Article 4: Freedom from Slavery
Men bought and sold like commodities, held for years against their will on fishing boats off Thailand. Yazidi women sold into sex slavery, raped daily and passed from owner to owner. Human beings offered as birthday gifts to children.
Article 4 is clear: no one has the right to make us a slave and we cannot make anyone our slave. But if you thought slavery disappeared with the end of the Transatlantic slave trade in the 1800s, it may be a shock to learn of the abuse of fisherfolk who supply seafood to some of the world’s top supermarkets, the fate of women under so-called Islamic State or of migrant women in brothels in Europe and elsewhere; or current reality in Mauritania, the last country in the world to officially ban slavery.
Enormous progress has been made in the 70 years since adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and indeed in the 150 years since entire economies were based on ownership of our fellow human beings, and religious leaders found divine inspiration for the oppressive system. Yet, slavery-like practices and trafficking in human beings continue to remain a reality of our time.
In the words of British investigative journalist Ross Kemp, “There are more slaves today than there were at the height of the slave trade.”
Nadia Murad, a Yazidi woman awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 (jointly with Congolese gynaecologist Denis Mukwege) for publicizing rape as a weapon of war, called her autobiography ‘The Last Girl’ because “I want to be the last girl in the world with a story like mine.” She was captured by ISIS in Iraq at the age of 21 and sold into sexual slavery, targeted because her family belonged to the minority Yazidi religion.
Fully wiping out slavery – some two centuries after Denmark and France led efforts to outlaw it – is still a struggle. As recently as 2016, an estimated 40.3 million people were living in modern slavery, and 70 percent of them were women and girls. Persecution and migration have propelled many desperate people, unwittingly, into the hands of human traffickers. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), in the past five years 89 million people experienced some contemporary form of slavery for periods ranging from a few days to five years.