Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the
“The Holy See and The Fight Against Human Trafficking”
Inaugural Lecture of the Casamarca Foundation Chair
in Migration and Globalization at Fordham University
Flom Auditorium, Walsh Library, Fordham University, Bronx
February 23, 2017
Members and Friends of the Fordham Community,
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a joy to be with you tonight to deliver the inaugural lecture of the Casamarca Foundation Chair in Migration and Globalization. I am deeply honored that Fordham University offered me the Casamarca Foundation Chair dedicated to these two intimately linked phenomena that are as old as humanity itself but have in our days acquired heightened attention, becoming subjects of fiery political debates and of more focused attention among policymakers.
I have been asked to talk on one of the darkest and most revolting realities in the world today, namely, the trafficking in human beings as sex slaves in prostitution and pornography, for forced labor and compelled participation in illegal activities, for child soldiering, for forced and sham marriages, for child brides, for illegal adoptions, for the stealing of children from pregnant women, for the removal of organs, and even for human sacrifice and, believe it or not, for aphrodisiacs and magical concoctions.
The tremendous advances in human civilization, in the sciences and technologies tempt us to think that slavery is a thing of a distant past. But when we examine the facts, we are shocked at how much slavery in all its modern forms is with us more than ever, albeit in a more submerged way. Far from being a historical footnote and far from of diminishing or going away, this phenomenon of trafficking in persons is growing, provoked by conflicts and extreme poverty, and exacerbated by the present migration and refugee crisis.
Three weeks ago, the Haitian police arrested nine North Americans in a sex trafficking sting involving 31 girls between the ages of 13 and 17. Investigators believe the syndicate was preparing to take the children over to the Dominican Republic. Similarly, as I was preparing this conference a few days ago, the Haitian press reported that the State Commissioner of Port-au-Prince, in just two days, had closed in Port-au-Prince alone forty-one illegal brothels, frequented by children in school uniforms, some of whom have been forced into prostitution even by their parents. The operation was conducted after nine minors aged 13 and 14 went to the police. Various parents were arrested, but the brothel owners were just told to put their papers in order before they could reopen.
Far be it from me, however, to single out Haiti and the Haitians, a people I love and respect having served as Nuncio in the country for more than six years. The reality is that no country in the world has been immune to the scourges of human trafficking and other contemporary forms of slavery. Indeed, the two Haitian cases I just cited are not even the tip of the iceberg, and would hardly cause a stir in the huge, vast, very lucrative and submerged phenomenon that is trafficking in persons.
How many persons are victims of human trafficking? The honest answer is that the number is staggering, and nobody really knows! There are only estimates, and the most cited is the 2012 figure given by the International Labour Organization (ILO) of about 21 million men, women and children who are trafficked, sold, coerced or subjected to conditions of slavery in various forms and in various sectors: from agriculture to domestic service, from prostitution to forced marriage, or cases of child soldiers, organ trafficking and sale of children. An annual increase of around three million people must be added to this figure. The data used by the ILO were mostly likely gathered in 2010 and partly in 2011. If you add three million each year to the 21 million from data gathered most likely in 2010, then you come up with 36 million persons trafficked in 2016. The highest estimate I saw was 45 million.
According to the 2016 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons released two months ago by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, human trafficking is a 32 billion dollar industry, running third behind arms and drug trafficking. Fifty-one percent of the victims are women, 21 percent are men, 20 percent girls and 8 percent boys.
While women and children still constitute 79 percent of the victims, the trend in the last 10 years indicates that more and more of the victims are men. In 2004, only 13 percent of the victims were male. In 2014, the percentage went up to 21 percent. With the increase of men being trafficked, there is a proportionate increase of forced labor among the forms of exploitation. Almost 86 percent of male victims are trafficked for forced labor.
Inversely, the trend of the share of women in the overall number of trafficked persons indicates a downward trend, from 74 percent in 2004 to 51 percent in 2014. Seventy-two percent of women are trafficked for sexual exploitation.
