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On the Occasion of the Development of the ASEAN NHRI Forum Protocol Against Trafficking of Women and Children

Lancaster Hotel, Mandaluyong City

21 October 2009

delivered by

LEILA M. DE LIMA
Chairperson

WELCOME AND OPENING REMARKS

Good morning to all of you.

First of all, let me thank the European Commission, represented here today by Ms. Camilla Hagstrom, Deputy Head of Delegation, and Ms. Beng Sta. Clara. The European Commission (EC) has been a steadfast ally in the effort to promote and protect human rights, in the Philippines and in the region.

In the Philippines , this is demonstrated by the European Commission’s recent support, aimed at bringing to an end extra-legal killings and enforced disappearances, reducing poverty and nutritional insecurity in rural areas, and developing measures to mitigate the effects of climate change.

With respect to the region, we appreciate the European Commission’s continuing support of the ASEAN NHRI Forum. Furthermore, we value the rapid response of the EC, in terms of humanitarian aid for the victims of Typhoon Ketsana, which in the Philippines , was called Ondoy.

We thank you for your presence, and your support. Allow me to add that the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHRP) continues to hope for the immediate and safe release of Fr. Michael Sinnott.

Let me also take this opportunity to thank our colleagues who are here today, in order to share their experiences and expertise, successes and challenges, with respect to addressing the trafficking of women and children, in their own countries.

Specifically, we welcome the representatives from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, of Malaysia and Thailand , as well as the Departments of Foreign Affairs, of Indonesia and the Philippines , and the Department of Social Welfare and Development. Let me also welcome our colleagues from Komnas PA and Komnas Perempuan in Indonesia , as well as the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women, and the Philippine Council for the Welfare of Children. We also gladly receive our partners, from the National Human Rights Institutions, which make up the ASEAN NHRI Forum.

We hail from different countries, and from institutions which possess a diverse range of mandates and interests, but we are one in the recognition of the seriousness of human trafficking. This issue affects us all, and by gathering here today, we seek to contribute to an effective and lasting solution, to this problem.

Before I continue, allow me to thank the men and women who have been working very hard, in order to make this event a reality. Let me thank, in particular, Comm. Ma. Victoria V. Cardona, our Focal Commissioner for EC-assisted projects, Atty. Liezl Parajas, the Focal Person for this specific project, aimed at developing a Protocol against the Trafficking of Women and Children. We appreciate the dedication and service, that all of you have shown.

An event such as this one is especially timely, in light of recent events and reports from around the world.

Just last month, UNICEF (the U.N. Children’s Fund) issued a report entitled, “Progress for Children – A Report Card on Child Protection.” According to this report, more than 20 percent of victims of all trafficking, both within countries and across borders, are children. In some areas of the world, such as the Mekong Region in Asia , children are the majority of persons being trafficked.

The UNICEF report also notes that, of the 125 countries studied, with specific anti-trafficking legislation in 2008, only 73 of these had at least one recorded conviction, for trafficking in persons.

That UNICEF report cites another document, released earlier this year, by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Entitled the “Global Report on Trafficking in Persons,” it offers much food for thought.

This UNODC report noted that the most common form of human trafficking (79%) takes place in the context of sexual exploitation. Surprisingly, however, the UNODC reported that women make up the largest proportion of traffickers, in 30% of the countries which provided information on the gender of offenders. In some parts of the world, women trafficking women appears to be the norm.

The report also found that most exploitation takes place close to home. Intra-regional and domestic trafficking are the major forms of trafficking in persons.

Another report from the same office found that human trafficking is under-detected globally. Following after drug-trafficking and arms smuggling, human trafficking is the third largest, as well as fastest growing form of organized crime.

On a more positive note, that report also observed that our four nations possess legislation criminalizing human trafficking. In addition, we have in place other measures aimed at addressing the problem, such as special law enforcement units for women and children, and the furnishing of legal services and protection , medical and psychosocial support, housing and shelter, recovery, return and reintegration assistance, maternal, childcare and self-enhancement skills development, and vocational training, to victims of trafficking.

These reports serve to emphasize that, while progress is indeed being made, we must nevertheless continue to seek ways to address the issue of trafficking, with a greater sense of urgency.

As the coming days merge into weeks and months, more and more women will find themselves sold into prostitution, and more and more children will be confronted with the horror of sexual trafficking. Our countries will act as points of origin, transit points, and destinations, for victims of trafficking. False promises and fraud, loneliness and isolation, systematized abuse, exploitation, hard labor and rape, all of these will continue to characterize the plights, of many of our fellow citizens and human beings.

Time is truly of the essence. Those already trafficked, and the many others, who will soon be sold into virtual slavery, cannot afford to wait.

That is why we have gathered here today. We are here because of the conviction that we can do more when we act in concert, and that we can effect meaningful change more rapidly, when we combine our knowledge and resources.

Specifically, we seek to draft a Protocol against the Trafficking of Women and Children, for our collective jurisdictions, and potentially impacting the wider region. By creating this framework of standardized responses to the problem of human trafficking, cross-border cooperation and coordination will be enhanced.

