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A timely call to combat human trafficking

June 12, 2015 ·  By AN AUSTRALIAN ANGLE By Bill Tweddell (The Philippine Star) for www.philstar.com

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The challenge human traffickers pose to men, women and children across the globe and in our region is stark. Around the world, an estimated 2.5 million people are in forced labour at any given time as a result of human trafficking.

Like the Philippines, Australia is committed to playing our part to address this global challenge, including in our region.

That is why I was pleased to join the Secretary of the Department of Justice, the Honourable Leila De Lima, and fellow members of the diplomatic corps to sign the Manila Declaration to Enhance Cooperation in Combating Human Trafficking last week (3 June).

Through this Declaration, a coalition of embassies, members of the private sector and civil society have pledged to strengthen our efforts and partner with the Philippines to combat the scourge of human trafficking.

The Australia–Asia Program to Combat Trafficking in Persons — or AAPTIP — is just one way we are making this commitment a reality. AAPTIP is a regional program which represents an investment of around P1.7 billion (A$50 million) by the Australia Government, across seven ASEAN partners.

Our commitment to work with our ASEAN neighbours to combat trafficking is long-standing — through our dedicated programs, Australia has been partnering with ASEAN countries to combat trafficking for the past 10 years.

And AAPTIP is not the only way we are helping address this problem. Australia has driven a regional response as Co-Chair of the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime, involving countries throughout our region, including the Philippines. Our support to the International Organization for Migration to help repatriate victims of trafficking and to the International Labor Organization to promote safe migration complements our strong regional approach.

In our region, the Philippines has been a leader amongst ASEAN countries in the fight against trafficking. Australia has supported these efforts in driving greater regional cooperation to combat this problem and we encourage the Philippines to continue this energetic leadership.

In the coming months we look forward to continuing to work together as ASEAN Member States negotiate a regional convention to combat trafficking in persons.

The successful conclusion of a draft for this binding agreement for ASEAN — only the second region in the world to have such an agreement in place – is a credit to the Department of Justice, as the lead agency, and to the leadership of Secretary De Lima.

At home in the Philippines, the Manila Declaration reminds us of the problem we face right here. The problem we face is real, with over 3500 cases of human trafficking reported in 2014. That is why we are partnering with the Philippines to reduce the incentives and the opportunities for human trafficking here.

Through AAPTIP we are helping to strengthen Philippine criminal justice agencies in their response to trafficking, while supporting stronger ties with investigators and prosecutors in the region.

That means helping law enforcement agencies improve their investigations, including across borders; it means working with prosecutors to ethically build stronger cases; helping judges and court officials to deliver fair and timely decisions in these cases; and working with regional bodies to enhance regional cooperation.

We are working closely with the Department of Justice, the Philippines National Police and other agencies through the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) on this important agenda.

A number of Australian agencies are also involved in the program, from the Australian Federal Police to our Department of Immigration.

I would like to thank the Dutch Ambassador, Her Excellency Marion Derckx, for her efforts and those of the Netherlands Embassy in pioneering the Manila Declaration.

We all agree there is more to be done in the fight against human trafficking, and Australia is committed to playing our part. Our partnership with the Philippines on this is already strong and I look forward to seeing even greater progress as we work together in the fight against trafficking.

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