In the last ten years, the increase of the share of trafficked children more than doubled, from 13 percent in 2004 to 28 percent in 2014. But in Sub-Saharan Africa, a staggering 64 percent of those trafficked are children, and the Caribbean and Central America Region is not far behind, with 62 percent of the victims being children.
Why are people trafficked?
As is often said, misery breeds miseries. This holds so true in human trafficking! Persons who have “nothing to lose” are very vulnerable to the guile of traffickers, who are masters in spotting and exploiting situations of despair. Traffickers use the guise of smuggling, for example, to ensnare their victims. They present victims with putative job opportunities that echo the promises of smugglers, ask migrants to pay fees for their transport, and often use the same routes and transportation methods coyotes do. Human traffickers have no qualms about exploiting very vulnerable people escaping persecution, conflict, environmental disasters, and economic privation. Wars and conflicts are becoming more and more the primary push factor why people are more vulnerable to trafficking. Persons who escape persecution and conflict in search of freedom and protection are particularly vulnerable to being trafficked.
Mass migrations and refugee movements have become an advantageous environment for traffickers to operate. In 2015, the United Nations estimated that there were almost 250 million international migrants across the world, an increase of more than 40 percent since the year 2000 (173 million). Also in 2015, more than 65 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide due to persecution, conflict, violence or human rights violations, an increase of 6 million compared to 2014.
Now, as the aforementioned 2016 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons shows, the citizenships of trafficking victims detected in the country of exploitation is highly correlated with the citizenships of regular migration flows. And so it’s clear that in order to eradicate the scourge of trafficking in persons, we must address how forced migration and the negative consequences of globalization are among its root causes, leaving so many in desperate situations vulnerable to traffickers using the exploitative business of migrant smuggling as a cover for the modern slave trade.
Women and girls have the added vulnerability in that, in still so many countries and regions in the world, they disproportionately constitute the poorest of the poor, discriminated against in education and healthcare, are the most affected by violence and conflict, and are disproportionately represented in the informal economy. These disadvantages are push factors, making them more likely to migrate, usually irregularly, and more vulnerable to the guile of the traffickers.
What does the United Nations do against human trafficking?
The international community through the United Nations is very much aware of the problem and its extent.
There is, above all, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was adopted by all countries in the world during the Development Summit held in the very same day that Pope Francis addressed the UN General Assembly on 25 September 2015.
The 2030 Agenda contains 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 Targets. Three of these Targets are dedicated to eliminating this humanitarian ignominy within the next decade and a half. These commit the United Nations and Member States expeditiously to “eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation” (5.2) “take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labor, end modern slavery and human trafficking” (8.7) and “end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children” (16.2).
In the New York Declaration on Refugee and Migrants adopted last September by the General Assembly, the international community recognized that “refugees and migrants in large movements are at greater risk of being trafficked and of being subjected to forced labor” and committed itself “vigorously [to] combat human trafficking and migrant smuggling with a view to their elimination, … provide support for the victims of human trafficking, … [and] prevent human trafficking among those affected by displacement” (35).
It likewise committed itself to implement the UN Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons, to conform national legislation with international law on migrant smuggling and human trafficking, to reinforce technical cooperation to prevent trafficking and to prosecute traffickers (36). In view of a Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, that the United Nations hopes will be adopted in a Summit in September 2018 in New York, the international community committed itself to “combating trafficking in persons … and contemporary forms of slavery,” “identifying those who have been trafficked and considering providing assistance, including temporary and permanent residency and work permits” (III,8,k-l).
I would also like to note that in December 2015, the Security Council held its first-ever thematic debate on Trafficking in Persons in Situations of Conflict, allowing an opening for greater concrete action and for binding decisions for all countries to implement. More and more countries are now actively involved. A group of States and other stakeholders has been proposing ways in which the Security Council can play a greater role in the fight against human trafficking. There has been an array of conferences, side events and panel discussions at the United Nations on the subject of human trafficking. Modesty aside, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission is among the more active Missions in this area.
