Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand,Vietnam

Statement by
Mr. J.K. Robert England
UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative
Thai National Workshop on Human Trafficking

 13 May 2004
Dusit Island Resort, Chiang Rai, Thailand

It is a great pleasure and an honour to represent the United Nations at such an important meeting.  

I would like to thank the Royal Thai Government, and particularly H.E. Deputy PrimeMinisterProf. Purachai Piumsombun, for inviting me to speak today on the topic of international ‘best practices’ in combating human trafficking.   I understand that this meeting will provide valuable inputs into Government policy and lead into a second national workshop to be chaired by Prime Minister Pol. Lt. Col. Thaksin Shinawatra later this year.   So at the outset let me commend the Royal Thai Government for placing such high priority on soliciting the UN system’s views on the international standards of policy and practice on such a sensitive issue.

I would also like to commend the staff of the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (UNIAP) for their leadership in building support within and beyond the UN for this important Thai initiative.  I would also like to commend the many specialized UN agencies who are doing very innovative and effective programs to combat human trafficking in Thailand.  

I hope that I will be able to shed some light on not only the state of international laws and treaties on human trafficking, but also clearly lay out some of the important principles and recommendations for action that states in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) and other regions are adopting to work together on this global problem. 

But before proceeding, let me first point out that this is truly a global issue, affecting virtually all countries.   I just returned from a month in the United Kingdom, and the newspapers there are full of stories of recent trafficking cases in Europe.  It is clearly a hot issue there as well as here.  We can speculate on the reasons why – perhaps it is the connection to migration that brings the abuses to doorsteps of Europe, the USA and many other countries.   Perhaps it is the fact that such a horrendous crime can occur to ordinary men, women, and children who are simply seeking a better economic and social life.  Perhaps it is the apparent connection of human trafficking to the forces of globalization, such greater human mobility, improved communication and transportation links, and rapidly expanding gaps between global ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’.

What is clear is that the connection to globalization is significant. In today’s world, financial transactions, investment, and information freely flow across borders.  Yet labour remains firmly fixed and immigration controls to defend borders against migrants have become even stronger.   In fact, there is a strong connection between trafficking and controls on migration, since it is those immigration laws and regulations that make foreign workers illegal, and heighten their vulnerability to forced or highly exploitative labour. 

Those restrictive immigration controls subject victims of trafficking to a double jeopardy situation.  First these victims are ruthlessly exploited by the traffickers and employers.  Then when these victims seek assistance to end their exploitation, they are often arrested, punished, and then deported because of their illegal status – often losing whatever savings they may have earned in the course of their ordeal.   

What is clear is a groundswell of public interest that has turned the issue of human trafficking into one of the premier human rights concerns of the early 21st century.  

Thailand, as a centre of economic prosperity at the centre of the Greater Mekong Sub-region surrounded by much poorer neighbours, faces particularly strong challenges.  The sub-region is known for historical patterns of movements of people across long and porous borders, and there is little evidence that that any of the countries of the region will have the capacity in the foreseeable future to control these movements.

As a critical and important step, Thailand has continued its leadership role in the international community by ratifying many of the core instruments adopted to fight human trafficking.   As a base for greater understanding of the ‘best practices’ to deal with human trafficking, let me quickly review these commitments Thailand has made under international law. 

Thailand has signed the UN Convention on Transnational Organized Crime in 2001 together with the accompanying Protocols, including especially the Supplementary Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.  

Key obligations of that Convention and its Protocols include ensuring trafficking is treated as a criminal offense; providing for the protection, support and assistance for the victims of trafficking, and enabling to seek compensation from traffickers;  enabling the repatriation in dignity of victims to their home country; and obligating governments to undertake pro-active campaigns to prevent human trafficking.  

Thailand ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992, which clearly states in article 35 that "State Parties shall take all appropriate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent the abduction of, the sale of or traffic in children for any purpose or in any form."

Thailand ratified ILO Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour in 2001, which obligates it to "take immediate and effective measures to secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labor as a matter of urgency" and defines the worst forms of child laborto include "…all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory labor…"  In 1969, it ratified ILO Conventions No. 29 and 105, which also concern forced labour.

In 1985, Thailand also ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), providing for equality of treatment of men and women in all aspects of policy and practice.

Thailand should be commended for undertaking these international commitments, and for supporting them with transparent and accountable national policy mechanisms to combat human trafficking.  Dr. Saisuree Chutikul and other commentators have already elaborated on the work being done by these national mechanisms, so I will not do so here.   

What is clear is that Thailand is well on its way towards addressing many of the issues raised by human trafficking by employing internationally sound policies and approaches.    

Yet there is still much work to be done.   Thailand is by no means alone among the countries of the world in having difficulty in translating principles into reality on the ground, and fully implementing the laws of the land.  There are still problems, and I am sure that they will be discussed fully and frankly in this forum.  

But that said, it is clear that strong political commitment is a pre-requisite to achieving progress.  That commitment is on display today, with the leadership of the Deputy Prime Minister, and the presence of so many key policy makers from the line Ministries and agencies involved in solving the trafficking problem.    

As I noted earlier, human trafficking is first and foremost a fundamental abuse of human rights.   It is a clear affront to the values of the UN system, as best exemplified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and to norms of civilised behaviour that the UN seeks to promote through international law. 

When considering internationally sound approaches for combating human trafficking, it is worth consulting the Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Human Trafficking adopted by the UN Economic and Social Council in 2002.

These Principles and Guidelines serve as a guide for our work on a daily basis, and can and should be used as a checklist for appropriate policies and actions to be undertaken by governments, international organizations, and NGOs working on human trafficking.   Because these Principles and Guidelines are so important, and so useful, I am attaching them to my statement for easy reference.  

