(Part 1) General Assembly: High-level Meeting on the appraisal of the UN global plan of action to combat trafficking in persons - Plenary Meeting, 76th Session
Stressing ‘Pity Is Not Enough’, Victims’ Rights Groups Say Survivors Need Voice in Forming Anti-Trafficking Laws, Policies, as Delegates Outline National Strategies
Survivor wisdom must be leveraged to forge effective policies and action plans that can better protect women and children and end impunity for traffickers, many delegates and survivors themselves said today, as the General Assembly adopted a Political Declaration at the opening of its two-day high-level meeting on the appraisal of the United Nations Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons.
Acting without a vote, the Assembly adopted a resolution endorsing the 29‑paragraph Political Declaration, by which Member States expressed grave concern that the COVID‑19 pandemic has exacerbated existing situations of vulnerability to trafficking in persons. Member States also agreed to take action to address this and other pressing issues, including a commitment to carry out appropriate measures to facilitate access to justice and protections for victims.
“At this pivotal moment, the Political Declaration can help to generate the momentum needed to take decisive action against this crime,” Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary‑General of the United Nations, said in opening remarks. Women, girls, children, refugees and migrants are especially targeted by and vulnerable to traffickers, who have delved deeper into the dark web on the Internet and are exploiting pandemic-related travel and movement restrictions to flout authorities. As such, she urged Member States to make the most of this opportunity, to help get back on track to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in the Decade of Action, and to work together to end the scourge of trafficking once and for all.
Malaika Oringo, a survivor and the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Footprint to Freedom and Survivor Trafficking in Persons, stressed that: “Pity is not enough; survivors need more opportunities to thrive.” She called on Member States to leverage survivor wisdom and for more meaningful partnerships with them, saying that while they are the most significant stakeholders in trafficking discussions, less than 10 per cent of their voices are included in negotiations that lead to policy and laws.
Yasmeen Hassan, Global Executive Director of the women’s rights organization Equality Now, said the international community is failing women. Echoing the call to grind to a halt the ever-widening trafficking networks, she said Governments must enforce anti-sex trafficking laws and provide equal rights and education for all people, and they must end impunity for offenders. To combat new threats posed by the Internet and technology, she said Governments must take swift action, adding that: “Traffickers are hiding behind unlimited impunity; there is no time to waste, and inaction is not an option.”
Ghada Fathi Waly, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), pointing to the negative impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic on the victims of trafficking due to lockdowns and learning disruptions, said more time spent online has also led to more exploitation. Highlighting the Office’s victim‑centred approach, she pointed to the assistance provided to more than 5,000 victims per year through frontline non‑governmental organizations, while commending the practice of listening to survivors in the elaboration of the Political Declaration.
Siobhan Mullally, Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children, said action must address the root causes alongside the brutalizing trend of the commodification of women and girls’ bodies. Other areas also need urgent attention, she said, underscoring the importance of expanding safe, orderly and regular migration. This includes moving beyond responses built on push-backs, erecting walls and criminalizing migration. In addition, while digital technologies can assist in preventing trafficking, effective action is not being taken by technology companies, or by States, to combat impunity for trafficking with technologies, she said. Moreover, victims of trafficking continue to be detained, imprisoned, punished and denied the possibility of recovery.
General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid (Maldives) said trafficking is first and foremost a severe human rights violation that thrives off prejudices and systemic inequities, including gender inequality, discrimination, racism and xenophobia. Going forward, it is essential to prioritize a victim- and survivor‑centred approach, he said. Through collaboration, the international community can build strong legal and policy frameworks, to empower human rights defenders, and enhance victims’ access to justice, he said, underlining the need for more research, data, and analysis on how those crimes are being carried out and who is being targeted and affected.
During the meeting, ministers and representatives spotlighted national and regional efforts and pointed to pressing challenges ahead. A representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, said trafficking in human beings demands a united approach, as it is a transnational and global crime. However, concerns remain about increased risks of people being trafficked, including the dire situation in Belarus, which is currently instrumentalizing migration on a large scale for political purposes, a practice that amounts to migrant smuggling. More broadly, a comprehensive approach is needed, she said, with the adoption of the Political Declaration being crucial in the multilateral effort to fight against trafficking.
Vladimir Makei, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belarus, said trafficking is now being used as a weapon in conflicts at a time when new and emerging ways to exploit, recruit or target victims are appearing year after year, including traffickers that are moving into the shadows of digital spaces. Noting that his country has launched an anti-trafficking initiative, he said improving coordination among nations is key to combating this crime.
Some delegates offered models of how best to tackle trafficking while drawing attention to the needs of victims. Liechtenstein’s representative said her country’s “Finance Against Slavery and Trafficking” initiative places financial institutions at the heart of the battle by outlining action in the areas of compliance, responsible investment and financial innovation.
New legislation and programmes targeting traffickers and protecting victims were among steps some Member States were taking. The representatives of Algeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dominican Republic and Peru said part of their efforts include newly drafted or adopted laws and policies. Qatar’s Minister of Labour said his country is a leader in the region to completely abolish exit permits for workers.
Representatives of several affected countries suggested solutions based on their experiences. Greece’s delegate said concrete steps to fight human trafficking, with a special emphasis on unaccompanied minors, include a national referral mechanism launched in 2019, recent amendments to the Penal Code and a new law on asylum and referral procedures.
Burkina Faso’s delegate said the Government is focusing on prevention, protection, rehabilitation and cooperation to address an escalating situation that has seen the country become a zone of origin, transit and destination for trafficking victims. However, the ongoing presence of criminal organizations and a spike in terrorism have impacted these efforts, she said, emphasizing that the major challenge is to establish synergies between different actors to effectively track connections between criminal networks, recruiters and internally displaced people, particularly women and children.
The meeting — held to appraise the United Nations Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons, in line with General Assembly resolution A/RES/75/283 — featured two interactive panel discussions on the themes “The Global Plan of Action and enduring trafficking issues and gaps including, inter alia, the trafficking of women and children, particularly girls, for the purpose of sexual exploitation” and “The Global Plan of Action and emerging issues, such as trafficking in persons in the context of COVID‑19, and the misuse of information and communication technologies to facilitate trafficking, including trafficking of children for the purpose of sexual exploitation on the Internet”.
Also delivering statements during the opening segment were ministers and representatives of Colombia, Equatorial Guinea, Jamaica, Cuba, Luxembourg, Philippines, Malta, Netherlands, Ireland, Guyana, Thailand, Austria and China.
The Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 23 November to conclude the high‑level meeting.