Press Releases

    25 November 2002


    NEW YORK, 22 November (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the message of Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, 2 December 2002:

    Slavery was, in a very real sense, the first international human rights issue to come to the fore. It led to the adoption of the first human rights laws and to the creation of the first human rights non-governmental organization. And yet despite the efforts of the international community to combat this abhorrent practice, it is still widely prevalent in all its insidious forms, old and new. The list is painfully long and includes traditional chattel slavery; bonded labour; serfdom; and forced labour, including of children, women and migrants, and often for the purpose of sexual exploitation, domestic servitude and ritualistic and religious reasons.

    The abolition of slavery in all its forms remains one of the main priorities of the United Nations. Two new Optional Protocols to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime have now been added to the international legal framework: the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, and the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Air and Sea. I urge States to ratify and implement these Protocols, as well as other relevant international human rights instruments. In addition, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights recently issued "Principles and Guidelines on Human Trafficking", which offers States a practical tool to prevent, protect and assist the victims of trafficking.

    Action to combat slavery and slavery-like practices should not be limited to judicial and law enforcement measures. We can also contribute to the eradication of slavery by tackling the social conditions, such as poverty, which make people vulnerable to exploitation, and by empowering people to take control of their own lives.

    The Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery gives grants to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that provide humanitarian, legal and financial assistance to victims, and to enable NGO representatives and victims to participate in the deliberations of the Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery. The Fund needs a minimum of $300,000 to fulfil its mandate in 2003, but only half this amount has been secured to date. I appeal to all governments, NGOs and other private or public entities to demonstrate their commitment to this issue by contributing to the Fund.

    Human beings are not property. On the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, let us reaffirm the inherent dignity of all men, women and children. And let us redouble our efforts so that the words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights -- "no one shall be held in slavery or servitude" -- ring true.

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