At the United Nations and across the international community, there has been practical progress, but in many basic areas, institutions have not come close to rising up to the needs, like in the area of prosecuting and condemning traffickers. On the positive side, there has been a dramatic increase in countries that have criminalized human trafficking in conformity with the definition in the UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol. In 2003, only 33 countries worldwide had criminalized human trafficking; in 2016, 158 did.
That’s good news. But having laws on the books is one thing; using them to bust those engaged in enslaving their fellow human beings is another. Of the 136 countries for which we have data, 40 percent (or 54 countries) had fewer than 10 convictions per year and 15 percent (or 20 countries) did not have a single conviction over the three-year period between 2012-2014! Among countries that have had legislation for more than 13 years, the average amount of convictions was 29. No country in the world had more than 100 annual convictions. When the average number of victims per convicted trafficker is four, and when an estimated 36 million people today are victims, we can see that the vast majority of traffickers continue to enslave others with impunity.
There’s also the situation of the data needed and the competence and cooperation of national governments. In the 2016 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons published by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, there were only 136 countries reporting, and much of their data was partial. The Report acknowledges that in some areas the scarcity of data furnished by countries made it impossible to draw solid analyses and conclusions. What makes extrapolating scarce data even more problematic is the fact that some of the countries where the most trafficking victims originate or are exploited are among those that have not filed reports or filed incomplete data. There are a number of reasons behind these difficulties in reporting, one of them being insufficient institutional capacities in those countries.
In sum, steps in the right direction have been taken at the level of the international community and greater public awareness can be noted. As the irreproachable expression goes, much has been done, but much more still needs to be done! As Pope Francis stressed in his September 2015 Address to the UN General Assembly, paper commitments are not enough. Making our institutions effective is the great challenge. Forcing the submerged phenomenon of human trafficking to the surface requires specialized institutional capacities and tremendous political will on the part of every country.
The Popes, the Holy See and the Catholic Church
So, if words are not enough, what have the Popes, the Holy See and the Catholic Church done and actually do to fight the scourge of human trafficking?
The Holy See’s involvement in the fight against human trafficking is not new. It has long spoken out against the evil of human trafficking and through the dedicated work of so many Catholic religious institutes — especially women religious Congregations —, national and diocesan programs, and groups of committed faithful, the Catholic Church has sought to fight to address its various causes, care for those it victimizes, wake people up to the disgrace, and work with anyone and everyone to try to eliminate it.
During the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church, in its 1965 Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, condemned “slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, and disgraceful working conditions where people are treated as instruments of gain rather than free and responsible persons” as “infamies” that “poison human society, debase their perpetrators” and as “a supreme dishonor to the Creator” (Gaudium et Spes, 27).
St. John Paul II, in a lengthy 2002 Address on the human rights dimension to human trafficking, forcefully declared that the “the issue of human trafficking must be addressed by promoting effective juridical instruments to halt this iniquitous trade, to punish those who profit from it, and to assist the reintegration of its victims.” He added, “The sexual exploitation of women and children is a particularly repugnant aspect of this trade, and must be recognized as an intrinsic violation of human dignity and rights. The disturbing tendency to treat prostitution as a business or industry not only contributes to the trade in human beings, but is itself evidence of a growing tendency to … reduce the rich mystery of human sexuality to a mere commodity.” He urged that attention be given not only to the “significant political and juridical issues involved in responding to this modern plague,” but also to the “ethical questions” that fuel the market demand for human trafficking, namely, “the lifestyles and models of behavior, particularly with regard to the image of women, which generate what has become a veritable industry of sexual exploitation in the developed countries” (Letter on the occasion of the International Conference, “Twenty-First Century Slavery: the Human Rights Dimension to the Trafficking in Human Beings,” May 15, 2002).
Pope Benedict XVI likewise condemned the “scourge of trafficking in human beings” in his 2006 Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, saying that the world needed to combat the “trafficking in human beings, especially women, that flourishes where opportunities to improve their standard of living or even to survive are limited.” He continued, “It becomes easy for the trafficker to offer his own ‘services’ to the victims, who often do not even vaguely suspect what awaits them. In some cases there are women and girls who are destined to be exploited almost like slaves in their work, and not infrequently in the sex industry, too.” He specifically criticized the “the widespread hedonistic and commercial culture that encourages the systematic exploitation of sexuality” and in a particular way harms women and girls.
