportunities, political and economic insecurity and discrimination- and gender-based violence. Malta joined advocacy agendas worldwide, he said, pointing to the development of victim assistance services and the training of government officials. In 2018, the minimum penalty for the crime of human trafficking was increased from four to six years in prison, and special support measures for child victims have been incorporated into national legislation. Stressing the complex, urgent and transnational nature of the crime, he called for a comprehensive approach that enlists all relevant stakeholders.

TOM DE BRUIJN, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of Netherlands, said criminal networks have shifted their activity off the streets and into online forums. The phenomenon has seriously violated the freedom of human beings, impacting all countries. “This is hidden in plain sight and is unacceptable and must be stopped,” he stressed, adding the international community must work together to combat human trafficking. At the national level, the Netherlands has stepped up its collaboration with non‑governmental organizations and is bringing all parties together to pursue joint efforts. At the international level, it has strengthened its activities through international treaties and conventions to work with other countries to prosecute perpetrators. He also outlined efforts to provide help to survivors and the development of a national action plan to stop child trafficking online.

HELEN*MCENTEE (Ireland), noting that *victim-centred policy approaches will encourage more victims to come forward,*highlighted a revision to* the National Referral Mechanism introduced by her Government, which aims to make it easier for victims of trafficking to be identified and access services. A new approach undertaken by Ireland also acknowledges that other State bodies and non-governmental organizations have a role in identifying victims of human trafficking and referring them to the National Referral Mechanism. Outlining further national efforts, she pointed to the drafting of a new National Action Plan with high-level goals and outcomes, as well as the country’s intention to open a dedicated shelter for female victims of sexual exploitation.

ALBERT FABRICE PUELA (Democratic Republic of the Congo) said there are numerous networks carrying out human trafficking, as well as the illicit trade of weapons and drugs, in his country. In response, the Government established a specialized service for the prevention of trafficking of persons. Following years of work, it seeks to build capacity to investigate such crimes and keep the Government abreast of related issues. In addition, the Democratic Republic of the Congo adopted a draft law that modifies and supplements the criminal code, resulting in the recent arrest, prosecution and sentencing of perpetrators, he said.

VINDHYA PERSUAD (Guyana), noting the grim picture in the 2020 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, called for a coordinated global effort among Member States through bilateral, regional and international mechanisms in partnership with the United Nations and other relevant stakeholders. Her country has a zero-tolerance policy to trafficking in persons and has incrementally increased its budgeted allocations to combat the phenomenon. Its national action plan includes a strong training component that aims to prepare frontline workers, police and community policing groups, customs officers, transport operators and members of civil society with the skills to identify victims of trafficking. Furthermore, Guyana has improved its capacity for undercover operations, provides support to victims and conducts awareness-raising in foreign languages and some indigenous languages, shesaid.

RAMTANE LAMAMRA, Minister for Foreign Affairs and National Community Abroad of Algeria, noting that trafficking is the third most lucrative global smuggling operation after arms and drugs, said political will must now be translated into concrete action to protect victims and end impunity for perpetrators. The Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons is a key tool, but the root causes of the phenomenon must be examined and addressed, from rising poverty levels to terrorism and conflict that turn vulnerable people into easy prey for transnational criminal networks. Preventive measures remain the best remedy, he said, calling on States to redouble efforts to seize a holistic approach to combat human trafficking, which is now a global crisis affecting origin, transit and destination countries alike. Algeria continues to devote resources to address its trafficking challenges, including by finalizing a new law to prosecute perpetrators and protect children. However, targeted global partnership is needed, he said, calling for the full implementation of all related United Nations policies.

MILTIADIS VARVITSIOTIS (Greece), noting that current travel restrictions can lead many migrants or asylum seekers to look for more dangerous migration routes, said that due to his country’s geographical location as a gateway to the European Union and Schengen Area, “we are familiar with the inhumane practices of human traffickers”. Greece has implemented concrete steps to fight human trafficking, with a special emphasis on unaccompanied minors, he said, pointing to the national referral mechanism launched in 2019, recent amendments to the Greek Penal Code and a new law on asylum and referral procedures. Voicing disappointment that certain Member States of the United Nations, the European Union and the Council of Europe have withdrawn from the latter’s Convention (known as the Istanbul Convention), he declared: “We have saved thousands of human lives at sea, and we are determined to continue to do so.”

