Statement of the Board of Trustees of the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, on the United Nations International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, 2 December 2009 with 2010

2 December 2010

On the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, we express our commitment to the complete eradication of slavery and slavery-like practices. We hope that today serves as a reminder that despite hundreds of years of effort to abolish slavery, no country is immune to those grave human rights abuses.

There is enough evidence to show that slavery-like practices are vast and widespread. Of special concern is the situation of children, who are denied the fundamental right to be born free and to be protected from enslavement. Just one figure tells a grim story: it is estimated that about 4,9 to 6,15 million children are trapped in slavery and slavery-like practices.

It is an appalling reality that today millions of human beings worldwide continue to be subjected to slavery and slavery-like practices. As a legally permitted system, traditional slavery has been abolished everywhere; but it has not been completely stamped out and new forms of slavery have emerged.
Debt bondage, serfdom, forced labour, child labour and servitude, trafficking in persons and in human organs, sexual slavery, the use of child soldiers, the sale of children, forced marriage and the sale of wives, and the exploitation of prostitution violate the most fundamental human rights, rights that we all possess, irrespective of sex, nationality, social status, occupation or other difference.

Even when abolished, slavery leaves traces. It can persist as a state of mind – among victims and their descendants and among the inheritors of those who practiced it –long after it has formally ended.
Slavery-like practices are often clandestine. Fear, ignorance of one’s rights and the need to survive do not encourage victims to speak out. The majority of those who suffer are the poorest, socially excluded groups in society. The overlapping factors of poverty, class and race create structural problems and cycles of marginalization that are hard to break. Gender inequalities and discrimination, lack of education, desperation for work and demand for cheap labour also trap people.

The United Nations has responded to these challenges by establishing several relevant thematic procedures, including the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, its causes and consequence, a key mechanism in the fight against slavery and the eradication of slavery-like practices. The UN has also established the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially in women and children; the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography; the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on children in armed conflict and; the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants. These thematic rapporteurs respond quickly to information about individual cases and have been successful in preventing or stopping violations.

In 1991 the United Nations also created the U.N. Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery which assists NGO projects to provide concrete humanitarian, legal, and financial assistance to victims and potential victims of contemporary forms of slavery. For example, in 2009-10 the U.N. Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery was able to assist victims and potential victims in 44 nations by giving 63 grants. The need for such assistance is further reflected in over 250 or applications the UN Trust Fund has received this year amounting to about USD 3'550'700.

On this day, we pay tribute to all Governments, civil society organizations, and individuals engaged in activities aimed at eradicating slavery and ensuring that all victims obtain redress, including the means for as full rehabilitation as possible. We express our profound commitment to the struggle against slavery and particularly to the victims.

We urge all States to ratify and implement existing instruments in this area – in particular the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, and the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime.

We also appeal to all Member States to implement their obligations to abolish and eradicate slavery in all its manifestations. We express our gratitude to all donors to the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Contemporary Forms of Slavery and call upon the international community to express its solidarity with victims of slavery by contributing generously to the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery to allow the Fund to increase assistance to victims and contribute to ending these intolerable and unacceptable practices worldwide.