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Opening remarks by the Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, ph. D. at the III Latin American Congress on Human Trafficking Globalization, Human Trafficking and Access to Justice: Articulation of Regional Dialogues

“Collective Action Now to Protect Rights of Trafficked persons and to Prevent and Punish Traffickers”

16 July 2013

Distinguished Delegates
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to deliver this opening remark in my capacity as the UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. I welcome this meeting which provides a forum to further explore this crucial thematic of Trafficking in persons as well as provide a venue for an exchange of ideas, lessons learned and best practices among various stakeholders. I especially welcome regional and subregional mechanisms in combating trafficking primarily because they play a key role in providing a response that is both multilateral and sufficiently close to countries’ realities and specificities within a certain region. I congratulate the initiators and organizers of this biennial regional forum that is solely dedicated to addressing human trafficking and I consider my mandate and person privileged to be part of this third Latin American Congress on Human Trafficking focusing on “Globalization, Human Trafficking and Access to Justice: Articulation of Regional Dialogues”.
Trafficking in persons or human trafficking is unfortunately thriving in the form of modern day slavery two hundred years after the end of the transatlantic slave trade. Although, very difficult to quantify it is hugely underestimated because of its insidious, complex and dynamic nature. People are trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, forced labour,  slavery or practices similar to slavery or for organ removal. Trafficking knows no border and occurs therefore within and across national borders, often with victims crossing many countries to reach their final destination.

In terms of the global scale of this modern day slavery, the 2012 world survey by the ILO reveals that of the total number of 20.9 million forced labourers, 18.7 million (90%) are exploited in the private economy, by individuals or enterprises. Out of these, 4.5 million (22%) are victims of forced sexual exploitation, and 14.2 million (68%) are victims of forced labour exploitation in economic activities, such as agriculture, construction, domestic work or manufacturing. Women and girls represent the greater share of the total – 11.4 million (55%), as compared to 9.5 million (45%) men and boys. Adults are more affected than children – 74% (15.4 million) of victims fall in the age group of 18 years and above, whereas children aged 17 years and below represent 26% of the total (or 5.5 million child victims).

The 2005 ILO report also placed the global minimum estimate number of persons in forced labour as a result of trafficking at 2,450,000. Trafficking represents a significant proportion of forced labour cases, namely about 20 per cent of all forced labour and about one quarter of forced labour cases exacted by private agents.    It is often assumed that people are mainly trafficked for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation. However, the 2012 ILO world survey indicates that 32 per cent of all the victims of trafficking ended up into labour exploitation, while 43 per cent were trafficked for sexual exploitation and 25 per cent for both types of exploitation. 

ILO regional breakdown for the 2012 world survey revealed the regional distribution as follows: the Asia-Pacific region (AP) accounts for by far the largest number of forced labourers – 11.7 million or 56% of the global total. The second highest number is found in Africa (AFR) at 3.7 million (18%), followed by Latin America and the Caribbean (LA) with 1.8 million victims (9%). The Developed Economies and European Union (DE&EU) account for 1.5 million (7%) forced labourers, whilst countries of Central, Southeast and Eastern Europe (non EU) and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CSEE) counts 1.6 million affected persons (7%). There are an estimated 600,000 (3%) victims in the Middle East (ME).

My mandate which is part of global response to combating human trafficking includes, among others, promoting the prevention of trafficking in persons in all its forms, whether committed by State or non-State actors. Trafficking in persons remains one of the fastest growing criminal activities in the world, which results in serious breaches of human rights. This phenomenon poses an increasingly serious challenge to humanity. As Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, the backbone of my work has been to advocate for a Human Rights based approach to combatting trafficking. I will never push enough for the formulation and implementation of anti-trafficking responses based on 5Ps (protection, prosecution, punishment, prevention, promoting international cooperation and partnership), 3Rs (redress, recovery and reintegration) and 3Cs (capacity, cooperation and coordination), guided by international human rights law and standards.

A major step taken by the international community aimed at responding to this modern day slavery was the adoption of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, in 2000, which came into force 25th December, 2003. As at today, there are 156 State parties to the protocol. The UN Protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking provides solid international legal instruments for the implementation of my global mandate. Article 1 of the Protocol emphasizes on cooperation thus recognizing that meaningful progress could only be reached if we work together in a global partnership to end human trafficking. Cooperation and partnership are cross-cutting elements in all aspects of the efforts to combat trafficking in persons. The Trafficking Protocol clearly recognizes the role of bilateral or multilateral cooperation on one hand in alleviating factors that make persons vulnerable to trafficking, such factors include  poverty, underdevelopment and lack of equal opportunity, and on the other hand  in discouraging demands that foster trafficking in persons. Universal ratification of the Protocol will reinforce the global partnership and cooperation required to end human trafficking.

