Swiss welcome key step in trafficking fight

Illegal immigrants often try to reach Europe's shores Reuters

The head of the Swiss delegation to the first major United Nations conference on human trafficking in Vienna, Austria, says the meeting has been a success.

This content was published on February 15, 2008 - 21:46

Guillaume Scheurer, a top official in the foreign ministry, said that the process for more action had been launched and that it was now up to both private and public actors to get involved.

The three-day Vienna Forum, which finished on Friday, attracted at least 1,000 participants from around 100 countries. Government representatives, civil society, the business world and some high profile personalities all attended.

It was described by Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), as a "tipping point" in the global battle against human trafficking.

The UN estimates that 161 countries are affected by human trafficking and around 2.5 million people are involved at any given time in forced labour which can take the form of sexual exploitation, forced marriages, or providing body parts for the black market trade in organs.

The majority of victims are aged 18-24. The growing industry around the practice is said be worth more than $30 billion (SFr32 billion).

"The trafficking of human beings is something completely inhuman, a grave crime, and it's also a growing industry of organised crime," Scheurer told swissinfo. "It was very important to stand up and join forces against this modern slavery."

He said the meeting had helped start a process that should be continued within the UN.

Swiss experience

Scheurer, who is deputy head of the political affairs division in charge of human security, said that Switzerland had brought its experience of fighting human trafficking to the conference, including coordinating between public and private actors.

The country also supports initiatives to help trafficking victims rebuild their lives, such as through the Hagar non-governmental organisation in Cambodia.

In Switzerland the exact number of trafficking victims is not known, according to the Swiss Coordination Unit against the Trafficking of Persons and Smuggling of Migrants, which is part of the Federal Police Office.

It was, however, estimated in 2002 that 1,500 to 3,000 people were affected by the practice for sexual exploitation. Victims usually come from eastern Europe, the Baltic States, Brazil or Thailand.

Since December 2006 human trafficking has been punishable in Switzerland and carries a penalty of up to 20 years imprisonment.

More action

At the conference, there were calls for some governments to do more against trafficking. A UN anti-trafficking protocol came into force in 2005 creating a framework for a crackdown. In all, 110 nations have signed up but some countries, such as India and Japan, have not ratified it.

It was also pointed out that the private sector could play a role.

"Take a big company, they work with a lot of subcontractors, and it's important that it monitors the situation to ensure that no trafficking is involved in any part of the chain," said Scheurer.

The Vienna Forum announced on Friday that companies, including global brands such as Microsoft, Manpower and Gap, had held a meeting on the issue – the first of its kind.

Scheurer said that he was satisfied that his delegation, which included representatives from the police office and civil society, had gained much from the forum.

"It might not be concrete and even modest but raising awareness is a very important big step and after that there will be many UN, global and national initiatives, private and public, continuing to fight this trafficking," he said.

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson

UN human trafficking facts

The estimated number of people in forced labour including sexual exploitation as a result of trafficking at any given time is 2.5 million.

Most victims are aged 18-24 years old.

The estimated annual profits made from this exploitation at global level are $31.7 billion (SFr35.04 billion).

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Vienna Forum

The Vienna Forum was convened by the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT), which was established in recognition of the fact that human trafficking takes many forms and that a coordinated approach is required.

UN.GIFT was launched in March 2007 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), with the International Labour Organization (ILO), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

High profile names attending the forum included pop star Ricky Martin, Oscar-winning actress British Emma Thompson and Egyptian first lady Suzanne Mubarak.

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