May 22, 2018
The Santa Marta Group: Police and Religious Leaders Partnering to Eradicate Modern Slavery by Building Trust in Leadership, Action and Accountability




Opening Remarks of H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations

at the side event entitled
"The Santa Marta Group: Police and Religious Leaders
Partnering to Eradicate Modern Slavery by Building Trust in Leadership, Action and Accountability”

United Nations, New York, 22 May 2018



Your Eminence, Your Excellencies, Esteemed Panelists, Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very happy to welcome you to this event on the Santa Marta Group and its work in bringing police and religious leaders together in partnership to fight the plague of human trafficking and all forms of modern slavery.

The Santa Marta Group takes its name from Pope Francis’ residence in the Vatican. It was in that residence, in April 2014, that police chiefs from around the world stayed during a two-day conference that culminated in a joint declaration, called the Santa Marta Commitment, in which the senior law enforcement officials pledged themselves to eradicate the serious criminal activity of trafficking in persons; to work together on an international level to improve prevention, pastoral care and reintegration or those who have suffered; and to develop partnerships with the Church and civil society to bring justice to those who are responsible for these horrendous crimes and to alleviate the suffering of the victims.

The Santa Marta Group exists to follow through on those commitments.

Pope Francis has addressed the members of the Santa Marta Group several times and said that this association offers an “essential contribution to addressing the causes and effects of this modern day scourge,” and that “during the short period of its existence, the group has achieved a great deal.” While acknowledging that the approaches and expertise of law enforcement and of the Church to human trafficking certainly differ, the Holy Father underlines that they are “complimentary” and “can and must go together.” Cooperation between bishops and police chiefs, he affirms, is “decisive” for governments to “reach the victims of human trafficking in a direct, immediate, constant, effective and concrete way.” This collaboration between State and Church institutions exemplified by the Santa Marta Group is an example of the type of partnerships needed across the board if we are to be successful in that fight.

These words of the Holy Father echo what he himself said here at the United Nations during his 2015 Address to the General Assembly, when he emphasized that “our world demands of all government leaders a will that is effective, practical and constant, [leading to] concrete steps and immediate measures for … putting an end as quickly as possible to the phenomenon of social and economic exclusion, with its baneful consequences: human trafficking, the marketing of human organs and tissues, the sexual exploitation of boys and girls, slave labor, including prostitution…. We need to ensure that our institutions are truly effective in the struggle against all these scourges.”

Here at the United Nations, many Permanent Missions, Agencies, and civil society organizations have been working so hard for many years in the fight against human trafficking and all forms of modern slavery.

  • The international community adopted in 2000 the landmark Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children.
  • In 2010, the UN passed the Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons, just re-appraised last year, that focused our efforts on the four P’s of prevention, protection of victims, prosecution of crimes, and strengthening of partnerships.
  • In 2015, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted. It contains three separate targets related to human trafficking, 5.2, 8.7 and 16.2, in which the global community committed itself respectively to “eliminate all forms of … trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation” of women and girls, to “take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labor, end modern slavery and human trafficking,” and to end the “abuse, exploitation, trafficking … against children” by 2030.
  • And throughout this year, as the intergovernmental negotiations toward a Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration is well underway, the United Nations is poised to adopt Objective 10, which is a highly detailed eight-part commitment. It aims to strengthen international resolve to end impunity against trafficking networks; to improve laws, procedures, judicial cooperation and enforcement to enhance prosecution; to protect and assist migrants who have been trafficked; to disrupt financial flows; to make sure victims are not criminalized; to facilitate access to reporting; to ensure that the protection and assistance of victims are not conditional upon cooperation with authorities; and to provide trafficking victims with temporary or permanent residence and work permits to allow them access to justice and to a new life.

These and other similar commitments are really important, but they’re not enough. They need to be followed up with action on the ground. And the Santa Marta Group is one of those groups collaborating on the ground to make these international commitments consequential. We are going to find out how today, as we are privileged to have among our five panelists, the President of the Santa Marta Group himself, His Eminence Vincent Cardinal Nichols, and the first United Kingdom Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Mr. Kevin Hyland. They have been at the helm of the Santa Marta Group since its creation in 2014.

The Papal Residence is named after Saint Martha, a woman from Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem, who, with her brother Lazarus and sister Mary, used to welcome Jesus in their home. Saint Martha has been considered not only a patron saint of hospitality but also of hard work. When I think about the Santa Marta Group, I see that same hard work and hospitality. The enduring struggle to eradicate modern slavery is indeed difficult labor, but the members are engaged in it with persevering commitment. The members and organizations affiliated with it are also a model of hospitality. They strive to care for those who are or have been ensnared in human trafficking with dignity, even as they would seek to care for Jesus himself; and they help to rehabilitate those who have been wounded, feeding them and accompanying them with perseverance on a new Passover from slavery to true freedom.  And that’s why so many find the Santa Marta Group collaboration a powerful burst of light amidst the profound darkness of human trafficking.

I would like to finish with some word from Pope Francis. Three months ago, on February 9th, he welcomed the Members of the Santa Marta Group once again to the Vatican and I was able to be present. After praising the fundamental contribution of the Group and its members to addressing the causes and effects of human trafficking, he sought to summon everyone to action, reminding us all that “modern forms of slavery are far more widespread than previously imagined, even — to our scandal and shame — within the most prosperous of societies.” He vigorously thanked the members of the Santa Group for their commitment and cooperation to “bring the balm of God’s mercy to the suffering,” and said that such compassion-in-action represents an “essential step in the healing and renewal of society as a whole.”

Seizing the words of admiration and encouragement of the Holy Father regarding the Santa Marta Group and in recognition of the Group’s achievements and determination to rally others to fight human trafficking and other forms of modern slavery, tomorrow night, at the Grand Ballroom of The Pierre Hotel, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission, through its Path to Peace Foundation, will bestow upon the Santa Marta Group its 2018 Path to Peace Award.

I thank you for coming in such big numbers today. I am confident that all of us will leave this room more inspired and determined to make our own contribution to defeat human trafficking and others forms of modern slavery.