Pope Francis and the fight against human trafficking
But it has been Pope Francis who has captured the world’s attention for his strong and incessant denunciation of this social cancer and his attempt to wake up the world with him to eliminate it. He is universally recognized as the leading moral voice in the fight against trafficking in persons. By words and action, he has made it clear that this is one of the defining priorities of his papacy. Thus, following the Holy Father’s lead, the fight against modern slavery is a particular priority of the diplomatic work of the Holy See and a pastoral urgency of the Catholic Church.
Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio had already been exposed to human trafficking in Buenos Aires, where he was Archbishop for 15 years prior to his papal election. In a daily homily, after noting that Jesus “stands with our brothers and sisters who live under slavery,” he commented, “We have been taught that slavery has been abolished, but you know what? It’s not true, because in the city of Buenos Aires slavery is not abolished. In this city slavery is present in different forms.” Soon after his election, he sent a hand-written note to his fellow Argentine, Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences, in which he wrote, “I believe it would be good to examine human trafficking and modern slavery. Organ trafficking could be examined in connection with human trafficking. Many thanks, Francis.”
In his September 2015 Address to the UN General Assembly, he called on world leaders to avoid “every temptation to fall into a declarationist nominalism that would assuage our consciences” but do nothing more. He stressed, “We need to ensure that our institutions are truly effective in the struggle against all these scourges” and “take concrete steps and immediate measures … to [put] an end as quickly as possible to the phenomenon of social and economic exclusion, with its baneful consequences such as human trafficking, the marketing of human organs and tissues, the sexual exploitation of boys and girls, slave labor, including prostitution.”
Pope Francis has spoken on human trafficking on many other formal occasions. He dedicated part of his address to the UN General Assembly to it. He wrote about it in his encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home and in his exhortation The Joy of the Gospel. He dedicated the entirety 2015 Message for the World Day of Peace to the subject, making it a key priority of international diplomacy for the Holy See. He has spoken about it to the Ambassadors and other diplomats accredited to the Holy See, to international religious leaders, to an alliance of international police chiefs and Church leaders dedicated to eradicating modern slavery, to social scientists and scholars, to mayors from across the globe, and to various conferences in different parts of the world.
And he hasn’t merely been talking: he’s been taking action, not only catalyzing the Holy See’s hosting conferences through the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences, but also spearheading the 2014 Joint Declaration of Religious Leaders against Modern Slavery and helping to found the Santa Marta Group, named after his residence in the Vatican, which brings together Catholic leaders and international law enforcement officials to battle this scourge.
What has been his essential message and approach as he has sought to spur the whole world toward effective action? Without pretending to be exhaustive, I would summarize it in six points:
First, what we’re dealing with is a crime against humanity. In an April 2014 meeting with social scientists in the Vatican, he said, “Human trafficking is an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ. It is a crime against humanity.” Addressing interreligious leaders eight months later, he emphasized, with equally graphic language, “Modern slavery — in the form of human trafficking, forced labor, prostitution or the trafficking of organs — is a crime ‘against humanity,’ … an atrocious scourge that is present throughout the world on a broad scale, even as tourism.” Our response must be commensurate to the evil.
Second, human trafficking is a crime that’s occurring in our own backyards, it’s under our noses, and we cannot ignore it. “We must raise awareness of this new evil which, in the world at large, wants to be hidden since it is scandalous and ‘politically incorrect,’” he said in an April 2015 address to an interdisciplinary summit in the Vatican. “No one likes to acknowledge that in one’s own city, even in one’s own neighborhood, in one’s region or nation, there are new forms of slavery, while we know that this plagues almost all countries. … All of society is called to grow in this awareness… in order to be able to ensure that traffickers be brought to justice and their unjust earnings redirected for the rehabilitation of victims. … So often … these new forms of slavery are protected by the institutions that should be protecting the population from these crimes.”
