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Security Council Open Debate on Maintenance of international peace and security: Trafficking in persons in conflict situations

Statement by Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children
21 November 2017 - New York

Mr. President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

As the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, I would like to thank you for this opportunity to participate in the open debate on 'Maintenance of international peace and security: trafficking of persons in conflict situation’ under the Italian Presidency.  The Security Council  has been actively committed to this topic since the Presidential Declaration in December 2015 and subsequently through the Annual Reports by the Secretary-General,  the Resolution 2331/2016 and several Open Debates.

In the fulfilment of my mandate, I have reported twice on this subject to the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council, and recently submitted a joint report with the Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, focussed on children’s vulnerabilities deriving from conflict (A/72/164, A/71/303 and A/HRC/32/41). I am convinced that trafficking in persons in the context of conflict and post-conflict situations, trafficking of persons fleeing conflict, and the protection of the rights of victims and potential victims require urgent, concerted and effective action.

The shocking video disseminated a few days ago by CNN, showing an “auction” of young migrants in Libya, publicized as slave workforce and sold for a few dollars, shows that trafficking for the purpose of exploitation and slavery is a tragic reality nowadays. I would like to thank the Secretary General for his strong and inspiring words on this subject.

Research carried out by IOM, UNODC, UNICEF, UNHCR, ICMPD, Caritas Internationalis among others, confirmed that this human rights violation is a systematic component of conflict, amounting on certain circumstances to war crimes or crimes against humanity. Trafficking is always fuelled by political instability and happens on a regular basis in the context of large migration flows. Moreover, as a form of gender-based violence, disproportionally affects women and girls especially for the purpose of sexual exploitation, and targets on a massive scale children and young adults.

Egregious patterns of trafficking, forced labour and slavery have been found to be a strategy for terrorist groups such as ISIL/DAESH, Boko Haram and others. Furthermore, these gross human rights violations are systematically perpetrated in the context of any conflict or in areas at risk of conflict by criminal or armed groups which take advantage of the breakdown of the rule of law to carry out the dirty business of trafficking and become more powerful and dangerous. This is one of the reasons why the prevention of trafficking for any purpose is directly linked with the maintenance of international peace and security.

In this light, a human rights perspective is crucial. Human rights violations such as trafficking in persons are not only a consequence but also a cause of conflict, when they reach a massive dimension and amount to gross human rights violations and serious crimes perpetrated by criminal or armed groups, including in the context of migration, and especially in transit countries. Therefore the Security Council Agenda on trafficking should be linked with the process leading with the Global Compact on migration and refugees, as well as the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. Moreover, trafficking should be addressed in connection with the Women Peace and Security Agenda, and with the Six Grave Violations against Children during Armed Conflict Agenda.

In fact, a particular concern relates to the situation of children, who are used as child soldiers or sexual slaves during conflict, are disproportionally affected by displacement, often traveling alone to reach a safe country and being subject to any form of trafficking, exploitation and abuse. It is an obligation under international law to protect them at all times. In this context, States should ban detention of children for violations of immigration laws and regulations.

States are required by international law to take effective measures to ensure that victims of trafficking are protected from further exploitation and harm including during conflict and humanitarian crisis. They also bear an obligation to prevent, respect and fulfil the human rights of victims of trafficking, including by exercising their due diligence in holding non-state actors including armed groups and criminal groups accountable at all times. Moreover, an innovative approach is needed, based on good practices of some UN Agencies, regarding early screening and identification not only of victims of trafficking but also of people vulnerable to trafficking among displaced populations, asylum seekers and in general terms people fleeing conflict, aimed to adopt tailored solutions to protect vulnerable people from trafficking and exploitation.

Mr. President,

Preventing and combatting human trafficking cannot be achieved by one State alone. The lack of international cooperation is often the source of further human rights violations, especially in the context of migration. I would like to recall here the many who lost their lives in the attempt of reaching a safe shore, in Europe and other areas of the world, and the many surviving their perilous journey to end up in situations of trafficking for  forced labour and slavery. States must respond quickly and effectively, adopting a shared responsibility approach, to incorporate anti-trafficking into all humanitarian interventions in conflict zones as a life-saving activity, to establish wider channels for regular migration, to ensure full respect of the principle of non-refoulement, to implement relocations in a preferred country, family reunification procedures, effective child protection systems, as powerful means to prevent trafficking, and simultaneously to ensure stability, peace and security.

Thank you for your attention!