The current Status of Ratification in Latin America reveals that 20 out of 22 countries in the Latin America region have ratified or acceded to the Trafficking Protocol.  The remaining two countries which have not signed nor acceded to the Trafficking Protocol are: Falk Islands and French Guiana. In respect of the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (“Smuggling of Migrants Protocol”); 18 countries out of 22 countries in the Latin America region have ratified or acceded to the Protocol. Bolivia has only signed the Protocol, whereas Colombia, Falk Islands and French Guiana have not yet signed nor acceded to the Protocol.

Some countries have enacted anti-trafficking legislations, in other places forced labour laws, slavery or servitude laws cover the issue of trafficking. However, a large number of countries are yet to take action despite being State Parties to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and punish Trafficking in Persons and to the Convention on the Human Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families. Undoubtedly  we need collective action, including public/partnerships to end this modern day slavery. States need to adopt a human rights based approach that will protect the rights of victims of trafficking. As rightly stated by the UN Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Human Trafficking, developed by the OHCHR (2002):

“Violations of human rights are both a cause and a consequence of trafficking in persons. Accordingly, it is essential to place the protection of all human rights at the centre of any measures taken to prevent and end trafficking. Anti-trafficking measures should not adversely affect the human rights and dignity of persons and, in particular, the rights of those who have been trafficked, migrants, internally displaced persons, refugees and asylum-seekers.”

As the Special Rapporteur I emphasize that all aspects of national, regional and international responses to trafficking should be anchored in the rights and obligations established by international human rights law. Core principles and standards derived from international human rights law should guide all aspects of anti-trafficking response at all stages. Over the past decade, many States have made important progress in the development of effective and rights-based criminal justice responses to trafficking that are consistent with these principles and standards. It is nevertheless important to acknowledge that both commitment and capacity vary widely, and many challenges remain with regard to implementing a rights- based approach (See 2012 Annual Report- A/HRC/20/18 of 6 June, 2012).  The criminalization of human trafficking is an essential aspect of any programme to combat and prevent trafficking in persons. The obligation on States to criminalize trafficking is clear; it is contained in all trafficking treaties and its importance has been repeatedly confirmed through international and regional policy instruments, including by the United Nations Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons (A/RES/67/260). The Global Plan promotes international cooperation in combating trafficking in persons, which is often committed transnationally and require cooperation of source, transit and destination countries. Without international cooperation and collaboration, effective investigation and prosecution of the crime of human trafficking, including prevention would be hindered.

In addition to criminalizing trafficking in persons in conformity with the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially in Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, States must ensure the criminalization of other crimes relating to trafficking in persons, including – but not limited to – corruption, money-laundering, debt bondage, obstruction of justice and participation in organized criminal groups. Furthermore, timely and efficient identification of victims is central to the criminalization of trafficking, as it affects the ability of law enforcement officials to prosecute traffickers effectively and is fundamental in terms of being able to provide trafficked persons with the necessary support services.

My 2010 report to the United Nations General Assembly on prevention of trafficking emphasized a multi-stakeholder approach and underlined the need for public/private partnerships- including monitoring and evaluating anti-trafficking initiatives.  In all my thematic reports, and recommendations to the countries that kindly received me, I have stressed the importance of cooperation and partnership among different stakeholders such as Governments, businesses, civil society organizations and trafficked persons themselves. In preventing trafficking in persons, the participation of trafficked persons in designing and implementing prevention measures is critical. Policies, initiatives and programmes informed by the voices of trafficked persons will be more effective, as trafficked persons can provide crucial information about why they left their homes and what strategy or support was needed to prevent them from being trafficked. Allow me to underline that coordination should be at the national, regional and international level. It is in this spirit that I have convened a series of Consultations and workshops respectively on the role of regional mechanisms and the role of national monitoring and coordinating mechanisms (national rapporteur and equivalent mechanisms) in order to share lessons learned, best practices and assess remaining challenges.

As the UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in persons, my work entails witnessing first-hand the damages caused to victims of this heinous crime, listening to their tales of stolen and broken lives that shames and challenges humanity.  I would like to share few examples of real human tragedies, gathered through my field experience.

