21 February 2001




NEW YORK, 20 February (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the message of Secretary-General Kofi Annan, delivered on his behalf by Mbaya Kankqenda, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Coordinator, to the first Pan-African Conference on Human Trafficking in Abuja, Nigeria, on 19 February:

You have gathered to discuss one of the most egregious human rights violations of our time. The closing decades of the twentieth century saw the re-emergence of trafficking in persons, particularly women and children -- very often for sexual exploitation, but also for forced labour, forced marriage and forced adoption. Rooted in social and economic conditions in the victim’s country of origin, this scourge has grown lamentably widespread in recent years. It thrives on discrimination against women, especially the increasing "feminization of poverty". It is driven by organized gangs of traffickers, who ruthlessly exploit their victims for the easy profit they hope to gain.

In our globalizing age, many factors contribute to the growth of trafficking in women and children. These include large-scale population movements and increased disparities in production and wealth among countries and between genders. In addition, traffickers have faced few risks of detection, often because of the powerlessness of their victims.

But the international community and national governments are taking decisive and concerted action to combat trafficking in humans. The United Nations has developed an array of international treaties and a substantial framework of differing approaches. On 12 December 2000, I was proud to address the opening of the signing conference for the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, in Palermo, Italy. One of the Protocols to this Convention gives us new tools to deal with trafficking and will make a real difference in the struggle to eliminate this reprehensible trade.

Let me congratulate the Women Trafficking and Child Labour Eradication Foundation for convening this First Pan-African Conference on Human Trafficking. African women and children have been hurt by this problem, and Africa has an important part to play in fighting it. The United Nations has started a project to assess routes and methods used by traffickers in West Africa. We believe such traffickers may be responsible for the "disappearance" of children who in reality have been sold for labour.

Today, I encourage Africans to formulate their own African initiative against human trafficking. Similar initiatives have been undertaken within the European Union and the Asian region. An African one should include ratification of the Palermo Convention and its Protocol on trafficking. And I urge you to include measures to guarantee the human rights of those who have been trafficked. Only when they gain control of their own lives will this evil trade be brought to an end. On behalf of the United Nations, I wish you a most productive conference.

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