Human Trafficking in Armed Conflicts and Post-Conflict Situations

  • Monday, 08:48 Date 03/04/2023
  • This week Caritas Internationalis, Secours Catholique (Caritas France) and the Order of Malta, with the support of COATNET, held Human Trafficking in Armed Conflicts and Post-Conflict Situations, a side event for the 52nd Regular Session of the Human Rights Council at the Palais des Nations – United Nations in Geneva. This panel discussion event – co-sponsored by the Permanent Missions of the Costa Rica, Italy, Poland, Romania and the Sovereign Order of Malta – elaborated on the impact of armed conflicts on human rights and on the vulnerability of people to human trafficking. The panellists also spoke of the need for stronger cooperation among humanitarian and civil society organisations to better support and rehabilitate victims of trafficking.

    As stated in the UN Global Report on Human Trafficking (2022) every day in every country, women, men and children are exploited and enslaved by traffickers in various forms. The poor and the vulnerable are most at risk. In his opening remarks during the webinar, Mr. Michel Veuthey, Ambassador of the Sovereign Order of Malta to monitor and combat trafficking in persons, said more needs to be done to end contemporary slavery. He called for improved cooperation among four key stakeholders (governments, business, media and academia) so as not to forget the victims and survivors of human trafficking.
    Speaking on Global priorities to combat trafficking in human beings arising from armed conflict, Ms. Virginia Gamba de Potgieter, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children in Armed Conflict, said via a video message that concerted efforts need to extend beyond conflict areas in order to identify and track risks and vulnerabilities, particularly of children. “An abducted child becomes more vulnerable to the recruitment and use of other forms of exploitation, including forced labour, forced marriage and sexual exploitation, and slavery,” said Ms. Gamba de Potgieter. In the last UN Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict, 3,459 children abducted (2,399 boys and 1,038 girls). Overall, since the previous report, there has been a 20 per cent rise in the number of child abductions, and the abduction of girls alone has increased by 40 per cent. “Almost all abduction incidents were attributed to armed groups with the highest numbers verified in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, the Lake Chad Basin, Burkina Faso and Nigeria,” added Ms. Gamba de Potgieter.

    In the face of the horror of war, men, women, and children are sometimes exploited to survive. Existing and emerging war conflicts, such as in Ukraine, have led to a dramatic development of trafficking. Ms. Natalia Holynska, Manager of counter-trafficking projects for Caritas Ukraine and COATNET, on the topic of Human Trafficking in the Context of Armed Conflict in Ukraine shared in detail the horrific stories of three Ukrainian women who are victims of violent sexual exploitation. “The United Nations has verified more than 100 cases of rape or sexual assault since the beginning of the war, but I think it is only ‘verified cases’ and it is only the tip of the iceberg,” Ms. Holynska said. Within the context of Ukraine, the age of victims ranges from 4-82 years of age, with children being the most vulnerable group of the population. According to Ukrainian government figures to date, 464 children have been killed and over 935 injured.
    Codruta Fernea, President of Catholic Action Romania, said her organisation initiates the first step towards “compassionate care” in which the interaction with victims of human trafficking is “not one of service but, rather, on the reciprocal exchange of kindness and respect”. She stated that the difficulties of tracking victims and the lack of official data on abduction numbers could make members of the public believe that trafficking is not occurring along the borders of Romania. In relation to the topic Preventing human trafficking at the borders and in neighbouring countries, Fernea said: “The instability and confusion created by conflict are enabling traffickers to operate more easily and avoid law enforcement.” She said refugees are particularly vulnerable to trafficking “due to the lack of support of their trust networks like family, friends or acquaintances, and the challenges of navigating unfamiliar environments”. In collaboration with organisations like Caritas, Fernea said the initiatives of Catholic Action Romania include: awareness-raising training, technical assistance and integration services for those in need.

    Since October 2019, Lebanon has experienced overlapping crises such as the severe economic and financial crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, the Beirut explosion, as well as a food security crisis due to the war in Ukraine.  Consequently, due to these challenges, several Lebanese have chosen to leave their homeland and migrate to other countries. On the topic of Migrants and refugees in crisis within a crisis, Ms. Hessen Sayah, Head of Protection Department for Caritas Lebanon and COATNET, said, “Lebanese migrants and refugees became vulnerable especially with the lack of medical assistance.” The high cost of medications, the lack of psycho-social support services, and the stress of not being able to pay for rent has meant that migrants are vulnerable to human trafficking in exchange for the promises of food, housing and medical assistance made by traffickers. “Caritas Lebanon is committed to help victims and survivors stop the cycle of violence from repeating itself here, and they learn to hope,” Ms. Sayah said.

    “Special attention and measures are required for all aspects of prevention, identification, prosecution, recovery and rehabilitation of child victims, said Ms. Mikiko Otani, Chair of United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, on the topic of Children in armed conflicts. She emphasised the need for collaboration and joint work between UN bodies, states and civil society to uphold the mandate of promoting and protecting all human rights for all people, and to raise awareness of the issue of human trafficking, clarify the legal framework, and make recommendations for prevention, protection, recovery and integration and access to justice.

    Source: Caritas Internationlis

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