VIJAVAT ISARABHAKDI (Thailand) said the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an overall decline of cross-border human trafficking cases in his country due to strict border controls. However, online sexual exploitation and trafficking have significantly increased to around 30 to 50 per cent of the total human trafficking cases in the last two years. Information technology and the Internet have made it easy to access a much larger group of potential victims, and traffickers use technology to profile, recruit and exploit their victims while being able to hide illegal materials — as well as their real identities — from investigators. Law enforcement of such practices has become increasingly challenging as any investigation requires cooperation across borders and digital expertise. Therefore, capacity-building and cooperation among countries are crucial, he asserted, stressing the need to address the root causes of trafficking — namely the demand side, social and economic inequality and the vulnerabilities of people, especially during the pandemic.

PETRA SCHNEEBAUER (Austria), noting that the fight against human trafficking is international in nature, pointed to its three key elements ‑ coordination, cooperation and commitment ‑ which must begin within every single State. In that context, her Government set up a Task Force on Combating Human Trafficking in 2004, she said, also underscoring the importance of non-governmental organizations which work on the ground and bring to life the victim-centred approach. Highlighting additional national efforts to combat human trafficking, she pointed to a triannual action plan and a complementary annual anti-trafficking conference, which in 2021 shed light on the various financial aspects of human trafficking, from detecting transfers of illicit proceeds to fair compensation for victims.

HANGWEI DU (China) noted that his Government has drafted and implemented three action plans against human trafficking with broad participation of all sectors of the society. In 2021, China secured a complete victory in the fight against poverty, which paves the way for eliminating the breeding grounds of human trafficking, he said, noting that his Government has also revised a law on the protection of minors and an outline for the development of women and children. Detailing further achievements of his country in fighting human trafficking, he pointed to the reunion of abducted children with their families and release of a platform on missing children. Emphasizing that China attaches great importance to international cooperation in combating human trafficking, he noted the setting up of hotlines with counterparts from 34 countries, among other initiatives. He went on to outline further actions his country will take to support global anti-trafficking efforts, including though financial contributions, bilateral and multilateral joint anti-trafficking operations, as well as free technical support.

Panel I

The Assembly’s first panel discussion was titled, “The Global Plan of Action and enduring trafficking issues and gaps including, inter alia, the trafficking of women and children, particularly girls, for the purpose of sexual exploitation". Chaired by José Alfonso Blanco Conde (Dominican Republic), it featured presentations by Kalliope Mingeirou, Chief of the Ending Violence Against Women Section, United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women); Taina Bien-Aimé, Executive Director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women; and Longdy Chhap, trafficking survivor, Counsellor and Trauma-Care Trainer at Hagar Cambodia.

Prior to the discussion, Kendall Alaimo, an artist, advocate and survivor of trafficking, gifted a painting to the Office of the General Assembly, saying that trafficking victims are not merely falling into small gaps but large canyons after rescue. Recalling that she recently shipped red seats to universities around the world to bring awareness to the importance of education for trafficking survivors, she called on the international community to come together to provide resources to combat trafficking.

Opening the panel, Mr. BLANCO said that while progress has been made, failure to understand the complexities of human trafficking has hampered the ability to respond to it. The intersection between economic need and structural issues increases people’s vulnerability to trafficking. Pointing out the gender dimension of human trafficking, he said that 50 per cent of people abducted internationally are women, and 20 per cent are girls, half of whom are taken for purposes of sexual exploitation.

In that context, he asked Ms. KALLIOPE MINGEIROU how demand can be reduced and how the root causes of trafficking can be addressed in the long term.

Ms. MINGEIROU pointed out that violence against women and girls is rooted in larger inequalities. COVID‑19 revealed a lot about the prevalence of violence against women and girls, she said, noting that increased domestic violence also increases the risk of human trafficking. If the link between trafficking overall and gender-based violence is understood, trafficking can better be prevented. It is important to address key common drivers such as societal beliefs of male domination, sexual dominance and control over women.

There is a need to draw lessons from good practices in addressing violence in general, she said. For example, it is essential to create a shift in beliefs and social norms with boys and girls from an early age to deconstruct harmful masculinities and address broader gender equalities at home and in public spaces. Indeed, men with more equitable attitudes are less likely to perpetrate violence against women. Another area of good practice is enhanced justice responses for survivors of trafficking. Currently, convictions of trafficking of women and girls is much less common than for other forms of trafficking, she pointed out.

Mr. BLANCO CONDE asked Mr. Bien-Aimé what impedes a collective response to human trafficking and wondered how the international community can guarantee that responses respect human rights.

