In May 2008, the Human Rights Council appointed Ms. Gulnara Shahinian as the first Special Rapporteur on Contemporary forms of slavery, its causes and consequences. Ms. Shahinian is a lawyer and has extensive experience working as an expert consultant for various UN, EU, Council of Europe, OSCE and government bodies on children’s rights, gender, migration and trafficking.
Article 4 of the UDHR states that ‘No one shall be held in slavery or servitude: slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms’.
Slavery was the first human rights issue to arouse wide international concern yet it still continues today. Slavery like practices remains a grave and persistent problem today.
The mandate on contemporary forms of slavery includes but is not limited to issues such as: debt bondage, serfdom, forced labour, child slavery, sexual slavery, forced or early marriages and the sale of wives. As a legally permitted labour system, traditional slavery has been abolished everywhere, but it has not been completely stamped out. There are still reports of slave markets. Even when abolished, slavery leaves traces. It can persist as a state of mind- among victims and their descendants and among the inheritors of those who practised it –long after it has formally ended.
Slavery-like practices are often clandestine. This makes it difficult to have a clear picture of the scale of the contemporary slavery, let alone to uncover, punish or eliminate it.
The majority of those who suffer are the poorest, most vulnerable and marginalised social groups in society. Fear, ignorance of one’s rights and the need to survive do not encourage them to speak out.
In order to effectively eradicate slavery in all its forms, the root causes of slavery such as poverty, social exclusion and all forms of discrimination must be addressed. In addition, we need to promote and protect the rights of all especially the most vulnerable in our society. Where human rights violations have already been committed, we are called upon to help restore the dignity of victims.
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Ms. Gulnara Shahinian
Special Rapporteur on Contemporary forms of slavery
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais des Nations
CH-1211 Geneva 10