Stopping Human Trafficking

Speech on Stopping Human Trafficking On Human Rights Day and 75th Anniversary of the UDHR. Church of Scientology 146 Queen Victoria St, London EC4V 5AF. Sunday 10 December 2023: Keith Best TD MA

This is a day of significant commemoration encompassing not only UN Human Rights Day but also the 75th anniversary of the historic Universal Declaration of Human Rights, described by Eleanor Roosevelt, whose tireless and indefatigable efforts saw its fruition, as, hopefully, the “Magna Carta for all mankind.” Alongside her determination to secure its adoption by the UN General Assembly in Paris in 1948 she was also tasked by President Harry Truman and Secretary of State George Marshall, to give a major address stressing the centrality of human freedom to world peace which took place on 28 September.

The context, of course, was inauspicious. Two world wars had happened for the first time in history, both within one generation. The Second World War had ended but with only a narrowly-avoided extension of a further major conflagration between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union – a conflict many had wanted to end the threat of Russia seen as an increasingly alien influence on world affairs. In its place the Cold War had begun. On 24 June 1948, Stalin had cut all land access to Berlin for the Allies. This became known as the Berlin Blockade and led to the Berlin Airlift. French and Italian communists and their supporters had further inflamed the situation by organizing a series of strikes, street demonstrations and other disturbances in their respective countries.  Meanwhile in Greece a two-year-old civil war continued between government forces and a local communist army aided by Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Albania. In Korea two rival governments—a democratically elected government in the south and a Soviet-supported group in the North—eyed each other suspiciously.  Over all these problems loomed the larger issues of the arms race, and control of atomic energy.  The ability of the United Nations to address all these concerns was also in question.

In her speech Eleanor Roosevelt stated “the basic problem confronting the world today …is the preservation of human freedom for the individual and consequently for the society of which he is a part.” She said that totalitarian governments like that of the Soviet Union, “typically place the will of the people second to decrees promulgated by a few men at the top whereas democracies, on the other hand, are based on freedom which was “not only a right but a tool…with which we create a way of life in which we can enjoy freedom.”

There followed two months of intense debate during which the Soviet delegates and their allies sought to delay or postpone passage by proposing additional amendments or opposing specific articles. Yet Eleanor Roosevelt prevailed and on 10 December the General Assembly approved the UDHR by a vote of forty-eight to zero with eight abstentions (the Soviet Union, Byelorussia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, the Ukraine, Yugoslavia, South Africa and Saudi Arabia). Honduras and Yemen were not present.

Although we see around us gross abuses of human rights in the present troubled world the fact that these have been enshrined in the Declaration and many subsequent instruments as well as the crimes within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court means that we can identify them and call them out.

There was a time when some wished to pretend that somehow human rights were a Western invention and were not globally applicable. It is true that many of them had their origins in Judaeo-Christian ethics but there is now no doubt that they are accepted as universal. The Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the Islamic Council of Europe on 19 September 1981 (21 Dhul Qaidah 1401) mirrors much of the Universal Declaration of 1948. In 1981 Said Rajaie-Khorassani, the post-revolutionary Iranian representative to the UN, articulated the position of his country regarding the UDHR, by saying that it was a relativistic “secular understanding of the Judeo-Christian tradition” which could not be implemented by Muslims without trespassing Islamic law.  Yet the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI), a declaration of the member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), was adopted on 5 August 1990, later revised in 2020 and adopted on 28 November 2020 by the Council of Foreign Ministers at its 47th session in Niamey, Republic of Niger. It affords women “equal human dignity”, “own rights to enjoy”, “duties to perform”, “own civil entity”, “financial independence” and the “right to retain her name and lineage”. It concludes in Articles 24 and 25, however, that all rights and freedoms mentioned are subject to the Islamic sharia, which is the declaration’s sole source. Article 24 of the declaration states: “All the rights and freedoms stipulated in this Declaration are subject to the Islamic Sharia.” Article 19 also says: “There shall be no crime or punishment except as provided for in the Sharia.” It has been criticised, however, for failing to guarantee freedom of religion, in particular the right of each and every individual to change their religion, as a “fundamental and non-derogable right.”