Ms. BIEN-AIMÉ, recalled that there has been tremendous progress on combating trafficking over the years with recognition that multisectoral, strategic action is needed to address those crimes. Pointing out that the Palermo Protocol is being undermined, she urged Member States to incorporate language on trafficking into their national agendas and implement article 9.5 of the Protocol. Efforts to combat trafficking must be survivor-led and trauma-informed. In terms of the challenges faced, it is important to remember cultural and historical barriers, she said, pointing out that most Member States have benefited from human trafficking. Another barrier is the notion about gender-based violence, she said, observing that there is a current trend toward the normalization of the sex trade and an increase of online sexual exploitation. Such realities trickle into daily life and influence the protocols for identifying trafficking victims, she said.

Mr. BLANCO CONDE asked Mr. Chhap what preventative measures can be taken to address the vulnerability of children to trafficking and what can be done to support survivors.

Mr. CHHAP said there must be more focus on family, older people and communities in general. He ended up in child trafficking because little was understood about the phenomenon. Indeed, more awareness-raising and support is needed for poor and remote communities. Further emphasizing the importance of informing family, he pointed out that children in many communities follow the directions of their elder family members. It is also important to ensure that more is understood about trauma and mental illness caused by trafficking.

When the floor opened, delegates queried the panellists and shared national approaches. Asking the panel for further input on how best to combat trafficking, the United States representative said effective partners include financial institutions ‑ in investigating trafficking to choke traffickers’ money flows ‑ and border patrol authorities ‑ in identifying and protecting victims.

The representative of Canada, highlighting increased vulnerabilities among marginalized communities, asked for advice on partnerships between Governments and the private sector. The speaker for India, highlighting his country’s initiatives, asked about the use of information technology to address issues surrounding human trafficking.

Offering examples of ongoing concrete efforts, the representatives of Australia and Greece explained their national contributions, including prevention efforts and measures to protect the rights of victims. The speaker for the European Union, in its capacity as observer, provided a snapshot of regional efforts. A representative of the International Office for Migration said progress has been made, with more countries having ratified the Palermo Protocol and establishing new legislation, but more must be done, which requires working together. A representative of the Commonwealth Secretariat, noting that more than 14 million people are currently trafficking victims in the bloc’s member States, said countries have been redoubling efforts towards eradicating this scourge.

The representative of Inter-Agency Coordination Group against Trafficking in Persons said prevention efforts need to shift towards reducing vulnerabilities and addressing the core drivers of trafficking in persons, including poverty, gender-based violence, racial discrimination as well as underlying social structural inequality. She further called for more effective and targeted regulations governing procurement practices and workers’ rights protections. Stressing the importance of not punishing trafficking victims, she said criminal justice needs sustained resourcing, capacity development as well as international cooperation to end impunity of traffickers.

The representative of African Youth Employment Initiative asked whether there is a strategy to prevent forced migration of young people as poverty is widely recognized as the root cause of trafficking.

The representative of Netherlands detailed his country’s measures to fight human trafficking and sexual exploitation, namely introducing criminal liability for persons using sexual services when a victim of trafficking is involved. He further pointed to a comprehensive prostitution policy that will allow individuals to work legally and safely.

The representative of Mexico, welcoming the participation of trafficking victims, said if men are not part of the solution, they may end up being part of the problem. He further asked what the impact of toxic masculinity on trafficking is.

The representative of Sri Lanka, referring to earlier statements, asked whether the fact that global resources are not equally available to people is the reason for trafficking.

The representative of Finance Against Slavery and Trafficking Initiative, noted that the organization he leads has produced a briefing paper on a synthesis of enduring trafficking challenges and gaps that can be addressed in significant part through financial sector actions. Detailing recommendations included in the paper, he pointed to the need to regulate business conduct with respect to trafficking in global value chains to ensure human trafficking policy coherence, as well as to foster partnerships with financial sector actors.

The representative of Women’s Link Worldwide observed that many States try to address the problem from the point of view of criminal law and migratory control without looking at the human rights aspect. She further noted that States have an obligation to identify victims with a human-rights-centred approach, while quick identification is a measure of prevention and essential to guarantee protection and access to justice. Referring to its work in Latin America, Europe and Africa, she said women do not have access to asylum if they are not seen as victims. In that context, she asked what measures States can take under the Global Plan of Action to ensure human rights protection for victims.

Ms. MINGEIROU said the use of social protection schemes should be explored more. As for marginalized groups, she highlighted the important role women’s organizations play in outreach and in raising awareness about the risks of trafficking. Increased investment by the private sector to address vulnerability is required, she said, recalling efforts by technology platforms to raise awareness around trafficking. It is also important to consider social norms so institutions dealing with survivors can ensure they don’t retraumatize them.

