UN Security Council: Trafficking in Persons in Situation of Conflict

Ministry Statements & Speeches:

  • Peace, Rights and Security
Trafficking in Persons in Situation of Conflict. Delivered by: Gerard van Bohemen, Permanent Representative of New Zealand to the United Nations.

Thank you Madam President.

We also thank the Deputy-Secretary-General, Mr Fedotov and Mr Grono for their briefings. And Nadia, I pay tribute to you too in the same spirit as others have spoken. Your testimony is very confronting because of its reality, but it’s confronting to us in our reality here.

When I came to this place 35 years ago, we spent a lot of time elaborating an increasingly intricate array of documents to protect human rights. And here we are 35 years later dealing with the reality that slavery is alive and well and living in our world. We have made some progress in normative instruments. We have gone backwards in our practices. This is the horrible reality we face today. 

So we thank the United States for bringing the Council’s attention to this issue. We thank Nadia for your bravery in giving us in harrowing detail the horrors that have been presented upon you and your family and your people. And we are reminded similar treatment has been meted out by Boko Haram and women caught up by the conflicts in South Sudan, the Central African Republic and elsewhere.

We share the revulsion at ISIL’s violations against thousands of Yazidi, in particular women and children and the institution of what is apparently a programme of mass slavery. As Nadia has reminded us, some women and girls were simply given away as ‘gifts’.

What is particularly concerning about this issue is that it can be self-perpetuating: trafficking exacerbates conflict and conflict exacerbates trafficking.

Trafficking, as we have heard, comes in many forms and has many purposes. It is also prevalent in the Western World. It often has a gender dimension, disproportionately affecting women as well as children. Trafficked victims are used as combatants, sex slaves, are forced into marriage or used as forced labour on land and at sea. People become chattels and a source of revenue that funds conflict or terrorism.

We recognise the difficulty of dealing effectively with this phenomenon particularly in the context of conflicts which are themselves intractable and deeply resistant to international intervention. This is particularly so in areas where the rule of the state does not run, as in the case in these worst instances we have heard today. But it is a phenomenon that we must address, including through more effective conflict prevention. 

Investigation and accountability are paramount. Acts associated with trafficking, including those committed by ISIL, may constitute crimes under the Rome Statute.  Such acts can amount to crimes against humanity, genocide or war crimes.

Investigation and accountability measures should be taken at both the domestic and international level and there should be a readiness to work together when trafficking crosses boarders. Member States must also ensure that appropriate services are in place to address both physical and psychological trauma for victims and families.

Like others, we urge states to join the Palermo Protocol which sets out a comprehensive framework to prevent and address trafficking in persons.   We also encourage support for political-level initiatives like the recently established International Parliamentary Coalition for Victims of Sex Slavery - New Zealand’s Member of Parliament Melissa Lee is one of the five founding members of this initiative. Such initiatives send a powerful message to perpetrators and victims that there is political attention on and condemnation of such acts.  

We wish to acknowledge the value of civil society actors, who play a vital role in disseminating information to populations about their human rights and who engage with governments on the ground.

And as others have said, we need also to ensure that the United Nations itself does not fuel the trafficking in persons. Our presence should provide an assurance of protection, and our ability to do that is vital to the success of our operations. We support the continued implementation of the Human Rights Up Front initiative, the Human Rights Due Diligence Policy, and the Secretary General’s zero tolerance approach to sexual exploitation and abuse.

Finally, Madam President, we believe there is scope to explore how the Council can better address this issue in the context of improved situational awareness and the protection of civilians. The Council should continue to monitor the issue, acknowledge it as an increasingly important dimension of conflict, and be ready to take action to prevent it when it is possible to do so.

Thank you.


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