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Interparliamentary Conference “Parliaments united against human trafficking”
OECD Conference Center, Paris

Speech by Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe


Friday, 3 December 2010

Dear Chairperson,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Some hundred and fifty years ago slavery had been abolished throughout Europe. In law.

If we fast-forward to today, we are forced to admit that, in practice, slavery is still very much in existence. If anything, the slave trade – in its present form which is trafficking in human beings - has been modernised and turned into a highly lucrative industry.

Every day, across Europe, men, women and children are being traded as a commodity for the purpose of exploitation. The scale of the trafficking is frightening, its consequences for its victims equally so. Trafficking in human beings is a violation of human rights and it is an offence to human dignity and integrity. This is why the Council of Europe is concerned, and this is why we are resolved to help our governments to eradicate it.

Human trafficking is all about control. It is about one person having control over another, through intimidation and violence, through the abuse of vulnerability and through manipulation of people in precarious personal situations.

Our objective must be to end that control, by going after the traffickers and by helping the victims to free themselves from the power of their tormentors.

This is why we have adopted a treaty which provides for effective ways to prevent trafficking, protects the human rights of its victims and prosecutes the traffickers.

The Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings applies to all victims of trafficking: women, men and children; it applies to all forms of exploitation: sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, among others; and it covers all forms of trafficking: national and transnational, and regardless of whether the trafficking is related to organised crime.

At the core of the Convention is the human rights approach. It represents its added value and its comparative advantage.

The approach based on the protection of human rights marks a departure from the established practices of going after the victims rather than the perpetrators. This is like searching for your keys not where you lost them, but where there is light. Convenient, but utterly ineffective.

The Council of Europe turns this paradigm around. The protection of human rights of the victims is not only a moral and legal imperative, it becomes an instrument of prevention and prosecution of the criminals.

The Convention entered into force on 1 February 2008. It has been ratified by 33 and signed by another 10 Council of Europe member states. But trafficking in human beings is a trans-border crime and a world-wide phenomenon, and therefore the Convention is not restricted to Council of Europe member states. Non-member states as well as the European Union also have the possibility of becoming Parties. The more we are, the more successful we will be.

One of the main strengths of the Convention is its monitoring mechanism which consists of two pillars.
The first one is the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, or GRETA, as it is also known, composed of independent and highly qualified experts. We shall hear more about GRETA from its President, Hanne Sophie Greve, who will speak to us later on today with  Mr Nicolas Le Coz, the First Vice-President of the GRETA. 

We have also to mention that the Committee of the Parties is the second pillar of the Convention’s monitoring mechanism.  GRETA and the Committee of the Parties are set to match the credibility and the authority built over the years by other monitoring mechanisms of the Council of Europe, such as the CPT and ECRI.

With the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings governments now have at their disposal a comprehensive and effective tool to fight this modern form of slavery. The rapid pace at which it has been signed and ratified shows the importance accorded by our member states to taking action against trafficking in human beings and its high place on their political agenda.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has been at the forefront of promoting this Convention and today’s event again testifies to its continued effort in this respect. Your action is crucial. There is still a lot to be achieved as regards further ratifications of the Convention on the one hand, and its effective implementation by the Parties on the other, including through the pressure to allocate adequate resources to the fight against trafficking in the state budget.

Trafficking in human beings affects all countries, in Europe and beyond. This is why it is so essential that we co-operate and
co-ordinate our action at regional and global level in order to design successful anti-trafficking policies and set up national and regional networks to counteract the frequently very well-organised trafficking groups.

The Council of Europe has followed with great interest the preparation of the new EU directive which will soon be formally adopted. I am confident that due account will be taken of the provisions of the Council of Europe Convention and of GRETA's monitoring role and that duplication between EU anti-trafficking bodies and the Council of Europe Convention's monitoring mechanism will be avoided.

At the global level, the co-operation between the Council of Europe and the United Nations is reflected in the biennial UN General Assembly Resolutions on Co-operation between the United Nations and the Council of Europe. This co-operation is all the more important, taking into account that there is a UN legally-binding instrument in this area – the Palermo Protocol. This year’s draft Resolution proposes that the UN follows the activities of GRETA and recalls that the Convention is open for accession by all States. The Council of Europe has also expressed interest in joining the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking, known as UN.GIFT. This was positively received, and pending an independent evaluation of this co-operation mechanism, we will further define the modalities of our involvement.

Finally, I would like to underline the critical role played by the civil society in the common cause of combating trafficking in human begins and in helping those whose lives have been affected by this scourge on human dignity.

We all have a responsibility and, together, we have a good chance of succeeding. 150 years after the legal abolition of slavery is late, but not too late, to eradicate - once and for all and in whatever form – this terrible and destructive crime.
We count on your help.
Thank you very much.