These Principles and Guidelines are an extremely concise checklist of policies that governments, international agencies, and NGOs should adopt.  The Principles are divided into several key areas: 

- Human rights concerns must be the primary concern. The principles assert clearly that "the human rights of trafficked persons shall be at the centre of all efforts to prevent and combat trafficking" and "anti-trafficking measures shall not adversely affect human rights and dignity of persons"

- Efforts to prevent trafficking must "address demand as a root cause" and "address the factors that increase vulnerability to trafficking", and states must crack down on official complicity by "identifying and eradicating public-sector involvement or complicity in trafficking."

- Actions to protect and assist trafficked persons shall ensure they are "protected from further exploitation and harm" and given access to "legal and other assistance" during the period cases are brought against traffickers. Persons who are trafficked should not be imprisoned or punished for unlawful entry to the country or other unlawful acts which resulted directly from their situation as trafficked persons.  

- Special care must be given to children, and "their best interests shall be considered paramount at all times."  

- The right of repatriation in safety and dignity will be afforded to trafficking victims, specifically "safe…return shall be guaranteed to trafficked persons by both the receiving State and the State of origin."

- Trafficking shall be criminalized, and States will "effectively investigate, prosecute and adjudicate trafficking, including its component acts and related conduct."  Penalties will be effective and proportionate, and trafficking shall constitute an extraditable offence.   Assets gained through trafficking shall be subject to freeze and confiscation by state authorities, with proceeds used to compensate victims.   Throughout, victims should be "give access to effective and appropriate legal remedies."  

These Principles underpin key Guidelines which are laid out in an extensive and clear-cut way.   Based on those Guidelines, let me note a few key policy areas and connect them to the experience of the UN in Thailand and the Greater Mekong sub-region.  

- Human trafficking is a highly complicated phenomenon, and the causes are wide-ranging. Solutions should not focus only on one aspect of the problem, but must take into account reasons why people leave their origin countries (supply side issues);  factors related to laws and institutions; and demand for trafficked labour.   Yet to date, significant focus has been placed on supply side issues, while more difficult issues – such as enforcing laws at the point of exploitation, and raising labour standards to diminish demand – have generally received less attention.   The Guidelines state "Strategies aimed at preventing trafficking should take into account demand as a root cause."

- Effective law enforcement response requires better support for victims, particular gender sensitive approaches and special measures for the protection and support of child victims of trafficking.  

- Trafficking has become a major media issue – sometimes leading to support and sympathy, and concerted government action to correct the problem -- and sometimes leading to misunderstandings and re-victimisation of trafficking victims through exposure.  Since trafficking is first and foremost a human rights issue, moralist approaches should not cause us to lose sight of the importance of the way victims are treated.   The Guidelines note the importance that "rescue operations do not further harm the rights and dignity of trafficked persons" and "law enforcement efforts do not place trafficked persons at risk of being punished for offences committed as a consequence of their situation."

- Trafficking occurs for a wide range of end purposes, including sweatshop labour, domestic work, fisheries, plantation work, begging, and others, and not just sexual exploitation. It is forced labour, especially targeting vulnerable migrant workers.   Accordingly, more focus needs to be made to "increase opportunities for legal, gainful, and non-exploitative labour migration" and support "regulatory and supervisory mechanisms to support the rights of migrant workers."

- Men are also trafficked.   Trafficking is not a problem that is solely limited to women and children.   Laws and regulations should reflect this reality, while at the same time recognising that special response is needed, especially for children. 

- No one State can resolve the problem of trafficking on its own because this is a regional and global issue.  Trafficking occurs within States, and across borders and "a strengthened national response can often result in the operations of traffickers moving elsewhere."  Co-ordinated response based on strong collaboration between States is critical – and no where is this more true than in the Greater Mekong Sub-region.  

Fortunately, Thailand and the GMS governments of Cambodia, P.R. China, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam have taken the lead in organising an important sub-regional process, the Co-ordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative against Trafficking (COMMIT).   This is the first inter-country, inter-ministerial forum for forging concrete alliances and arrangements to combat human trafficking in the sub-region.

In fact, the idea for COMMIT was initially raised by the Royal Thai Government with its neighbours, demonstrating again Thai leadership on this issue.  

The first Senior Officials Meeting of COMMIT is scheduled to be held in Bangkok during the last week of July 2004.  A second Senior Officials Meeting, followed by an Inter-Ministerial Conference bringing together 18 Ministers, will be held in Yangon, Myanmar at the end of October 2004.   It is expected that a COMMIT Declaration will be adopted that will include concrete areas of collaboration, as well as provision for development of a sub-regional action plan and a mechanism for the governments to monitor progress.  A third Senior Officials Meeting is expected to be held in February 2005 to finalise work on the sub-regional action plan to implement the agreements made in the COMMIT Declaration. 

The UNIAP was requested by the governments to serve as a secretariat for this process, reflecting the important role the UN is playing to facilitate this process. 

While it is obviously still too early to pre-judge the results of the COMMIT process, what is clear is there is strong support between the GMS governments to work together to combat human trafficking.   In this effort, the governments are seizing the initiative, and serving as an example to the world on efforts to build regional co-operation.  Thailand will need to continue to exert strong leadership in this sub-regional effort for COMMIT to fulfil it's promise.   

Speaking for the United Nations system in Thailand, we are prepared to fully support the work of the Royal Thai Government in all its endeavours on this critical issue.  

Let me once again thank Deputy Prime Minister Purachai Piumsombun and all the organisers of this importance conference for the opportunity to present our views.

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