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Address by Ms. Navanethem Pillay
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
"Giving Voice to the Victims and Survivors of Human Trafficking"


Special Event 22 October 2009
 
 
Mr. Secretary-General,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
 
I wish to extend my warm greetings and sincere thanks to the four brave individuals who have agreed to share their stories with us today. The Charter of the United Nations opens with the words: “We the Peoples of the United Nations”. Indeed, this global body was conceived to be at the service of people all over the world. Your presence here today is an important and timely reminder that the United Nations belongs to all of us.
 
The issue we have come together to discuss today is both pressing and urgent. Despite all our efforts, persisting economic disparities, conflict and discrimination, particularly against women and migrants, continue to push those who are least able to protect themselves into dangerous situations from which they cannot escape. As a result, in every part of the world, countless individuals are callously exploited for profit.
 
Yet, all States are under international legal obligations to protect the rights of individuals under their jurisdiction and to shield them from exploitation and abuse.
 
My position on the issue of human trafficking is well known - we continue to promote an approach that recognizes trafficking as, first and foremost, a violation of human rights. My Office has been among the most active within the UN system in seeking a response to trafficking that is based on law and human rights. A human rights approach to human trafficking means placing the victim at the centre of our consideration and our concern, as advocated by the Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Human Trafficking, developed by OHCHR in 2002.
 
While trafficking may be a problem related to migration and to transnational crime, it is also—and fundamentally— an attack on the dignity and integrity of the individual. Trafficking involves practices prohibited in every country including slavery, debt bondage, forced labor and sexual exploitation. We fight trafficking because it violates 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.
 
What does it mean, in practical terms, to place the victim at the centre of our response to trafficking? This approach requires us to consider, at each and every stage, the impact that a law, policy, practice or measure may have on persons who have been trafficked and persons who are vulnerable to being trafficked. It means rejecting responses that compromise rights and freedoms. Central to this perspective is eradicating discrimination and the unjust distribution of power that underlie trafficking, that grant impunity to traffickers, and that deny justice to victims. A victim-centered approach to trafficking demands that we listen to the victims and survivors of trafficking. We must use their first-hand insights to craft better and more effective responses. That is why my Office has organized this event and why we are all so grateful to the panelists who agreed to come here, some of them from distant places, in order to share with us their story and their insight, and to help us develop our response and our action.
 
Ladies and Gentlemen,
 
In committing ourselves to ending trafficking and related forms of exploitation we face a monumental task. Allow me to share with you some thoughts on how to pursue such an endeavour.
 
First, we should recognize and value the work that has been done thus far. That is especially important as we devise new mechanisms and responses, including a global action plan. The framework of an effective response to trafficking in persons has already been established in international law. It is that framework which must guide and direct our future actions. The key international treaties, to which most Member States of the United Nations are now party, include the UN Convention on Transnational Organized Crime, the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children and the various instruments of international human rights law, humanitarian law and refugee law that apply to this issue.
 
International law also recognizes that Governments are responsible for protecting their citizens and others within their jurisdiction from both public and private wrongs. This responsibility implies a legal obligation to exercise due diligence in taking all appropriate measures to prevent trafficking and related exploitation. The due diligence standard requires all States to identify victims of trafficking, to investigate and prosecute traffickers and to provide victims with access to justice.
 
Second, international law is explicit on how States are to deal with victims of trafficking. Trafficked persons should not be subjected to summary deportations, nor should they be held in detention. They should not be prosecuted for immigration or other offences that are a direct outcome of their situation as trafficked persons. Victims of trafficking should be given the support and assistance they require to recover their dignity and rights. Their mobility should not be further curtailed, nor should they be denied the right to make decisions. International law recognises that special care must be taken to protect the rights and interests of children who have been trafficked. Procedures for the rapid identification of trafficked children, for the appointment of legal guardians and for the implementation of other age-sensitive measures have been identified as essential first steps to securing those rights and interests.
 
Third, we need to address the “root causes” of trafficking, that is, those factors that increase the vulnerability of individuals and groups to trafficking and related exploitation. Likewise, we must shed light on the “demand” side of trafficking, particularly on those social, political and economic forces that develop and sustain a market for trafficking.
 
Any serious attempt by the international community to respond to trafficking must tackle these issues openly and honestly. It must acknowledge the link between trafficking and inequality; the nexus between trafficking and entrenched gender and racial discrimination; the connection between trafficking and sexual exploitation, including through prostitution; the link between trafficking and inefficient migration regimes that push migrants in the hands of traffickers. In sum, we must acknowledge that this practice is the hidden, shameful part of a broader global market in which all of us are, in some way, involved.
 
Fellow Panelists,

As survivors of human trafficking you each have a story to tell. It is a story that we need to hear. However, we need much more. We need your advice, your counsel on how the international community can best step forward. How can we ensure that what happened to you does not happen to others? What should be done? What can be done? You may not have all the answers, but I know that we will leave this event with a stronger conviction and a sense of urgency to act.
 
I look forward to what will no doubt be a stimulating and fruitful discussion.
 
Thank you.