Third, modern slavery takes advantage of a widespread culture of indifference and exclusion. In a March 5, 2014 Message to a Brazilian conference on “Fraternity and Human Trafficking, Pope Francis said, “It is not possible to remain indifferent before the knowledge that human beings are bought and sold like goods. I think of the adoption of children for the extraction of their organs, of women deceived and forced to prostitute themselves, of workers exploited and denied their rights or a voice, and so on. This is human trafficking!” In an address last November 2 to RENATE, an association of religious women in Europe networked against trafficking and exploitation, he applied Jesus’ words about the Last Judgment in St. Matthew’s Gospel to the situation of human trafficking, saying Jesus could say, and wants to say, to each of us, “I was abused, exploited, enslaved … and you rescued me.”
Fourth, the flood of trafficking victims has multiple tributaries. Pope Francis has specified four different causes: economic, environmental, political, and ethical. To eradicate the scourge of modern slavery, one must confront these economic, environmental, political, and ethical roots:
Economic. In his 2015 Peace Message he wrote that among the causes that “help to explain contemporary forms of slavery,… in the first place [is] poverty, underdevelopment and exclusion, especially when combined with a lack of access to education or scarce, even non-existent, employment opportunities. Not infrequently, the victims of human trafficking and slavery are people who look for a way out of a situation of extreme poverty; taken in by false promises of employment, they often end up in the hands of criminal networks that organize human trafficking.”
Environmental. In a July 21, 2015 Conference dedicated to the connection between “Modern Slavery and Climate Change,” Pope Francis said, “The United Nations must take greater interest … in human trafficking caused by environmental issues,” a point he developed at length in his encyclical Laudato Si’: “It is clearly inconsistent to combat trafficking in endangered species,” he said, “while remaining completely indifferent to human trafficking.” (LS 91).
Political. In his 2015 Message for the World Day of Peace, he was plain in saying that one obvious cause of modern slavery is “corruption on the part of people willing to do anything for financial gain. Slave labor and human trafficking often require the complicity of intermediaries, be they law enforcement personnel, state officials, or civil and military institutions.”
Ethical. In a December 12, 2013 Address to a group of new Ambassadors accredited to the Holy See, he said that modern slavery happens when people “are treated as objects,” which leads to their being “deceived, assaulted, often sold many times for different purposes and, in the end, killed or, in any case, physically and mentally harmed, ending up discarded and abandoned.” He reiterated the point in his encyclical Laudato Si’. “In the absence of objective truths or sound principles other than the satisfaction of our own desires and immediate needs,” he asked, “what limits can be placed on human trafficking, organized crime, the drug trade, commerce in blood diamonds and the fur of endangered species?” He says that the human beings are treated like things to be used and thrown away, and this happens “when the culture itself is corrupt and objective truth and universally valid principles are no longer upheld.” (LS 123).
Fifth, Pope Francis stresses that now is the time for action. In his 2015 Message for the World Day of Peace, he underlined, “Even though the international community has adopted numerous agreements aimed at ending slavery in all its forms, and has launched various strategies to combat this phenomenon, millions of people today – children, women and men of all ages – are deprived of freedom and are forced to live in conditions akin to slavery.” That leads to an urgency he called for in an October 2015 letter to a conference against modern slavery and human trafficking taking place in Madrid, in which he said, “Today the 193 States that belong to the UN have a new moral imperative to combat human trafficking which is a real crime against humanity.” In short, he is saying, now is the time to act with alacrity on the moral imperatives to eliminate human trafficking, modern slavery and forced labor.
