HUMAN RIGHTS AND UNITED NATIONS OFFICIALS APPEAL FOR MORE SOLIDARITY WITH THE VICTIMS OF CONTEMPORARY FORMS OF SLAVERY

1 December 2003



The Board of Trustees of the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, the UN Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery and the United Nations Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights make the following appeal to the global community on the occasion of the United Nations International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, 2 December 2003.


Slavery and slavery-like practices continue to be among the greatest human rights challenges facing the international community. Our vision to create a world free from the scandal of slavery and slavery-like practices remains unrealized. While 55 years ago the United Nations solemnly proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations and while many countries have abolished slavery and the slave trade, profits are still made from the buying and selling and the exploitation of our fellow human beings. Millions of children, women and men continue to languish in conditions of servitude. Regrettably, too many remain unaware that the problem of serfdom still exists. This is one of the main reasons for the perpetuation of this outrage on human dignity.

Dating back to 1926 and 1956 the international Conventions against Slavery mandated governments to abolish this scourge in all its manifestations. Since then, human rights treaties reaffirmed the prohibition of slavery and the slave trade in all their forms. More recently, the Statute of the International Criminal Court listed enslavement, rape, sexual slavery and enforced prostitution among the crimes against humanity.

The increasing evidence of slavery is presented before the UN Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery. The Working Group, which was established by the ECOSOC in 1975 to review developments in the fields of slavery, the slave trade and slavery-like practices, of apartheid and colonialism, the traffic in persons and the exploitation of the prostitution of others has been extremely active in raising awareness within the international community to the plight of slavery and exploitation. The Working Group has, amongst its various achievements, initiated the establishment of two of the existing mechanisms: the Special Rapporteur on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, and the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women. The Working Group has called the attention of the international community to the issue of trafficking for many years before the gravity and complexity of the matter was acknowledged. The Working Group has also been a pioneer in calling for free compulsory primary education to combat exploitation, illiteracy and poverty, and has provided a forum for discussion on the sensitive issue of systematic rape during armed conflicts and sexual slavery.

Over the recent past, the issue of trafficking in human beings has received unprecedented attention in every international and human rights forum. Trafficking represents the denial of the right to liberty and security of the person, the right to freedom from torture, violence, cruelty or degrading treatment, the right to freedom of movement, the right to protection of family, the right to health and education – everything that makes for a life with dignity. The United Nations, in 2002, issued the Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Human Trafficking, which provides a framework for States and other actors to combat trafficking in persons worldwide. The international community is committed to the elimination of trafficking in persons, especially women and children.

The United Nations is deeply committed to the abolition of these inhuman practices. The General Assembly, through resolution 46/122 of 1991, created the UN Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery and its Board of Trustees to provide humanitarian, legal and financial aid to individuals whose human rights have been violated through contemporary forms of slavery.

Requests for help for the victims of slavery have been growing in recent years. This reflects the deteriorating international economic situation, growing poverty and millions uprooted from their homes and hearths. As a consequence, the practice and menace of trafficking in children, women and men have escalated. On this day, we call upon the international community, notably, governments as well as non-governmental organizations and other private or public entities to express their solidarity with victims of contemporary forms of slavery by contributing generously to the Fund so that it can increase its assistance to those people in distress.

Slavery anywhere in the world is an affront to all humanity!