Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay at the Launch of Anti-Human Trafficking Week in Switzerland

Geneva, 18 October 2013

Your Excellency Madame Sommaruga,
Swiss Federal Councillor of Justice and Police,
Mr. Swing, Director General of International Organization for Migration
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am pleased to take part in the launch of the Anti-Trafficking Week in Switzerland and to mark the EU Anti-Trafficking Day.

Trafficking in human beings, slavery and slavery-like practices are major ills of our time. They involve the trading of human beings for different forms of exploitation such as sexual exploitation, forced and bonded labour, forced marriage and all forms of practices and institutions similar to slavery.

Trafficking and associated practices have been addressed in different international legal frameworks notably in international instruments on human rights, labour, slavery and crime. However, the dominant response to trafficking in persons such as the United Nations Convention against Organized Crime and its Protocol has been primarily under criminal law. There is a need for a more comprehensive approach to developing strategies to combat all forms of human exploitation, including a deeper consideration of the human rights approach. It is equally important to clarify the complex and often unclear relationship between the concepts of slavery, practices similar to slavery, forced and bonded labour, and trafficking in persons as defined in international law.

Over the past years there has been a positive signs of the development of an international agenda to address trafficking in persons in all its forms. We must do our utmost to ensure that a human rights-based approach to addressing trafficking is mainstreamed within this agenda.

The global anti-trafficking agenda can build on the wide spectrum of legal and policy frameworks, including on those established by the UN human rights system. Among the principal UN conventions on human rights stand the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, both of which expressly recognize trafficking as a human rights violation and set out States’ obligations in this respect. The Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families provides additional protection to all migrant workers, including domestic workers. Other international human rights instruments prohibit practices linked to trafficking such as ethnic, racial and gender-based discrimination, contemporary forms of slavery, torture and inhumane treatment, and the sale of children.

A number of Special Procedures mandates of the UN Human Rights Council – serviced by my Office– including the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, contemporary forms of slavery, sale of children and violence against women; make recommendations on a range of actions on trafficking-related human rights violations, including through country visits. They provide invaluable contributions to the debate on trafficking, slavery and other forms of exploitation.

In 2002, my Office transmitted a set of Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Human Trafficking to the Economic and Social Council, as a response to the urgent need for practical, rights-based policy guidance on human trafficking.

The human rights-based approach places the victim at the centre of any effective and credible action. It also extends the focus to the root causes of trafficking such as patterns of discrimination, unjust distribution of power, and demand for goods and services derived from exploitation. Furthermore, it helps accentuate the human rights potential of the landmark UN Palermo Protocol

My Office has adopted the Principles and Guidelines as a framework and reference point for its own work on this issue. Many States and intergovernmental organizations also make use of them in their efforts to prevent trafficking and to protect the rights of trafficked persons. In our upcoming planning cycle for 2014-2017, my Office has identified Trafficking in Persons as one of our focus areas, where we will continue to engage with member states in capacity development for applying a rights-based approach to address trafficking.

We will also continue to engage with civil society actors, aiming to enhance their vital role in assisting victims of trafficking. I wish to recall the UN Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, and the importance of ensuring that its valuable work is adequately funded.

I conclude by reiterating the importance of clarifying the complex and sometimes confusing relationship between the concepts of slavery, practices similar to slavery, forced and bonded labour, and trafficking in persons. I commend the efforts currently undertaken by the Geneva-based group which consists of the ILO, IOM, UNHCR and OHCHR, for its joint research in this regard.

Thank you.