March 15, 2017
Security Council Open Debate on Trafficking in persons in conflict situations: forced labour, slavery and other similar practices

Intervention of H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the
United Nations
United Nations Security Council Open Debate on
Trafficking in persons in conflict situations: forced labour, slavery and other similar practices
New York, 15 March 2017

Mr. President,

The Holy See thanks the Presidency of the United Kingdom for raising this topic to the level of Open Debate in this Chamber.

By words and actions, Pope Francis has made it very clear from his very first days as Pope that the fight against trafficking in persons would be one of the defining priorities of his papacy.  He has not hesitated in defining it as a form of slavery, a crime against humanity, a shameful and grave violation of human rights, an atrocious scourge that is present throughout the world on a broad scale, even as tourism.

The flood of trafficking victims has many tributaries. Among these are extreme poverty, underdevelopment and exclusion, especially when combined with a lack of access to education or scarce, even non-existent, employment opportunities. Human traffickers have no qualms about exploiting very vulnerable people escaping economic privation and natural disasters.

In our day, however, wars and conflicts have become the prime driver of trafficking in persons. They provide an enabling environment for traffickers to operate, as persons fleeing persecutions and conflicts are particularly vulnerable to being trafficked. Conflicts have created conditions for terrorists, armed groups and transnational organized crime networks to thrive in exploiting individuals and populations reduced to extreme vulnerability by persecution and multiple forms of violence.

In this context, my delegation expresses once again profound concern for the ancient Christian communities, Yezidis and other religious and ethnic minority groups in the Mesopotamia, who have been enslaved, sold, killed and subjected to extreme forms of humiliation. The apparent lack of serious efforts to bring to justice the perpetrators of such acts of genocide and massive violations of human rights and international humanitarian law leaves so many perplexed and wondering how many more atrocities can be tolerated before the victims obtain rescue, protection and justice.

Mr. President,

The Holy See once more would like to underline its constant and firm condemnation of the relative ease with which arms, even weapons of mass destruction, get into the hands of terrorists and armed groups, giving them the means to continue with equally relative ease to traffic and enslave individuals and even entire communities.  The proliferation of arms, whether they are weapons of mass destruction or “merely conventional,” facilitates and prolongs violent conflicts that make people extremely vulnerable to traffickers and smugglers. As long as wars and conflicts rage, trafficking in persons for sexual exploitation, forced labour and similar crimes will continue to flourish. The Holy See therefore strongly appeals to States not to supply arms to groups or to regimes that would most likely use them against their very own people, to implement strictly arms-related treaties, and to use the full force of the law in the fight against arms trafficking.

Moreover, the criminalization of undocumented and irregular migrants exacerbates their vulnerabilities, drives them closer to the embrace of traffickers and to more extreme forms of exploitation, and renders them less likely to collaborate with the law enforcement authorities to catch and punish the traffickers.

Mr. President,

The challenge that trafficking in persons poses is immense and requires a commensurate response. Today, that response is still far from being equal to the challenge. As Pope Francis has noted several times, even though the international community has adopted numerous agreements and individual countries have adopted laws aimed at ending slavery in all its forms, even though various strategies to combat this phenomenon have been launched at both national and international levels, much more still needs to be done on the level of raising public awareness and effecting a better coordination of efforts by governments, the judiciary, law enforcement officials and social workers to save the millions of children, women and men who are still deprived of freedom and are forced to live in slave-like conditions.

In a special way, the Holy See urges the Security Council to take a greater role in the fight against the scourge of trafficking in persons, primarily through its responsibility to prevent and end armed conflicts and to help in the consolidation of peace and development.

Thank you, Mr. President.