U.N. General Assembly Focuses on Human Trafficking
Wednesday, June 4, 2008 2:53 PM

3 June 2008 – Global and regional pacts must be put into action if the world is to tackle the scourge of human trafficking, a $32 billion annual industry, General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim said today in New York.

Despite United Nations-backed agreements and initiatives, “there remains a vast gulf between the letter of the law and the situation on the ground,” he told a thematic debate convened by the Assembly on the issue.

Despite such pacts as the landmark UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, roughly 2.5 million people worldwide – mostly women and children – are believed to be victims of human trafficking. Additionally, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has identified 127 countries as sources of trafficked people and 137 nations as destinations for these victims.

Mr. Kerim told participants at today’s debate that increased global interdependence has “provided new avenues for criminal networks to operate on a global scale,” adding that trafficking affects all regions of the world and does not discriminate between developed and developing areas.

He urged Member States to act on their commitments, to enhance protection and assistance for victims and to prosecute traffickers.

Furthermore, the Assembly President stressed the need to boost the economic and social conditions to minimize people’s vulnerability to trafficking, and also appealed for stepped up cooperation among the private sector and nations.

Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro called on all countries to ratify the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons.

“For millions of people around the world, the fight against human trafficking is a matter of life and death,” she told the debate. “To reunite families that have been torn apart, to restore childhood to kids who have been robbed of their youth, to bring back dignity to all those violated by these abuses – we must act now.”

Last year, the UN Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT), an initiative launched by UNODC and several UN partners last year to bring governments, the private sector, academia, civil society and the media together to combat a practice that is viewed as modern-day slavery, was launched.

Anwar Gargash, Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), said that the Gulf nation, which has been a strong supporter of UN.GIFT since its inception, is endeavouring to address the problem.

The country’s “wake-up call” came in the form when it was discovered that camel jockeys were being exploited, he said at a press conference today and convinced the UAE that global partnerships were key to tackling the problem of trafficking due to its transnational nature.

“We understand that it is not a stigma to have human trafficking but the stigma is not to do anything about it,” Mr. Gargash said, adding that the UAE is leading the fight in the region against human trafficking.

The other keynote speaker at today’s Assembly debate was United States actress Ashley Judd, who, as an active member of the non-governmental organization (NGO) Population Services International (PSI), has toured 12 countries to visit brothels, slums, hospices and other facilities.

“My objective was to bring the UN into the ‘sacred circle’ of sharing because I know that the unheard are helped when they are heard. I know that compassionate listening helps me and my goals was to help them,” she told reporters, referring to the victims of trafficking she has met in her visits to different nations.

Today’s event comes on the heels of the first-ever global forum to address human trafficking in 2007 convened by UN.GIFT, which brought together more than 1,000 experts, government authorities, law enforcement officials, business leaders, people who had been trafficked from over 100 countries, and others.

Published in: "Words must be put into action to fight human trafficking - Assembly President," Press Release, United Nations News Centre, 3 June 2008.