Statement by Ambassador Peter Wilson of the UK Mission to the UN at the Security Council Meeting on Human Trafficking
Thank you Madam President.
Normally in these sessions it is traditional to thank the briefers for their statements. And I do that very strongly. But I do particularly want to thank Nadia Taha for your testimony before us today. I think it’s hard to overestimate how much impact it has when somebody who’s been through what you’ve been through has the bravery to come and share your experiences with us here today. It may seem strange when you sit in a room like this, which is so formal, to hear something so directly brought before us. But what it does, is it inspires us, your bravery inspires us to take the kind of action that you have been calling for. And I think that what you’ve been hearing from all of us around this table today.
You said something specifically about Daesh, you said that we need to get rid of Daesh completely. Now of course my government agrees with that, and I think everybody and every government represented around this table agrees with that. The brutality and the inhumanity of Daesh truly disgust us.
We have heard today one story, your story, of such inhumanity. And it’s extraordinary for us to hear it that directly, sitting in this Chamber. But what is even more shocking is that this is not the only story. There are countless more; stories of abduction, of rape, of forced marriage, forced conversion and slavery.
Sadly Daesh is not alone in their trafficking. This practice is prevalent across the world, from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Afghanistan, from Burma to Somalia. The International Labour Organisation estimate that 21 million people are victims of trafficking, forced labour and modern slavery. Other studies put the number at 35 million. That’s half the population of my country. It simply cannot continue.
So I welcome the leadership shown by you Samantha today in bringing this issue to the Council. And I think there are three ways we should be looking at tackling this scourge. Firstly, the international community needs to show leadership to give this issue the priority it deserves. And that is what is happening here today. Second, we need to do more to support at risk groups, particularly minority groups, that are vulnerable to trafficking. And thirdly this Council needs to do all it can to end the instability and insecurity that allows trafficking to thrive.
Through the Sustainable Development Goals, as the Deputy Secretary-General has just reminded us, the international community made an unambiguous pledge to take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour and end modern slavery and human trafficking. We now need to turn that goal into a reality. To do that, every member of the international community needs to show political leadership to make this issue a priority. That’s my first point.
This will requires confronting hard truths. In my own country, the United Kingdom, there are up to 13,000 people in modern slavery. That’s the United Kingdom! The issue is not confined to groups like Daesh or Boko Haram. But in recognising our own problems, we can all show the leadership needed to take action.
Earlier this year the United Kingdom Parliament passed the Modern Slavery Act. It gives our law enforcement authorities improved tools to tackle this scourge. It ensures that perpetrators can receive a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. And crucially, it enhances support and protection for victims of slavery.
Legislation is only part of the answer. We also need to look to international organisations, businesses and civil society for leadership. The United Kingdom is working with the European Union, the Commonwealth, the Santa Marta group as well as the United Nations to create a global consensus on this issue. That means greater coordination of effort, but also ensuring that these organisations are in no way connected to the practices associated with trafficking. That means UN peacekeepers strictly complying with the zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse. International financial institutions completing thorough due diligence in granting project funding to avoid inadvertently supporting forced labour. And corporations holding themselves accountable through transparency in their supply chains.
Turning to my second point, support to at risk groups, we have heard today of the disproportionate impact that trafficking has on certain groups, whether women and girls or members of minority communities, whether Christian, Muslim, Mandean, Yezidi, or any other faith.
So it is incumbent on all governments to ensure that minority groups are protected. And it is incumbent on all Council members to help them in their efforts. The United Kingdom is supporting the Government of Iraq’s efforts to protect all minorities, to promote human rights and to reassert the rule of law. Through our development assistance, we are funding activities to protect vulnerable civilians including through legal assistance and support groups for women.
We are also working around the world to tackle violence against women and girls, which is so often a consequence of trafficking. The United Kingdom is funding organisations that offer care to survivors. We’re tackling impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence by supporting cases brought in national courts. And we’re funding programs that focus on attitude changes to prevent violence against women and girls. This includes training 800 Peshmerga on how to respond sensitively to victims of sexual violence in the fight against Daesh. I hope all other Council members will do what they can to support this effort.
Let me close with my third point. The most effective way for the Security Council to prevent the gross abuses of human rights that we’ve heard about today is through ensuring stability and security. That means taking back the territory held by Daesh, it means ensuring there is a political solution to the Syrian crisis, and it means using all of this Council’s conflict prevention tools to prevent future instability. Ultimately, as Nick has just reminded us, it’s about addressing the root causes of trafficking; supporting normative changes so that this behaviour is no longer tolerated, so that governance is inclusive, and so that a plurality of religions, cultures and perspectives are not just tolerated, but embraced and celebrated.