Survivors of human trafficking – breaking the silence

Thirty-year old Jana Kohut from Bosnia told the Human Rights Council how she was trafficked and sexually exploited for four months in neighbouring Slovenia.

The UN Human Rights Council heard of Jana’s heart-wrenching experience at the hands of traffickers, who forced her into prostitution.

“I was repeatedly threatened in order to obey them, especially as I was constantly reminded how easy it would be for them to get my sister, to replace me and subject her to the same treatment.”

Survivors of human trafficking speak at the Human Rights Council’s 14 session © UN Photo/Patrick Bergschmann Jana called for the creation of safe places and support for victims and survivors of trafficking.

She said: “Involve those who wish to break the silence and nurture those who need to keep the silence.”

Jana is currently writing a film script of her experiences as a trafficked woman. She was one of five survivors who spoke at the Human Rights Council panel discussion on trafficking.

Kikka Cerpa, from Venezuela , told the harrowing story of how she was forced into prostitution in New York 18 years ago, by her former boyfriend.

She told the Human Rights Council:“The other women and I were arrested over and over for prostitution. Never did the police or prosecutors ask us if we were trafficked. Never did they offer us help and protection.”

Jana and Kikka, were speaking at the panel event titled: “Giving Voice to the Victims and Survivors of Human Trafficking.”

Jana said her story and that of Kikka are replicated by thousands of other women and girls worldwide – but she brings trafficking for sexual exploitation closer home saying it could happen to us all.

“How many more 13-year old girls, your daughter, my sister, their niece need to be forced into prostitution?” asked Jana. “How many more will be put into the number of some statistics, what number is high enough in this age of cruelest slavery?”

Kumar Ramjali, a father of two left his home village in Nepal for Jordan after promises of a well paid job abroad. He said: “I was eager to go for the foreign employment.”

Kumar told the Council that he nearly died as he together with 12 others were transported through two countries in a convey of vans to a military base in Iraq.

“We were held for eight days in that horrible place. We learned that two of the vans that were in our caravan and were carrying 12 Nepalese were missing. We later learned they had been stopped by insurgents and the 12 men were kidnapped and murdered, their executions broadcast on the internet.”

Charlotte Awino from Uganda told the Council of how at the age of 14 years she was abducted from a boarding school and held captive for 8 years by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).Her mother Angelina Atyam never stopped speaking out and working for her release and that of thousands abducted children in Uganda – despite threats by the LRA.

Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-Wha Kang opening the panel, described human trafficking as a “contemporary form of slavery.”

High Commissioner Navi Pillay meets with victims of trafficking © OHCHR Photo/Patrick Bergschmann “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,” Kang said.

She said the “market” of trafficking is shameful and the criminal trade needs a concerted effort to address.

In a report to the Council Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, said: “protection and proper identification of victims is the first and fundamental step.”

She reiterated that “people who are trafficked must be treated as victims and not as criminals,” and said victims of trafficking need protection and assistance as well as access to justice.

Separately, the High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, addressing an OHCHR two-day seminar for experts on the human rights approach to anti-trafficking, said it violates the most fundamental of our human rights: “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.”

“Preventing trafficking requires attention to vulnerabilities created through a failure to protect rights,” Pillay said.

The Human Rights office urges States to utilize the Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Human Trafficking , developed by the Office in 2002, in their efforts to prevent trafficking and protect victims.

7 June 2010