UN Urges Action on Millions of Asian Trafficking Victims
March 29, 2000 ·
Published in The Foreign Post
(March 23 – 29, 2000)
BANGKOK – Nine million people have been enslaved in the global sex trade or forced to work in appalling conditions by powerful crime syndicates active in human trafficking, according to a new United Nations report.
“Organized crime groups are eager to profit from this abominable commerce,” said Jan Van Dijk, representative of the executive director of the UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention. “As many as nine million people are the victims of slavery-like conditions in connection with the trafficking in human beings,” he told a major conference on organized crime here.
Many victims of human trafficking pay crime syndicates for passage from poor countries to the West, often in risky voyages in rickety, small boats.
“We are all familiar with the tragic consequences. Overloaded fishing boats here in Asia. Fatally sealed lorries in Europe and the United States of America,” Van Dijk said.
“Many of the victims, men, women and children, seek economic security and in turn find inhumane working conditions.”
The UN is finalizing a draft convention against transnational organized crime to meet the challenge of crime syndicates that profit from the porous nature of national borders.
The convention was high on the agenda of this week’s Asia-Pacific Seminar on Building Capacities for Fighting Transnational Organized
Crime, which groups Asian justice ministers with world crime experts.
Quoting figures from intemational organizations on migration, Van Dijk said human trafficking had funneled half a million women into the European Union in a single year, 1995. Many of them have entered the sex trade.
“Estimates of the number of children in the Asian sex market are 640,000 in the four most affected countries,” he said.
“In far too many countries, humans are essentially for sale.”
Thai Prime Minister C huan Leekpai told the conference in an inaugural address that in a highly technological age, governments had no choice but to improve their approaches to fighting crime.
“We must work harder not only to catch up with criminals, but also to ensure that we are one step ahead of them, lest we be caught in a vicious cycle, fighting 21st century crimes with 19th century tools,” he said.
The seminar included closed discussions on various areas of crime fighting and aims to tighten global cooperation against cross-border crime.
It will hold talks on combating money laundering and the illicit trade in firearms and ammunition.
The UN convention on organized crime is intended to harmonize legal standards and establish a benchmark for judicial policy around the world.
It is also likely to contain recommendations on protecting witnesses. “The cooperation of witnesses is essential to the prosecution of organized crime groups, yet they will only come forward and help if their safety is fully assured,” Van Dijk said.
Thailand, which is hosting the conference, is one of a number of southeast Asian nations forced to throw large resources at cross-border crime.
It lies on lucrative drug-running routes out of Myanmar and Laos and is also criss-crossedby auto andweapons smuggling channels.