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“Protect the victims, particularly women and children” – UN expert on contemporary slavery urges El Salvador

SAN SALVADOR / GENEVA (29 April 2016) – United Nations human rights expert Urmila Bhoola today called on the Government of El Salvador to develop and implement a wide range of initiatives to protect the victims of contemporary forms of slavery, such as forced labour and domestic servitude.

“All measures should include children forced do hazardous work, children forced to conduct illicit activities for gangs and girls and women forced into sexual slavery by gang members,” said the UN Special Rapporteur contemporary forms of slavery at the end of her first official visit to the country.

“These forms of slavery are both a cause and consequence of poverty, social exclusion, internal and external displacement of communities, as well as crime,” Ms. Bhoola said, stressing that “protecting the human rights of victims of slavery is of paramount importance as they are often the most vulnerable and discriminated against with women and children invariably being amongst the most severely affected.”

The Special Rapporteur noted that a comprehensive legal framework exists in the country that penalises slavery and slavery-like practices, and praised the positive progress made by stakeholders.

“Such progress was most clearly noted in the reductions in the number of children engaged in the worst forms of child labour and their reintegration into schools,” she said. “However, prevention and protection of victims through robust and effective law enforcement remains a key challenge.”

During her visit, the Special Rapporteur identified a number of issues of concern in the current context of escalating gang related violence. She was deeply shocked to hear of the forced recruitment of children as young as nine into such gangs, as well as coercion of girls, adolescents and women into participating in sexual activity with gang members, including as so-called ‘brides’ of gang members forced to conduct conjugal visits with them in prison.

“Such activities prima facie constitute contemporary forms of slavery and are prohibited in international human rights law,” Ms. Bhoola noted. “As such the government is obligated to take measures to eliminate these practices, prosecute perpetrators and provide effective access to justice and redress to victims whose rights have been violated.”

“Protection and prevention measures are necessary as an immediate solution to address the high incidence of these crimes and the violence that occurs when victims refuse to comply with demands made by the gangs,” she stated.

In this context the Special Rapporteur noted that government has developed a comprehensive plan to address the high levels of criminal violence that occurs as a result of gang-related activity, and commended the El Salvador Seguro plan that has the support of all key stakeholders.

“I strongly urge the Government to play close attention to avoiding any criminalisation of victims, particularly children and women, who have been subjected to slavery- like practices that force them into criminal behaviour,” she stated. 

The expert also expressed concern about other forms of contemporary forms of slavery and slavery-like practices in El Salvador, including continuing child labour in hazardous and dangerous work, forced labour conditions for workers in a number of sectors, including those producing garments in factories known as ‘maquilas’, home based embroiderers, and those working in private security services, children being forced to beg or perform in the streets, and situations of domestic servitude,

Ms. Bhoola visited San Salvador and labour sites and communities in Usulután, Puerto El Flor and Puerto Parada where she met with a broad range of national and local government officials. She also met with the Human Rights Ombudsman, a range of coordination bodies, representatives from the legislature, the Supreme Court, UN agencies, NGOs working on issues relating to her mandate, trade unions, private sector representatives, and individuals affected by slavery-like conditions of work.

The independent expert will present a report containing her conclusions and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2016.

Ms. Urmila Bhoola (South Africa) assumed her mandate as Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences on 2 June 2014. Ms. Bhoola is a human rights lawyer working in the Asia Pacific region on international human rights, gender equality and labour law. She has 20 years of experience as a labour and human rights lawyer in South Africa and served as a Judge of the South African Labour Court for five years. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Slavery/SRSlavery/Pages/SRSlaveryIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

Check the UN Slavery Convention: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/SlaveryConvention.aspx

UN Human Rights, country page – El Salvador: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/LACRegion/Pages/SVIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms. Eleanor Robb
In San Salvador (during the visit): +41 797 520481 / erobb@ohchr.org
In Geneva (before and after the visit): +41 22 917 9800 / erobb@ohchr.org
or write to srslavery@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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