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Opening Remarks by the Deputy High Commissioner on the HRC Panel on Trafficking in persons, especially women and children

Mr. President,
Excellencies,
Distinguished panellists,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am very honoured and proud to be with you today and to be part of this unique event at the Human Rights Council, prepared to give our fullest attention to the voices of victims and their stories.  Today we will hear from several extraordinary individuals who have endured the worst forms of human exploitation and survived human trafficking.  I welcome each and every one of you and thank you most sincerely for your courage, commitment, and generosity in sharing your stories of pain, suffering and redemption.  Each story that you will tell serves as a powerful reminder of why we are in the business of human rights, of how the human rights of victims must lie at the center of all efforts to prevent and combat trafficking and shape the strategies for their protection and assistance.   

  Despite the committed endeavours of many, persistent and growing economic disparities, conflict and discrimination push those who are least able to protect themselves into dangerous situations from which they cannot escape.  In every part of the world, countless numbers of our fellow human beings are callously exploited for profit, and trafficking in people is becoming increasingly transnational in scope.  The complicity of the “market” of this shameful and criminal trade requires concerted efforts both to address the root-causes of the supply and to tackle the demand.  By highlighting the human cost of trafficking, this panel will contribute to this rounded endeavour.

As we will hear from the survivors today, trafficking in persons entails the worst forms of human rights violations and abuses.   It is an affront to humanity that prides itself of 60 years of progress toward realizing the universal declaration of human rights.   Slavery, declared abolished long ago, continues in this contemporary form.   It shames us all.      

Trafficked women, men and children fall into many different forms of exploitation; in factories, brothels, farms, fishing vessels, hotels, cotton fields, construction sites, camel races, operation tables for organ harvesting, military barracks, and private households.

Listening carefully to the victims and survivors and understanding their needs is key to the rights-based approach to trafficking.  The human rights response which places the victim at the centre of our consideration is articulated in the Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Human Trafficking, developed by OHCHR in 2002 and the subject of last week’s expert seminar mandated by this Council.

Trafficking should be dealt with as a transnational crime as well as a challenge that should lie at the center of our response to the ever growing cross-border migration.  But more fundamentally, it must be seen as an attack on the dignity and integrity of the individual. Trafficking involves practices prohibited in every country, including slavery, debt bondage, forced labour and sexual exploitation.  It impacts on the enjoyment of the most fundamental of rights we all hold dear: the right to life, to equality, dignity and security; the right to health; the right to freedom of movement, freedom from violence and abuse; and the right to be recognized as a person before the law. These are rights to which every human being is entitled, without discrimination.

In practical terms, placing the victim at the centre of our response to trafficking means that we consider, at each and every stage, the impact that a law, policy, practice or measure may have on persons who have been trafficked or who are vulnerable to being trafficked.  It means rejecting responses that compromise rights and freedoms.  Central to this approach is eradicating discrimination, and tackling the shady power structures that perpetuate the impunity enjoyed by traffickers and deny justice to victims. 

It goes without saying that the first step in this victim-centered approach to trafficking is to listen to the victims and survivors.  We must use their experience and insights to craft better and more effective responses.  So, I am very pleased that OHCHR ensured that survivors were able to present their views to the General Assembly last year during the discussions on a Global Plan of Action against Trafficking. The voices and views of survivors should inform the development of the proposed Global Plan, and OHCHR stands ready to assist in this process. The present discussion, here at the Human Rights Council, is an important step forward in ensuring that the voices and the views of the victims and survivors are placed at the heart of our response to trafficking.

Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen,

The Human Rights Council has much contribution to make in realizing the goal of ending trafficking and related forms of exploitation.   There is much to be done.   The international legal framework for combating trafficking requires full and effective implementation. States must be held responsible for violations of their obligations to identify victims of trafficking; to protect and support them; to prosecute offenders; and to prevent future trafficking. As we mark the 10th anniversary of the adoption by the UN General Assembly of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, known as the Palermo Protocol, we call on all States who have yet to do so to sign up to this important legal instrument. As of today, only 137 States are party to the Protocol.

The response of States to trafficking should be monitored and measured against their international legal obligations. In this respect, the human rights treaty bodies, as well as the mechanisms established through this Council, especially the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, who is present with us today, have vital roles to play.

But, none of us can replace the voice of the victims and survivors.  So, I turn to our panellists.  As victims and survivors of human trafficking, you each have a story to tell.  A story that we need to hear, reflect upon and learn lessons from.  How can we ensure that what happened to you does not happen to others? What should be done? You may not have all the answers.  However, I know that after hearing your voices, we will all leave this event with a stronger conviction and a sense of urgency to act.

I thank you, once again, for agreeing to be with us today, and I very much look forward to the discussion.