Address of H.E. Suzanne Mubarak at the Plenary Session of Vienna Forum to Fight Human Trafficking, 13-15 February 2008

H.E. Suzanne Mubarak, First Lady of EgyptLadies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure for me to be here in Vienna today, amongst such a distinguished and determined congregation of experts and activists, to pledge my support, exchange ideas and share experiences in the fight against human trafficking.

I would like to begin by commending the sponsors and organizers of this Forum for their efforts in formulating such a rich and comprehensive agenda for debate and action. It underscores the enormous challenge presented upon us by this complex, multi-dimensional and ever-increasing scourge - for human trafficking, as we all know, is so much more than a form of criminal activity.

What we are dealing with here is a global phenomenon, a pervasive cancer, which undermines the safety and security of all nations. It is a form of modern-day slavery, a global health risk, and one of the gravest sources of human rights abuses of our times. And despite the efforts of so many individuals and organizations around the world, who are working tirelessly to combat this illicit trade, the problem keeps growing in severity and magnitude, breaking the spirit and burning the lives of all those that it touches.

The statistics that are available to us paint an alarming picture of the reality of the problem. I, myself, was shocked when I first heard that an estimated 2.4 million people are lost every year amidst the intricate web of this deceptive underground industry - a market of human lives which makes an annual profit of over 32 billion USD for its shady entrepreneurs.

Human trafficking is indeed considered to be a low-risk and lucrative criminal enterprise, and that's what makes it so hard to control!

Within this context, traffickers are operating skillfully through labor market regimes, utilizing the discrepancies that occur between different national, legal, and financial systems and adapting effectively to the pace of globalization. They are making the most of advances in information, and communication technologies, and exploiting loopholes in national migration policies.

In this regard, I recently read that in some countries, it has contributed to leaving entire villages without women. These are not isolated cases. Human trafficking affects us all, in different scales and dimensions. It impacts all countries: destination, transit and origin, based on the economic principle of "Supply and demand", whereby individuals, especially women and children, are pushed and pulled from one destination to another at the rate of market prices.

How can we tolerate this state of affairs, where human beings are treated as profitable commodities and defined in terms like expandable, reusable and resalable? How can we allow so many children to be kidnapped and exploited, abducted for use in armed forces, or sold into domestic servitude? How can we conceive that so many women suffer a life of forced labour, pornography and sexual abuse - losing their freedom and compromising their human dignity?

Behind the alarming statistics that are available, are stories of people who reach out to illegal channels as a way to escape from conflicts, and difficult socio-economic conditions such as poverty, unemployment, lack of education, the breakdown of their social networks and in many cases a history of discrimination and gender-based violence. It is, in fact, this absence of human security that defines the root causes of human trafficking world-wide, and provides its perpetrators with an endless reservoir of disadvantaged, disenfranchised and disillusioned people from which to draw profit.

Accordingly, I believe it is the responsibility of every country to accelerate its efforts in putting in place effective initiatives, which focus on eliminating these root causes through an integrated and holistic approach. We need to strengthen our respective reform efforts with social policy measures - to support and protect vulnerable groups, giving them the power and incentives to avoid all forms of exploitation that might lead to trafficking.

In Egypt, we are working very hard to align our vision against human trafficking with our long-standing efforts to empower and meet the human security needs of our communities. In the past, our efforts tended to focus on dealing with incidents of transit, through our territory, en route to neighboring countries. Today, in spite of the relatively limited scale of the problem in Egypt, we have now moved on to tackle comprehensively all the dimensions of the problem, developing protective structures, and re-enforcing our legal system with specific legislations against this global phenomenon.

To ensure that all the provisions of our laws and regulations are fully implemented, a National Coordinating Committee to Combat and Prevent Trafficking in persons has been established to draft and implement a national action plan to tackle the problem through the 3P's approach (Prevention, Protection, and Prosecution).

Among its principle tasks, the National Coordinating Committee will focus on raising awareness and educating the broad public, including civil society, the media and academia, about the causes, impact and prevention of this cynical form of exploitation, and channeling these topics into national dialogues and reform processes.

I really think this is key, because the most difficult and essential elements of any response strategy is to break the walls of silence surrounding the issue at stake. We need to make sure, that people fully grasp the extent of the problem, how it affects the whole spectrum of our societies, and relates to other central developmental challenges.

In this context, Egypt has embraced the broadest definition of trafficking adopted by international instruments, which includes violence against children, their commercial and sexual exploitation, child labour in its worst forms, street children as well as gender-based discrimination.

These are topics of national priority, that we have been addressing for years. Now, we are building on the experience, knowledge and resources that we have gained to bring about a necessary paradigm shift in the lives of marginalized children and potential victims of trafficking in Egypt.

One of our success stories is the national Child Helpline established in 2005, in partnership with the civil society - a tool to fulfill the rights of all children in need to be heard and assisted . The toll-free line operates 24 hours a day. Every complaint is immediately acted upon by trained professionals through a family counseling service.

Recently, we stepped up our efforts by revising our existing Child law, introducing an article recognizing for the first time trafficking in children as a crime that carries with it serious penalties. This penalty is doubled if traffickers are a parent, guardian or caretaker. A new juvenile justice system is also in the process of being established, that will focus on the rehabilitation and reintegration of children in their families and communities.