  1. In April at the Women of the World event organized by Newsweek and Daily Beast in New York, I met and shared a podium with an Argentinian woman called Susana Trimarco whose child was stolen by traffickers. Susana Trimarco has so many questions, but they all return her to the same sorrowful place: what became of her only daughter, María de los Ángeles Veron—known in Argentina as Marita—who disappeared a decade ago and is still missing?

  2. During my country visit to Argentina in 2010, I met a Bolivian man and his family, all trafficked to a poultry farm. The entire family was enslaved and subjected to forced labour.  The wife and children were raped by the owner of the factory, some of them got infected and the entire family suffered immensely before they were rescued. As they narrated their lots they wept and I wept. His two brothers also trafficked were not so lucky and are yet to be found. The stories are not different from what I found in Uruguay and elsewhere in the region where the criminal justice system has failed to protect victims of trafficking and traffickers seem well connected with local criminals and owners of bars, night clubs and brothels.
  3. In Thailand- I recall meeting hundreds of  rescued girls in shelters who have been trafficked from mainly neighbouring countries of Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam- all very young, of school age,  but some had never had a chance  to go to school and have had their childhood murdered by traffickers.
  4. In UAE- girls, men and women were trafficked for sexual and labour exploitation. I met a Columbian girl who got trafficked through an internet job offer and once she landed in Dubai, she became enslaved for three years until she was found by the Police.

  5. In Japan, I met - and also heard about foreign victims whose employers were so inhuman and exploitative that their use of toilets was deducted from their meagre wages and carefully maintained in in a log book. It took a Judge to restore those lost wages/money in form of award of compensation when the case went for adjudication before a labour court.

I can go on ad infinitum on stolen lives, lost lives, stolen money, childhood destroyed, human beings degraded and tortured. These are calamitous price of modern day slavery.

Strategies aimed at preventing trafficking in persons must address underlying factors that render people vulnerable to trafficking, such as poverty, lack of employment opportunities, sex discrimination and inequality, restrictive immigration laws and policies, war and conflict.

The current world economic crisis has further exacerbated the desperation and the quest for human security, access to decent standards of living, survival and development. As I stressed in my 2009 annual report to the General Assembly, trafficking of human beings and migration pushed by the search for a better life are closely linked. It is often difficult economic circumstances that make people consider the option of migration and it is also poverty with other intertwining factors that makes them vulnerable to becoming easy targets for traffickers. The global economic crisis and the increasing poverty caused by massive unemployment are likely to lead to an increase in trafficking for the purpose of exploitative labour.  In this context, employers tend to seek cheaper labour which allows them to reduce their costs and to maximize their profits.

My last report to the Human rights council at its 23rd session addressed the ‘Demand side’ of trafficking in persons. Demand is a significant factor that contributes to fostering and leading to human trafficking. The demand side of trafficking generally refers to the nature and extent of the exploitation of the trafficked persons after their arrival at the point of destination, as well as the social, cultural, political, economic, legal and developmental factors that shape the demand and facilitate the trafficking process.

While taking note of the variety of measures and approaches to prevent trafficking, I have however observed that often the focus has exclusively been on demand for commercial sexual exploitation, particularly of women and girls, and neglected other forms of demand, such as demand for exploitative labour and sale of organs. Of course this is not to underestimate that trafficking disproportionately affects women and children or to understate the traumatic and irreparable physical and emotional harm done to women and girls enslaved and forced into prostitution or sexual servitude, including in servile marriages.

In addition, having analysed the question of trafficking in persons in business supply chains, including corporate responsibilities to prevent and combat human trafficking in their supply chains, I noted that in today’s globalized world, the risks of human trafficking in business supply chains are significant in many economic sectors, and have not been adequately dealt with, either by States or by businesses themselves. Challenges in integrating a human rights-based approach in addressing the demand side of trafficking in persons include obstacles such as ensuring labour rights, ensuring the respect and implementation of children’s rights, and other fundamental human rights while conducting business. States have the primary obligation to protect its citizens, to prevent and combat trafficking in persons under international law by enacting and enforcing legislation criminalizing trafficking and forced labour, imposing proportionate punishments on perpetrators. The business responsibility to respect human rights requires that businesses not only avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities, but also seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their  operations, products or services by their business relationships, even if they have not contributed to  those impacts. Addressing the issue of trafficking in supply chains requires a multi-stakeholders approach putting emphasis on those States in which suppliers or subcontractors in the production chain are based.

