Palais Wilson, 26 January, 2004.

Distinguished Board Members,

Welcome to the start of your ninth session, and thank you for your support in the fight against contemporary forms of slavery.

The role of the human rights programme of the United Nations is to draw the attention of the international community to issues of deep conscience in the contemporary world and to join with Governments, international organizations, NGOs and civil society in fighting unconscionable practices. Contemporary forms of slavery are among the foremost issues of conscience demanding our attention in today’s world and we need to think afresh how we might mobilise international outrage against such practices.

In today’s world hundreds of thousands of young women are trafficked annually into prostitution and slavery. I drew particular attention to this phenomenon in the remarks I made at the opening of the sixtieth session of the Commission on Human Rights a week ago. I asked the Commission to think deeply about this issue and it is my strong hope that the Commission will consider the designation of a special rapporteur against trafficking in human beings.

In today’s world, also, hundreds of thousands of children are subjected to diverse evils ranging from child abuse, sexual exploitation, trafficking, and child labour. How can we, any one of use, be at peace knowing that these things are happening in our midst. Is there not a duty on the part of all of us to expose these practices and to try to protect children better. The International Convention on the Rights of the Child is one of the most widely-ratified international treaties on human rights. Let us endeavour to bring its protection to children everywhere.

When I think of contemporary forms of slavery, which are numerous and pervasive, and when I think also of the duty of conscience and the duty of protection that we all have, I ask myself whether the time has not come to produce and publicise a United Nations World Report on Contemporary Forms of Slavery. I am convinced that it has.

I would therefore ask you, in the course of your deliberations, to consider this idea, to consider supporting organizations that might help us assemble such a report, and to provide your recommendations on the preparation of such a world report. We must consider new approaches and new strategies for countering the grievous gross violations of human rights that are taking place in our world. By their sheer weight of numbers and by the fact that they degrade the individual and offend against the very notion of human dignity and equality, contemporary forms of slavery must be very high on the list of gross violations of human rights we seek to stamp out.

Please help us in coming up with new ideas to combat these evil phenomena in our midst. Thank you.