This will be especially important in light of the transboundary nature of much of the trafficking which takes place. And this will allow for more rapid responses to incidents of trafficking, helping to mitigate if not prevent, some of its detrimental consequences.

As this Protocol is drafted, let us maximize the sharing of best practices and successful mechanisms, among our four countries, and our institutions. Let us understand what has worked before, and adapt and replicate it, on a wider scale. And let us also understand what has not worked in the past, so that ways can be found to avoid similar fates, moving forward.

The outcome of this drafting must be an instrument which functions at an operational level. It must offer a means for providing regional support to national institutions and national laws, while also helping to make concrete as well as further develop, the norms and obligations already found in international law.

In addition, this month will see the launching of a new regional body, possessing a human rights mandate, in Southeast Asia . This October, the ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) will become reality. This is a significant event, in many ways. We look forward to this institution reaching its full potential, in terms of working to promote and protect human rights, in our region.

The Protocol which we will craft is a resource, which can be provided to the AICHR, as a form of template for regional cooperation on the issue of human trafficking, within the ASEAN. It will already embody the experiences and best practices, of various national and regional human rights institutions, making it a logical place to begin, for a regional human rights body.

Our Protocol may very well affect human rights work beyond our four jurisdictions. This makes it especially important for us to ensure that we get it right the first time, and we draft an instrument whose ability to effect meaningful change is maximized.

That is also why it was important to include in this workshop, a study visit to shelters for trafficked women and children. As this Protocol is prepared, there is a need to ensure the transparency of the process, as well as fully include individuals and organizations who have a stake in the outcome.

By visiting these shelters, we intend to make sure that the voices of those who have been trafficked, can be better heard. We seek to better understand the causes and consequences of their ordeals, listen to their opinions on the adequacy or inadequacy of existing mechanisms, and include what we learn in the Protocol to be drafted.

Finally, as we work on this Protocol, it is also important that we not lose sight of the underlying factors which act as catalysts for human trafficking.

Those who carry out human trafficking do so because it is profitable, and because they can. In 2003, UNICEF calculated that the global profit of traffickers was around $7-10 billion a year. The International Labor Organization has estimated that the total illicit profit, arising out of human trafficking, stands at just under $32 billion. Clearly, there are huge sums of money to be made, for those individuals and organizations who are willing to abase the dignity of their fellow human beings, and cause untold amounts of suffering, all for the sake profit.

In addition, the UNODC report noted that the number of convictions are increasing, but not proportionately to the growing size of the problem. A culture of impunity remains. Those who traffick are led to believe that they can get away with it. Many of them probably do. And this impunity further feeds their greed, leading to even more instances of human trafficking.

Therefore, we must not lose sight of the need for accountability, and the proper functioning of systems of justice, in order to address the problem of trafficking.

On the other hand, those who fall victim to human trafficking are usually rendered more vulnerable by the twin problems of poverty and corruption. Corruption siphons off government resources, which should have gone to rural development and job promotion. It makes setting up a business, or investing in the countryside more difficult, and it dulls the job creating potential of both. Less widespread infrastructure, fewer businesses, fewer jobs, fewer opportunities, more prevalent poverty.

And it is poverty which forces individuals to leave for foreign shores, with false promises of opportunity and prosperity still ringing in their ears. It is poverty which compels people to leave behind, the safety and security of familiar faces and familiar institutions, in order to build a better life for themselves and their families. It is poverty which makes persons more susceptible to abuse.

Therefore, there is also a need to ensure, that government obligations with respect to the rights to an adequate living, to adequate food, clothing and housing, to health and education, and to work, are fulfilled. By doing so, an important shift can take place, from solely focusing on the mitigation of the disastrous consequences of trafficking, to the prevention of human trafficking in the first place.

In the end, we all have a stake in ending human trafficking, and the suffering and violation of human rights, which it entails. The treatment of persons as property, for whatever purpose, is absolutely incongruent with the dignity inherent in every human being. The concept of exchanging persons for money or debt, or kidnapping for enslavement, is such an arcane, old world practice, unfitting in the context of our modern world.

No nation recognizes military conquest of foreign territory. Colonization and imperialism are obsolete. And the subjugation of peoples and nations are contrary to the recognition of a people's right to self-determination. Finally, no modern constitution, or body of laws in whatever jurisdiction, sanctions or condones slavery.

Yet if the freedom of all persons is unmistakable and unconditional, the fact that slavery, by the trafficking of persons, continues in the 21 st century, and on such a massive scale, is truly abominable. There is no place for human slavery, in any of its forms, anywhere in our world.

I am certain that through our efforts, significant progress on the long road to success can be made, in terms of ending this scourge. The steps toward fully eradicating the trafficking of persons may seem endless, but a successful outcome depends on the persistence of efforts, such as the one we are about to embark on. Our dedication much surpass the persistence of traffickers. Our commitment, today and hereafter, must overcome the entrenched nature of the causes of human trafficking, such as greed and impunity, corruption and poverty.

May our next few days serve as a testament, of our desire to subdue human trafficking, and pave the way for meaningful change and progress.

Thank you very much.