Holy See to UN on Human Trafficking

«People are never to be used or treated as instruments for unscrupulous profit-mongering»

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Here is the statement by Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, apostolic nuncio and permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, at the UN High-level Meeting of the General Assembly on the Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons. The meeting was May 13-14.

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Mr. President,

Today’s meeting presents the international community with an opportunity not only to assess the progress achieved since the adoption of the United Nations Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons in 2010, but also to renew our commitment to work together and to condemn with one voice the abhorrent and immoral practice of trafficking in human beings.

The Global Plan of Action has provided the United Nations with a resource for working together to combat all forms of human trafficking and for ensuring that confronting human trafficking remains one of the top issues of concern for the international community. However, such political commitments must be backed by concrete actions on the ground, so as to ensure that victims are freed from this repugnant form of contemporary slavery, and are given the necessary assistance to rebuild their lives. 

The mobility of people across national boundaries is a human experience affecting all countries and regions of the world. It is a reality which presents opportunities to foster greater understanding between peoples and jointly to improve the social and economic well-being of migrants and their families. For too many,however, the reality of migration is no longer a matter of free choice, but rather has become a necessity. This sense of desperation provides human traffickers the opportunity to prey on migrants and has contributed to making human trafficking one of the fastest growing criminal activities in today’s world. 

Trafficking in persons constitutes a shameful crime against human dignity and a grave violation of fundamental human rights. Those who commit such crimes debase themselves and poison human solidarity. People are never to be used or treated as instruments for unscrupulous profit-mongering through being forced into slavery, which always constitutes an affront to the dignity of human nature and to fundamental values shared by humanity.

Effective juridical instruments are crucial to cease this abominable trade in human beings, to prosecute its profiteers, and to assist the rehabilitation and reintegration of its victims. To this end, the creation of the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children by the Global Plan of Action provides a tangible means for ensuring support for those who suffer the dehumanizing impact of being trafficked.

While political, social and legal protections are indispensable to combating the scourge of human trafficking, we must also work to address those societal factors which foster the environment that makes human trafficking possible.  One such overriding factor is the increasing commodification of human life.  Such commodification can be seen in the women and girls who are trafficked each year for the sole purpose of making money from the sale of their bodies. There is indeed an urgent need here to challenge lifestyles and models of behavior, particularly with regard to the image of women, which have generated what has become a veritable industry of sexual exploitation.

Trafficking in women for the purpose of sexual exploitation accounts for 58 per cent of all cases reported globally and demonstrates how increased demand fuels this market for human slavery and tolerates its immense human costs.

It is a grim reminder that prostitution and consumers of so-called “sexual services” not only contribute to the trafficking of women and girls but also disrespect their human dignity.[1]

Commodification of human beings unfortunately does not lie solely in the realm of sexual exploitation, but can also be seen in unrelenting consumerist tendencies that demand more for less without due regard for the rights of workers. Around the world, forced labor accounts for more than a quarter[2] of victims of trafficking. This is a stark reminder that participating in a globalized economy requires adequate regulations to ensure that the qualitative, subjective value of human work is given precedence over purely quantifiable, objective product. In so doing, we can help foster a deeper and richer ethical understanding of the value and dignity of human labor and fashion economic and social systems that respect human rights.

Mr. President,

Addressing human trafficking remains an elusive goal if the courage to address the dark reality of consumerism feeding the exploitation of vulnerable human beings is lacking. In this regard, it is necessary to recognize that it is extreme poverty whichoften drives those desirous of a better future into the hands of those preying upon the vulnerability of the poor and the defenseless.  These individuals, prompted by a genuine desire to provide for themselves and their needy families, too easilybecome unsuspecting victims of those who make false promises of a better future in another country or community. Our efforts to address human trafficking are inherently linked, therefore, to our determination to address poverty eradication and lack of equal economic opportunity. 

This link recognizes that economic poverty inherently opens the door to exclusion and exploitation by those whose moral and spiritual poverty no longer allows them to see people in need as brothers and sisters to be respected, protected and cared for, but merely as a means to an end.

Mr. President,

The Catholic Church, through its institutions and agencies around the world, is providing assistance, care and support to thousands of survivors of human trafficking.  These institutions and their courageous individuals place themselves in harm’s way on a daily basis to help those who have become victims to this modern plague of human trafficking. Many of these individuals have paid dearly in their endeavours to provide assistance to victims or expose the victimizers. The Holy See regards today’s debate and assessment of the Global Plan of Action as a good opportunity to reinvigorate our efforts to address the evil of human trafficking so that men and women who fall prey to such trafficking will know that we stand in solidarity with them and that we will not cease in our efforts to ensure that today’s victims of human trafficking become tomorrow’s survivors.

Thank you, Mr. President.

[1] UNODC, Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2012, p. 11.

[2] Id.

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