Human Trafficking and organised crime

Published: 14 April 2008

Statement by Ms Emile Goller, Alternate Permanent Observer to UN Offices in Vienna, at the 17th session of the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, in Vienna

Thank you for giving the floor to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies under this item.

The Secretary-General’s report, in document E/CN.15/2008/6 is a comprehensive and unemotional description of a truly horrific situation confronting the world today.

As the report makes clear, trafficking in persons was condemned by ECOSOC in 2006 as an abhorrent form of slavery, and it has been widely ratified.

Although the documentation offers a comprehensive picture of the situation to the Commission, it is disappointing that it was only possible for 23 States to respond to the Secretary-General’s request for information on the action they had taken towards implementation of UN resolutions on the strengthening of cooperation.

Our purpose in speaking today is to urge all States which have not yet done so to raise the priority for the Convention’s “Protocol to prevent, suppress and punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children”, done in Palermo in 2000.

It is clearly necessary to raise the volume of the demand for universal ratification with this important Protocol. Beyond that, it is critical to raise the volume of the demand for effective implementation.

We of the Red Cross Red Crescent prioritised the Palermo Protocol during our presentations at the UN-GIFT Vienna Forum in February this year.

Our delegation, which included representatives of a large number of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies from different parts of the world, underlined the importance we attach to the subject, and in doing so we sought to mark out clearly the role of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies when addressing issues related to trafficking.

Our concern is, as always, with the most vulnerable. In our listings, persons vulnerable to trafficking are among those most likely to have their rights prejudiced, their dignity destroyed and their lives placed at risk.

For us, it is vital that States should see their work in support of the Palermo Protocol matched by work to protect and support the victims of trafficking.

Any approach to trafficking must be based on the needs of those victims.

After all, if a crime is akin to slavery, a first principle must be to address the needs of the persons enslaved or vulnerable to slavery.

This means that the work against trafficking must involve work in countries of origin, transit and destination.

That work must acknowledge that no country is immune. There are many countries which are countries of origin as well as destination countries.

The work must also acknowledge that no person who is a victim of trafficking can be placed in further jeopardy by actions taken by authorities.

For us, it is disturbing that despite years of discussion there is still no clear indication that States are any time soon going to be able to bring forward accurate figures on the scope of trafficking in persons.

This absence of reliable and comparable data continues to make it very difficult to develop comprehensive and effective measures concerning trafficking.

It also means that there are many differences in definition, so that a victim of trafficking on one country can be seen simply as an illegal immigrant or even a person complicit in smuggling in another.

Our experience in the Red Cross Red Crescent is that these distinctions are not material to our mandate.

Our priority, which was accepted by all governments and National Societies sitting together at the 30th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent last November, is to bring humanitarian support to people purely on the basis of their vulnerability.

We meet needs irrespective of the legal status of the persons themselves, and we were impressed by the readiness of governments to acknowledge this role when they joined consensus support for the conference’s outcome documents.

We are also impressed by the proactive stance adopted by UNODC and the Executive Director on this issue.

The UN-GIFT initiative brought together a very wide range of people and experiences, and established networks on this topic.

It is, however, an initiative which has yet to deliver concrete recommendations and measurable future objectives, without that it will remain incomplete.

We are, however, pleased to see that the “Vienna Forum” involving a number of significant civil society organisations. The IFRC looks forward to continued connection with this initiative, for we expect that it will help develop effective ways forward for the future and provide real expertise in the humanitarian consequences of trafficking for governments and international organisations.

The Vienna Forum points out what we see as an issue remaining from the Palermo Protocol and which will need attention as international action against trafficking develops.

The issue is the absence of any meaningful identification in the treaty for the involvement of civil society in action against trafficking.

This has been overcome in informal ways, as UN-GIFT itself showed, but it is vital that this be translated into formal commitments at the national level.

The International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent recognised that trafficking, as an issue within the broad topic of international migration”, is an issue which cannot be resolved by any one government or organisation.

It is a subject which demands effective partnerships working or as we said at that conference, “together for humanity”.

This in turn means that we expect governments will be ready to link their actions to their national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies working as auxiliaries to the public authorities, and bringing to the table their experience as community-based organisations with trained volunteers working with the most vulnerable people throughout their countries.

Chair, the documents before this Commission do not record the work done by Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies at national and local levels, but allow me to note today that this work is extensive, in a very wide range of countries.

Some evidence of that came forward at an important conference of Mediterranean Red Cross Red Crescent Societies organised by the Italian Red Cross in February.

It also came forward at a workshop for Red Cross Societies and other partners in Antigua Guatemala very recently.

We have established links with UNODC which will make the sharing of information on such issues easier, and we look forward to working closely with the Secretariat, as well as with the UN-GIFT initiative, in the period ahead.

As we do so, we hope it will be possible to revisit some of the thinking in the session document for this item.

For example, the section on international cooperation would be more comprehensive if it included reference to international cooperation with respect to the humanitarian consequences of trafficking.

The measures identified in the conclusions to the document are heavily oriented towards law enforcement activities, and would be enhanced by measures related to humanitarian consequences and the impact of trafficking on vulnerable persons and communities.

We will develop on this line of thinking at the UN General Assembly special debate on Human Trafficking in June this year.

Chair, let me conclude by restating our pleasure that trafficking at last seems to be getting the attention it deserves.