With regards to the right to an effective remedy for trafficked persons which essentially entails the 3Rs (redress, recovery and reintegration), and on which I paid particular attention in the exercise of my mandate as access to effective remedies may also contribute to preventing trafficking from happening, I observed that adequate and effective remedies are often out of reach for trafficked persons, despite the egregious human rights violations they suffered.  The right to effective remedies is one of the fundamental guarantees under international human rights law. Article 6, paragraph 6 of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (“Palermo Protocol”) expressly provides that “[e]ach State Party shall ensure that its domestic legal system contains measures that offer victims of trafficking in persons the possibility of obtaining compensation for damage suffered”.  While the right to an effective remedy is a well-established norm under international law, there remains a wide gap in practice between the law and its implementation vis-à-vis trafficked persons.  In many States, trafficked persons are not provided with remedies as a matter of right, but only with ad hoc measures predominantly aimed at facilitating criminal investigation, such as for example temporary residence permits contingent upon cooperation with law enforcement authorities. Trafficked persons are rarely known to have received compensation, as they do not have access to information, legal assistance, and support services.  At worst, many trafficked persons are wrongly identified as irregular migrants, detained and deported before they have an opportunity to even consider seeking remedies, thus leading to their double victimization. This is why I will once more stress the necessity of ensuring that anti-trafficking measures do not adversely affect the human rights and dignity of persons, in particular the rights of those who have been trafficked, and urge States to actively monitor the impact and possible side effects of measures to discourage demand and take appropriate action to address any unintended side effects which restrict the exercise of human rights.

This is why I presented the draft basic principles on the right to an effective remedy for trafficked persons annexed to my 2011 report to the HRC at its 17th session. These basic principles are based on existing international human rights law and standards,  and are designed to bring clarity to the concept of the right to an effective remedy and to elaborate specific factors to be taken into account when this right is applied to trafficked persons Taking note of  my report, the Human Rights Council has adopted, at its 20th session on 5 July 2012, Resolution 20/1 , which among others, requests the Office of the High Commissioner to organize, in close cooperation with my mandate, consultations with States, regional intergovernmental bodies and organizations and the civil society on the draft basic principles on the right to effective remedy for trafficked persons. It is in this framework that I will be convening the Latin American and Caribbean’s Regional Consultation on the Right to effective remedies for trafficked persons in Santiagio, Chile on 22 July 2013. I believe, these principles could be deepened and enriched by the exchange of views and ensuing discussions of participants of this high level event. (A/HRC/17/35)


The challenge is to not allow the impunity of trafficking in persons to continue. We have to make trading in human beings a high risk business and a zero profit one with the only just reward being effective punishments for even attempts at trafficking for the purpose of exploitation. We must do everything as governments, non -state actors to restore the stolen lives, bring succour to victims and provide compensation for lost wages and help put them back on a path of sustainable livelihood to avoid re-victimization and re-trafficking.

As far as the mandate I have been entrusted with, the real challenge is not just in adopting strategies that will effectively lead to catching the perpetrators and punishing them;   but also to put in place strategies that will focus equally on the victim by recognizing and redressing the violations suffered, empowering the victim to speak out without being doubly victimized, jeopardized or stigmatized, while at the same time targeting the root causes of human trafficking. The strategies must be people-centred, bearing in mind that human trafficking is about persons whose basic right to live free particularly from fear and want is under constant threat. We must recognize the dignity of the victims and their right to survival and development. Thus, restorative justice is central to combating human trafficking.
I look forward to further strengthening cooperation and partnership with Member States of the Latin America and Caribbean region as well as all stakeholders who work in promoting the effective implementation of the international provisions to end human trafficking.  I urge all stakeholders to renew their commitment to concertedly fight this heinous crime to ensure the universal respect for human rights of all persons. We need collective action to protect rights of trafficked persons and to prevent and punish traffickers. We can individually and collectively take action to end this modern day slavery. The time is now to stop trafficking in human beings and to end the impunity of traffickers.

Thank you for your attention and I look forward to a fruitful dialogue.

See the report Joy Ezeilo, the UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children-Doc. A/HRC/10/16 of 20th February, 2009 and presented to the Human Rights Council on 12th March 2009; also UN General Assembly Doc. A/64/290 of 12th August 2009 presented on 23rd October, 2009.

IOM, Estudio Exploratorio sobre la trata de personas con fines de explotación sexual en Argentina, Chile y Uruguay, 2008. p. 295.