by John J. Metzler
Weirs Times Contributing Writer
UNITED NATIONS -Modern slavery is tragically thriving in the Twenty-first Century!
While ethnic, religious and military conflicts seem to be the grist of news headlines, the quiet and brutal backstory from this global violence regards the vulnerable millions who have been displaced as migrants and refugees. Ironically in the midst of such desperation there’s a “business model” used by human traffickers who are profiting from slavery, an ancient scourge, which reap profits of over $150 billion annually.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that “trafficking networks have gone global” with over 21 million people ensnared in forced labor, and extreme exploitation. Families and societies were being torn apart by what he called “gross violations of human rights.”
Addressing a special debate in the UN Security Council, Secretary-General Guterres conceded “flourishing where the rule of law was weak and in situations of armed conflict, trafficking was thriving in Syria, where Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) had organized slave markets.” He added that in Nigeria the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram “had considered slavery legal in areas under its sway.”
Yury Fedotov of the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime added, “terrorists used human trafficking to exploit instability and vulnerability…armed groups preyed on children” in what was described as a “low risk, high-reward business opportunity.”
Kevin Hyland, Britain’s Anti-Slavery Commissioner, noted that terrorist organizations openly advocated “slavery as a tactic of war” and that Da’esh was targeting minority groups and establishing slave markets.
“Conflict also created environments in which modern slavery could flourish,” Hyland added.
Without question such tactics remain a dark corollary of conflict in many countries.
What we are not so politely speaking about here is the forced abduction of girls and women for prostitution and sexual slavery as well as other people for servile labor on farms or ships.
American Ambassador Nikki Haley stressed, “Standing up to modern slavery and forced labor was an element of United States foreign policy.” She added that the Trump administration “would work to end human trafficking and devote more resources to that end.”
And indeed we must as slavery is becoming wider and more sophisticated, especially given the conflict rich environment throughout the world.
Hungarian Ambassador Katlin Annamaria Bogyay stressed, “it was particularly disturbing that Da’esh, Boko Haram, Al Nusrah and other terrorist groups used sexual exploitation and forced marriage as a tactic.” She added poignantly “Modern Slavery is a crime of the twenty-first century: adaptive, cynical, sophisticated, extremely complex and highly variegated.” Amb. Bogyay conceded there is “no magical solution” to the threats and no organization itself can tackle the phenomenon itself.
In other words fighting this multi-headed Hydra of hate and profitable exploitation takes more than legislation but a wider awareness and willingness to coordinate strategies across borders and among governments.
Archbishop Bernardito Auza of the Holy See feared for “ancient Christian communities, as well as Yezidis and other religious minorities in Mesopotamia…who had been enslaved, sold, killed, and subjected to extreme humiliation.” He decried “the lack of serious efforts to bring perpetrators to justice of such acts of genocide.”
Nonetheless but as many speakers called for additional legislation and for cross-border cooperation in combating human trafficking, there’s a bigger issue which deals with effectively controlling national borders to thwart people smuggling through criminal networks.
Porous borders especially among many of the European’s Union’s own member states have become the norm. Since 1995, the Schengen Accords allow totally free movement of people and goods through most of the European Union’s member states, (excluding the UK and Ireland), facilitating free access and unhindered commerce among countries. This has been a boom for legitimate travel, business and passport free movement. A good idea in peaceful times.
But long before the current spate of conflicts, terrorism, and illegal migration, Schengen also became a windfall for organized crime which can easily move stolen goods such as cars across borders. Equally open frontiers have proved a magnet for migrants who once reaching an EU state can then gain unhindered access throughout the bloc. During 2015, more than a million migrants flooded into Germany and Sweden.
Estonia’s delegate Sven Jurgenson put the matter into perspective stating the international community “must focus on prevention, protection, and prosecution” in order to combat human trafficking. “There must be no room for impunity,” he stressed.
This is so true. Equally there must be a willingness to go beyond feel good political posturing, recognize the problem, and ruthlessly prosecute trans-national criminal networks.
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism The Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China.