Sixth, he insists on collaboration and partnerships, that the response must involve everyone’s working together. In his 2015 Message for the World Day of Peace, Pope Francis specified the need for the involvement of States, intergovernmental organizations, businesses, civil society organizations, and everyone, saying: “We ought to recognize that we are facing a global phenomenon that exceeds the competence of any one community or country. In order to eliminate it, we need a mobilization comparable in size to that of the phenomenon itself. For this reason I urgently appeal to all men and women of good will, and all those near or far, including the highest levels of civil institutions, who witness the scourge of contemporary slavery, not to become accomplices to this evil, not to turn away from the sufferings of our brothers and sisters, our fellow human beings, who are deprived of their freedom and dignity. Instead, may we have the courage to touch the suffering flesh of Christ revealed in the faces of those countless persons whom [Jesus] calls ‘the least of these my brethren’ (Mt 25:40, 45). … The globalization of indifference, which today burdens the lives of so many of our brothers and sisters, requires all of us to forge a new worldwide solidarity and fraternity capable of giving them new hope and helping them to advance with courage amid the problems of our time and the new horizons which they disclose and which God places in our hands” (2015 Message for the World Day of Prayer for Peace).
The Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations
The Permanent Observer Mission is working very hard to act on this priority of Pope Francis and of the Church in our work here in New York. Our Mission has organized a series of conferences dedicated to the issue. We inaugurated this series in April 2015, by hosting with the Santa Marta Group a huge conference for nearly 600 people on “Ending Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking by 2030,” with the some of the best experts and practitioners in the field. In March last year, we organized a side event on “the Pastoral Care of Women and Girls on the Street” and another in July on “Eliminating the Trafficking of Children and Youth.”
This coming March 22, the Mission will be holding another event entitled “Economically Empowering Trafficking Survivors to Stay Permanently Off the Streets,” to which you would all be invited. We are planning a big conference on Financing for Development focused on the most vulnerable women.
We will also be participating actively in the High-Level Meeting of the General Assembly this October on the appraisal of the UN Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons for which our Mission was involved in meetings earlier today. We are actively participating in the various preparatory phases leading toward the intergovernmental negotiations on an Outcome document on the Global Compact on safe, orderly and regular migration that will be adopted during the September 2018 Summit to be held in New York.
My participation in the annual assembly of the Santa Marta Group has helped me to have better country-focused understanding of the situation in specific countries, as both Church and law enforcement authorities report on the situation in their respective countries. This complements the wide-angle view we get at the United Nations. Moreover, country-specific reports provide for a deeper appreciation of the fundamental importance of the close collaboration between law enforcement authorities and those who take care of the victims of human trafficking.
Finally, the Mission collaborates with the Permanent Missions of countries that are actively fighting human trafficking, as well as with non-governmental organizations whose objective is to help to put an end to human trafficking.
Allow me to conclude my comments with two brief points of reflection:
First, the importance of a faith actively manifested in deeds. Pope Francis wants those who are religious to find in their faith the deepest motivation for leadership and involvement in this fight. People of faith should bring their moral vision and passion to this whole movement. “Sustained,” he affirmed in joint declaration with world religious leaders, “by the ideals of our confessions of faith and by our shared human values, we all can and must raise the standard of spiritual values, common effort and the vision of freedom to eradicate slavery from our planet.”
In the same vein, in his Message to the participants of our April 2015 conference on human trafficking, the Holy Father reiterated the “steadfast commitment of the Catholic Church to fight this crime and to care for all of its victims,” urged all of us to recognize in this work “a true service to the poorest and most marginalized of society, who too often are forgotten and have no voice,” and challenged us to greater involvement still. We fight for our brothers and sisters who, like us, are made in the image and likeness of God. That appeal made ten months ago has lost nothing of its urgency.
Second, deeds sustained by the hope that, together, we shall overcome. It can, indeed, be very discouraging and frustrating that in spite of all the efforts, the phenomenon of human trafficking continues to grow rapidly. During our April 2017 Conference, Mr. Kevin Hyland, the Independent Anti-Slavery Commission of the United Kingdom, reminded us that it took William Wilberforce only 20 years to end the British slave trade and only 30 more to abolish the slave trade across the globe, at a time when slavery was as accepted as natural as birth, marriage and death. This can also happen in our fight against human trafficking, and it can happen sooner than we might think, as long as all, including each one of us here, are committed to fight the good and necessary fight against the evil of human trafficking. Let us bring that Wilberforce in each of us to bear in our fight against human trafficking and others forms of modern slavery.
Thank you for your kind attention!