20 December 2016, New York – Statement on behalf of the European Union and its Member States by Dr. Myria Vassiliadou, EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator, European Commission, at the Security Council Ministerial Open Debate on Trafficking in Persons in Conflict Situations
Mr President, Excellencies, distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,
I thank the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; the Executive Director of UNODC Mr Yury Fedotov and Ms. Zainab Bangura, Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict; Ms. Ameena Saeed Hasan and Ms. Nadia Murad for their statements.
I am speaking on behalf of the European Union and its Member States.
The Candidate Countries Turkey, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*, Montenegro*, Serbia* and Albania*, the country of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidate Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova and Georgia, align themselves with this statement.
We would like to congratulate Spain for this open ministerial debate and commend their keen commitment to address the issue of trafficking in human beings in conflict throughout their mandate as a member of the UN Security Council. This may be the end of a term for Spain, but it also marks a beginning for all of us in this area. We must build on this momentum.
Trafficking in human beings is a threat to human and national security alike – to peace, human rights, democratic governance, the rule of law, socioeconomic development and to international trade and fair economic competition. It can erode the administrative and legal order of a State, thus causing a deficit of sovereignty.
Trafficking in human beings is a grave violation of human dignity, and it is specifically prohibited in Article 5(3) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. It is also a form of serious, transnational organised crime and it has huge human social and economic costs. It is driven by demand for all forms of exploitation and by very high profits, in both the legal and illegal economies, resulting in a complex interplay between supply and demand that must be addressed if the crime is to be eradicated.
We remain strongly committed to eradicating trafficking in human beings, which, as a transnational threat, requires a transnational response. The UN provides an excellent forum for achieving this, and the European Union has placed multilateralism at the core of our common external agenda, including in the new Global Strategy for Foreign and Security Policy of the EU.
We stand behind the commitments in the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants to combat human trafficking, including through targeted measures to identify, protect, and assist victims, as well as to prevent human trafficking among those affected by displacement, taking into account the particular vulnerabilities of women and children.
We welcome the report submitted by the Secretary-General in April 2016 on conflict-related sexual violence, as well as the report submitted in November 2016 on the implementation of measures to counter trafficking in persons. We note with attention the nexus between conflict and post-conflict–related sexual violence and human trafficking, and their cross–border dynamics, as acknowledged in these reports. Trafficking in this context takes many despicable forms — from sexual slavery, to labour exploitation, or organ removal, the list is long and gruesome. We are concerned by the references in the Secretary-General’s report to armed groups that often regard the civilian population as a resource to be exploited, viewing women’s sexuality and fertility as commodities to be trafficked and traded as part of the political economy of war.
Importantly, trafficking is gender-specific. The most recent EU data show that trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation is still the most widespread form and the majority of its victims are women and girls. This type of trafficking constitutes a structural form of violence against women and girls. In this respect, we call for a more gender-specific, targeted approach in all actions against trafficking.
Reflecting on today’s debate and building on the Secretary-General’s report, it is clear that we must focus on the prevention of trafficking in human beings in all its forms. Any other approach comes too late for the victims of this deplorable crime. In this respect, ensuring accountability for the perpetrators is essential as a deterrent. We cannot accept a culture of impunity. By cracking down on the profits generated by the traffickers and associated groups or individuals, we can strike a decisive blow. In order to do this we must follow the financial trails and use all available investigative tools and techniques to prosecute and bring to justice the perpetrators.
By upholding and promoting international standards, as enshrined in the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocols; the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women; the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and other international legal instruments, we contribute to ensuring strong foundations for the rule of law. We need to renew and invigorate our efforts to implement the existing legal architecture.
We are working closely with UNODC in this respect, via joint programmes across the globe. One such action is the joint European Union-UNODC Global Action to Prevent and Address Trafficking in Persons and the Smuggling of Migrants launched in January 2016, with assistance delivered to 13 countries around the world, in partnership with IOM and UNICEF, as mentioned in the Report submitted by the Secretary-General.
We must ensure accountability in conflict and post-conflict environments and we remain committed to the implementation of the United Nations zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse as defined in the Secretary-General’s bulletin on special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and abuse.
While recognising that we are globally faced with human displacement on the largest scale in world history, we acknowledge that the issue of human mobility goes beyond any crisis. We live in a world of seven billion people, with demographic imbalances and growing inequalities. Migration has become the new normal.
The European Union is honouring its responsibilities. Since 2015, our vessels have saved more than 240,000 people in the Mediterranean. Operation Sophia, including thanks to a mandate from the UN Security Council, is disrupting traffickers’ networks and bringing smugglers to justice.
The links between trafficking in persons and conflict-related, and post-conflict, sexual violence, including by violent extremist groups, need to be better understood and combatted, including in the context of vulnerable groups, root causes, motivations of perpetrators, and the consequences of their actions on civilian populations.
It is well known that Daesh uses sexual violence systematically to mobilise resources and fund its operations, including kidnapping for ransom and the sale of women and girls through human trafficking and slave markets. In this context, it is particularly worrisome that Daesh is expanding its presence in Libyan areas that in previous years functioned as major human trafficking routes.
We recognise that instability creates an ideal environment for the criminal activities of traffickers. We are therefore actively supporting all UN-led efforts to bring an end to the political and security crises in Syria and Libya.
During the last couple of years the importance of mainstreaming and understanding the essential role of women in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism has become evident. We need to strengthen our comprehensive policies and strategies aimed at empowering women’s role in society as a whole, and better understand their specific needs and role in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism. The internet and new technologies enable organised crime groups to access a large pool of potential victims, to hide their activities, and to carry out a wide range of criminal acts in a shorter period of time and on a much larger scale than ever before. Measures need to be taken in order to prevent and address the use of new technologies as a tool for recruiting victims of trafficking in human beings, including in conflict areas and by terrorist groups.
We emphasise the significant advancement in international justice made by the International Criminal Court, as well as non-permanent International Criminal Tribunals in combating sexual violence in conflict, such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia’s work on prosecuting sexual and gender based violence crimes. Nevertheless, we bear in mind that the ICC jurisdiction is complementary to the State’s, and that the primary responsibility for bringing perpetrators to justice resides with States. At national level, accountability and transitional justice mechanisms are also key to this end.
The EU has built an ambitious, gender-specific, and comprehensive legal and policy framework to combat trafficking in human beings. Anti-trafficking actions also form a key part of our external policies and funding.
There is a market for the trafficked human “merchandise”. We need to investigate, prosecute and convict the perpetrators of these crimes and we need to put an end their impunity. Effectively preventing this heinous crime necessitates reducing the demand and incentives for trafficking in human beings.
The EU will continue to develop partnerships in order to address trafficking in human beings worldwide. Accountability and collective efforts are needed to put an end to this terrible crime and the deplorable consequences for its victims.
* The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Albania continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.
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