In parallel, we have also re-examined our policies and strategies for the protection and empowerment of women to complement our anti- trafficking objectives. This has meant intensifying our efforts to address risk factors, vulnerabilities, and the obstacles and barriers women and girls face in their every day lives, through better access to quality education, health care and other services, as well as income generating schemes.

In line with the efforts of the ILO and IOM, we have also awarded special attention to addressing the link between forced labour and human trafficking, especially in terms of women migrant workers.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Women have always played an essential part in building safe and secure societies, and their vision and leadership against this global menace should be no different. I would like to take this opportunity to applaud the relentless efforts that are being accomplished by grass-roots movements, women activists and NGO's worldwide to prevent and combat these crimes.

Whilst they have been warning us for years, about the growing threat of this human trade, they have also been out there taking chances, raising awareness, helping the victims to rebuild their lives, lobbying government's to adopt a human right's based approach to tackle the problem, and helping to mobilize people to fight this common scourge.

I founded our International Women's Peace Movement in honour of many of these phenomenal individuals, to support their work, every step of the way, taking pride in sharing their stories of courage, and helping them to realize their dreams for a better future.

I am also a true believer in the invaluable role the private sector plays as part of its corporate social responsibility. They have shown leadership in so many global issues - education, environment, HIV/AIDS, and many more. It is in this context that in January 2006, I invited the business community to launch the global campaign "End Human Trafficking Now!" which led to the adoption of a set of ethical principles known as the Athens Principles. Present at that meeting were partners from the UN, inter-governmental bodies, leading NGO's. Many of these partners are here today.

The commitment of members of our campaign has been remarkable. Through their own efforts they have developed a vignette that will be shown on international airlines and flights, and will soon be aired on major TV channels. We have supported the establishment of help lines in capitals, where trafficking of women and children are rampant. Advocacy material for sensitizing the public - especially youth - has been widely distributed during events when the risk of trafficking is increased.

I am gratified that our campaign has been able to reach out to so many partners worldwide and made tremendous progress. Through our "Special Envoy" we have obtained the support of over 11,000 companies who have joined the Athens declaration; we have succeeded in mobilizing trade-union organizations, US credit - rating agencies and a number of NGO's to converge with our own campaign in partnership with UNODC. This collaborative spirit inspires me today to invite all business leaders who are among us to join our campaign, "End Human Trafficking Now!"

There are many more examples of good practices, which will be touched upon during the coming days - stories of true heroes, who are out there making a genuine difference in people's lives. Nevertheless, we should step up our efforts and be more creative in mobilizing public opinion - in appealing to their human consciousnesses and their moral ethical values.

Bringing young people on board is essential, not only because they are particularly at risk, but especially because they possess the leadership and innovative ideas that are so necessary to advancing global causes. We all know the power that young people have when informed, inspired, and when given the platform to participate - they truly represent a formidable force.

I would like to congratulate the organizers for having chosen to address youth as one of their principal topics, and for having involved many young people as partners in this Forum.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today, we are witnessing the emergence of more and more comprehensive initiatives dedicated to eradicating human trafficking in every region of the world. The Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings is a wonderful example of a legally binding instrument. It considers this despicable trade not only as a violation of human rights, but also an offence to the dignity and integrity of the human being.

It is also very encouraging to see that Arab countries are joining forces on the issue, and are taking positive steps on many levels against this criminal trade. I am sure we will be hearing much more about the progress in our region, whether it has been in formulating significant legal measures, or establishing relevant structures within their governments to address the problem more effectively.

The establishment of the Arab Women Organization in 2003, founded by the Arab first Ladies was a bold initiative in bringing to the fore issues related to all forms of violence against women and children. The recent drafting of the Indicative Arab Law to Combat Trafficking in Persons and the work being done with the Arab League of Nations are both commendable - and there are many other regional efforts that could be mentioned. However it is essential to keep the momentum going and face the enormous challenges that still lie ahead. Among these is the necessity to develop a shared responsibility to formulate cohesive policies based on investing in people's rights, in their development and empowerment.

Placing human security at the center of all our development strategies, implies reducing poverty, addressing social injustice and promoting gender equality.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me conclude on a different but relevant note. A national note in the spirit of success, shared by all Egyptians, proud of the victory their team scored in Ghana recently.

I refer to this example because of the lessons if offers.  First, the secret of their victory - was above all due to the exemplary team work - all working together for a common goal - No stars - many players, indeed the success of each was the success of all!

This is the spirit we need in our current battle.
We cannot win in any other way. And with a thought to the development of strategic partnerships, we must find the most effective means to deliver our anti-trafficking message globally, nationally and locally. We must be culturally sensitive and locally relevant.

The facts are clear. Anyone who understands the horror of trafficking can never condone it. We must all find the vehicles to get that message across.

Finally, if we are to succeed, and win a victory, we cannot stop. True, there will be moments when some of us will be discouraged and frustrated, but thinking of those we are serving,  will induce us to go the extra mile.

Let's score that final goal and win the golden cup.

Audio of H.E. Suzanne Mubarak