Ms. BIEN-AIMÉ said “being born a girl shouldn’t be a vulnerability”. As human trafficking is highly profitable, it is crucial to work with financial institutions. However, it is not possible to address trafficking without talking about supply and demand. Although the supply chains can be complicated, the low-hanging fruit is the purchase of sexual acts, she said, pointing out that data collection is often conducted by individuals who are sex buyers. In addition, there is a need for partnerships with the medical community, she said. When it comes to commercial sexual exploitation, little is known about what the physical and medical consequences are on human beings and societies.

Mr. CHHAP said education is essential. Also, more support for frontline staff who work with trafficking survivors is needed. Advocating for a holistic care approach, he said people must know more about how to treat survivors effectively.

Panel II

The Assembly’s second panel discussion addressed the theme “The Global Plan of Action and emerging issues, such as trafficking in persons in the context of COVID‑19, and the misuse of information and communications technologies to facilitate trafficking, including trafficking of children for the purpose of sexual exploitation on the Internet”. It featured presentations by Ilias Chatzis, Chief of the Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Section, UNODC; Hannah Darnton, Associate Director and leader of Tech against Trafficking Initiative of the Business for Social Responsibility; and Betty Pedraza Lozano, Director of Espacios de Mujer.

Opening the panel, the representative of the Philippines noted that traffickers are always finding new ways to exploit new phenomena such as the COVID‑19 pandemic. Operating as any business, human traffickers adapt to the current environment. The international community must identify the changes in the trade in human beings, develop new ways to counter the trafficking industry’s new strategies and gain ground.

Mr. CHATZIS said when you are being forced into prostitution, working in a dangerous mine without pay, or working in a factory under the control of a criminal gang, mask wearing and hand sanitizing are simply luxuries. The data shows that while many people thought that restrictions in movement would also reduce crime, traffickers adapted quickly to the “new normal”. As parts of the world came to a standstill, the trafficking business continued to thrive.

In a sample of cases reviewed by UNODC in 2020 that involved some form of modern communication technology, more than 50 per cent of the victims identified had been trafficked through social media, he said. Responders must be equipped with the knowledge, skills and software needed to tackle this threat. The private sector, including social media platforms, Internet service providers and technology companies need to be involved. Last year, UNODC reached more than 80 countries with technical cooperation programmes despite the travel restrictions and the challenges created by the pandemic. It is working with tech companies in “datajams” that bring together college students and information and communications technology (ICT) experts to develop e-tools and applications to identify victims and trafficking cases. The pandemic has demonstrated that the international community needs strategies in place to cope with future crises.

Ms. DARNTON said technology can help organizations counter trafficking by sharing data and improving case management. Anti-trafficking efforts are frequently duplicated, and opportunities for sharing data are missed. There needs to be more sustained funding. Some important considerations include maintaining ongoing technical support and long-term staffing as well as engaging the most vulnerable populations. Technology developers can play a significant role. Yet technology cannot replace political will, she said, urging Governments to make investments in partnerships.

Ms. PEDRAZA LOZANO said the pandemic has increased the vulnerability of many people to human trafficking, including women, girls, boys and migrants. The gaps in employment have generated more opportunities for traffickers. Their shift to online activities has made it more difficult to identify victims and restore their rights. The international community must develop new methodologies and ways to help people online and to mitigate the effects of the pandemic and prepare for future crises. The Internet risks for children need to be identified. There should be collaboration with Internet service providers and the private sector, such as the hospitality and hotel industry.

In the ensuing discussion, delegates queried panellists and discussed national and regional strategies to use technology to prevent trafficking and crack down on perpetrators. The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, announced the bloc’s plans to strengthen the dialogue between Internet and technology companies to reduce the use of online platforms for trafficking. He asked the panellists about their experience of direct engagement with the online platforms, particularly to identify content related to trafficking, as well as their views on the added value of technologies for law enforcement agencies.

The representative of Australia noted that while technology can be used to facilitate trafficking, it can also play an important role in ending the scourge and supporting survivors. Thus, technology in the financial sector can identify suspicious transaction patterns, she said, citing positive examples from her country’s experience, which included cooperation with the private sector.

The representative of Belarus asked whether trafficking can be eradicated once and for all.

The representative of Soroptimist International drew attention to the impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic on the greater exposure of women and girls to the risk of trafficking, particularly in communities with multidimensional poverty.

The representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo said parents need help in developing controls over what information their children can view over the Internet. The representative of Brazil said new policies need to be established to help victims. The delegate for Canada said national strategies need to adapt to the changing nature of trafficking. There should be more public-private partnerships.

The representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe noted that while States have all the required instruments to address human trafficking, more political will is needed to move forward in achieving greater progress.

The representative of Fundación para la Democracia Internacional, noting that trafficking networks have adapted to the new pandemic environment, pointed to the increased criminal activity online, which was complicated by delays in judicial systems, and limited access to justice and reparations for survivors.

The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, announced the bloc’s plans to strengthen the dialogue between Internet and technology companies to reduce the use of online platforms for trafficking. He asked the panellists about their experience of direct engagement with the online platforms, particularly to identify content related to trafficking, as well as their views on the added value of technologies for law enforcement agencies.

The representative of Australia noted that while technology can be used to facilitate trafficking, it can also play an important role in ending the scourge and supporting survivors. Thus, technology in the financial sector can identify suspicious transaction patterns, she said, citing positive examples from her country’s experience, which included cooperation with the private sector.

The representative of Belarus asked whether trafficking can be eradicated once and for all.

The representative of Soroptimist International drew attention to the impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic on the greater exposure of women and girls to the risk of trafficking, particularly in communities with multidimensional poverty.

A representative of Impulse NGO Network said her organization focuses on addressing online protection in Asia and seeks to work with the United Nations in this regard, as cybercrime has become a new way that traffickers engage victims.

The panellists then answered participants’ questions.

Mr. CHATZIS said child slavery had taken years to abolish, and it is certainly possible to eradicate human trafficking, especially since many countries are criminalizing it and perpetrators are facing justice. What is required is tackling emerging challenges, from online threats to the pandemic’s impact. The sources — exploitation, inequalities and economic need — must also be addressed and resolved. Climate change, which leads people to leave their homes, and such industries as mining pose other risks, and by trying to regulate these elements, a solution to trafficking can be found, he said.

Ms. DARNTON said actors across the value chain must implement effective tools to identify all human rights impacts and risks for trafficking and exploitation. Other actors, including Governments, must ensure these tools are being used effectively. Risks must not be addressed in isolation, but through an approach that examines the complex range of challenges. Further, risks of trafficking must be included in the human rights’ due diligence process.

Ms. PEDRAZA LOZANO underlined the importance of identifying traffickers online. At the same time, the Internet can also be better used to notify, reach or alert victims and to implement prevention initiatives. Non-governmental organizations must, among other things, monitor restitution for victims, she said, adding that they should be included in drafting public policies. Indeed, working together prevents the duplication of services and funding, she stated.

A representative of the New York University Langone Health and Global Bioethics Initiative said organ trafficking remains a pervasive issue, and revenue from the illicit organ trade is estimated to be more than $1.7 billion annually. The retail price for a kidney is $75,000 to $100,000 and much more for other transplantable organs. The pandemic has created financial hardships for many people and the use of cryptocurrency makes it more difficult to track illicit monetary movements. The world community must educate transplant candidates and discourage patients from seeking illicit donors or participating in transplant tourism.

A representative of the Sunita Jain Anti-Trafficking Policy Initiative of the Loyola Marymount University’s Loyola Law School said there is a connection between climate change and young girls being involved in human trafficking. Yet not a single nationally determined contribution at the Twenty-sixth Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, known as COP26, looked at how climate change affects human trafficking. Climate disasters have an impact on trafficking, especially of people of colour.

Mr. CHATZIS said UNODC is working with technology companies so they can better participate in methods to identify trafficking cases. Turning to climate change, he acknowledged the connection to trafficking and noted that trafficking is linked with many parts of the economy that need to be regulated. Organ trafficking is a form of trafficking that is very well known, but there is very little data on it. The underreporting of data is worrying as it involves medical expertise and medical facilities, he said.

Ms. DARTON said responses to trafficking require collaboration across the many actors in the technology sector. There is a need to create responses for changing conditions, such as in five years, to determine how the movement of people across borders will impact trafficking in the future.

Ms. PEDRAZA LOZANO said there are many challenges, and the global fight against trafficking must continually reorient itself to meet emerging needs.

The representative of Greece said traffickers and smugglers are working in a high-profit, low-risk business that relies on its customers. There are more trafficked people today than at any time in history. The culture of impunity and tolerance that surrounds this industry must be stopped.

For information media. Not an official record.