So, mainly, the rights enshrined in UDHR are universally accepted norms as are the terrible characteristics of their contravention so that the issues are narrowed to the evidence as to their commission rather than to argument as to whether or not that commission constitutes their dereliction.

It is perhaps invidious to look more closely at one issue when there remains in plain sight acts of genocide, crimes against humanity, aggression and war crimes as well as mass rape and suppression of women in evidence today. Nevertheless, I wish to look especially at the matter of trafficking of human beings which, in itself, often involves a denial of several human rights in the declaration.

Many of those involved in this exploitative and obscene trade have found that transporting desperate human beings is more lucrative than the old business of drugs smuggling. €5,000-€10,000 to be put on a small dinghy with no guarantee of reaching the other shore safely is a massive income per person to those who facilitate it.

The UK National Crime Agency issues reports of their successes in combatting the trafficking gangs. One man has been jailed for 11 years for leading a small boats people smuggling network believed to have been involved in smuggling around 10,000 people to the UK.  Originally from Iran, he was directing the network from his home in Ilford, east London, sourcing the boats in Turkey and having them delivered to locations in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. He would then direct other members of his criminal organisation to take them on to the northern French coast, from where migrants would be transported. His arrest triggered a Europe-wide operation to bring down other members of the network, which led to arrests in the UK, Germany, France and Netherlands in July 2022. More than 40 people were arrested across four countries in one of the biggest law enforcement operations of its kind. In Germany 60 inflatable boats and hundreds of life jackets which would have been used by the gang were seized. He was extradited to Belgium where he was accused of being engaged in ‘systematic human smuggling’ using small boats, charging migrants between £3,000 and £6,000 to make the crossing and was convicted. Migrants pay smugglers large sums just to get a spot on one of their boats, and the gang he was in charge of generated nearly €60m (£52m) in 2021.More than 45,700 migrants crossed the Channel in 2022, many of whom were unaccompanied children, so this individual and his gang were responsible for more than 20% of the total. 

Yet this success is not widely mirrored as the US State Department pointed out in its annual 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report on the United Kingdom whereas the Government continued to demonstrate serious and sustained efforts during the reporting period which included identifying significantly more trafficking victims and the Government meets the minimum standards, it prosecuted and convicted less traffickers in the past year compared with the previous year, although the multiyear upward trend in convictions continued. The report also noted that observers continued to report inadequate long-term care and reintegration support for victims and many potential victims continued to face years long wait times for a conclusive grounds decision within the National Referral Mechanism.  Observers noted this was problematic for foreign national victims who lacked the ability to work while awaiting their conclusive grounds and reported that the Government inappropriately penalized some victims solely for unlawful acts that may have been committed as a direct result of being trafficked, including immigration violations.  Nevertheless, in December 2022, there were at least 3,555 active law enforcement investigations of new and ongoing suspected trafficking crimes, an increase compared with 3,335 in August 2021.

Although the UK participated in 18 Joint Investigation Teams (JIT) with EU Member States and EUROPOL and cooperated with a range of partners bilaterally and multilaterally on law enforcement activities there is more that needs to be done.  In June and October 2022, UK law enforcement partnered with their counterparts in 34 European countries to conduct joint action days which identified 910 potential trafficking victims and 115 alleged traffickers across Europe and it is clear that the only effective deterrent to trafficking is detection and this means an even closer involvement in intelligence gathering and cross border operations, not least because the traffickers themselves operate irrespective of national boundaries. For those who are interested I commend reading the recommendations in the US State Department’s report.

Nearly half of all trafficking victims identified are children. Gangs force children to act as drug couriers from larger cities into rural areas across the UK.  Traffickers force adults and children to work in agriculture, cannabis cultivation, construction, food processing, factories, domestic service, nail salons, food services, the hospitality industry, car washes, food supply industry, and warehousing, as well as on fishing boats.  Labor traffickers target adults with disabilities and adults from low socioeconomic backgrounds.  Traffickers increasingly recruit and exploit sex trafficking victims, predominantly from Eastern Europe, through social media and online platforms. 

This is a problem that is largely below the knowledge of much of the public yet is an issue of massive importance and the source of great human suffering. I hope that with a greater profile that is given to gatherings such as this we may assist in combatting it.