Dr. Helga Konrad, International Consultant on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings
We have come to the last item on the agenda of this important conference organized by UNODC, under which I have been invited and tasked with drawing some conclusions from these four long days of hard work including the Parliamentary Forum, during which you have actively participated in lively discussions and proved your commitment and determination to contribute your share to the fight against THB.
I shall not tax your patience by enlarging on details or reiterating the findings and recommendations. All I intend to do, is to single out and recall a few particularly important points, which must be fast-tracked from the stage of recommendation to that of practical implementation and approaches that deserve our special attention, if we wish to move forward, if we wish to take a big stride forward in our joint fight against human trafficking, all of which has been the declared aim of this conference.
Although this conference has come at the right time, for I believe that we are at a cross-roads in our efforts to address human trafficking and have to decide whether we wish to content ourselves with what we have achieved or whether we are willing to pool our forces and resources and step up efforts in order to contain this crime, my critique of the state and progress of anti-trafficking efforts remains unchanged.
We are quite good at conferences. But the measure of success will be determined after this conference. Perpetuating the dialogue is important, but no longer enough.
So, the main question is: where do we go from here in our fight against THB?
Let me remind you that, when we got to the starting line, the traffickers were already far ahead in this race and notwithstanding the progress we have made, we are still lagging behind, struggling to catch up. So we cannot rest on our laurels, just as a marathon runner cannot celebrate finishing the first mile.
Therefore, let's not be self-complacent and let's not content ourselves with defending the status quo, but let's make another concerted effort to come to grips with this complex problem by putting the efficiency, the effectiveness and sustainability of the measures taken in perspective.
The question is no longer what can be done about THB, but rather how can we do more and do it better and how to fit the various pieces of the complex puzzle together and how to interlink the various activities in order to achieve optimum results. What we need is a massive integrated and coordinated response. Focusing on less than a comprehensive picture will lead to failure.
And it is clear: There is no time to lose or to waste.
Patience is no longer an option in the fight against THB.
Regardless of the progress made so far, we must be impatient and do more to speed up progress and we must act promptly, because, while we are sorting out minor details, traffickers ruthlessly and with impunity proceed with their criminal business.
What is needed, first and foremost, is the political will to put theory into practice, to implement the relevant laws and commitments. To generate political will means more than political leaders declaring that addressing THB is one of a country's priorities. It means more than government officials gathering periodically in inter-ministerial meetings. Political will means proactive political leadership on the issue. It means pushing initiatives regularly and continuously towards more and better results. It means reviewing policies and adjusting them as new knowledge becomes available. This will ultimately make all the difference.
And we must no longer accept that traffickers collaborate more efficiently than democratic bodies and authorities do.
One key in the fight against THB is cooperation. Cooperation in the fight against human trafficking is essential and we must set up and further develop mechanisms at national, regional and international levels that foster cooperation and coordination. However, cooperation cannot be an end in itself, but must be a means to an end. The end is to disrupt traffickers' networks, to put traffickers in jail for periods of time that reflect the severity of the crime and to protect and assist victims in a way that will enable them to find back to normal life - or even better to prevent them from falling prey to traffickers.
Cooperation without action is irrelevant, but action simply for the sake of action is not helpful. Cooperation and action must produce meaningful results.
So, the question, we have to ask ourselves is: How can cooperation be effective? And are our actions pointed in the right direction?
It is vital for all of us to fully understand what needs to be done and why. What is needed is a profound understanding of all that human trafficking involves and of all that is required to counteract it.
This is all the more important, since current anti-trafficking policies and measures have reportedly already caused collateral damage, because the focus has been almost exclusively on law enforcement strategies without appropriately considering a more comprehensive integrated response including human rights protection.
What is needed is a shift in perspective.
Considering the fact that human trafficking is not a new phenomenon and has been constantly spreading, we must admit that the traditional methods of control and deterrence and immediate repatriation have not been very effective.
We must switch from an almost exclusive law-enforcement approach to a victim-centred, a human rights based one, not merely because it would in any case be the task of states and governments to protect the fundamental rights of individuals, but also in the interest of combating transnational criminality and consequently in the interest of law enforcement and state security.
It is high time for all of us, but especially for governments and government officials to understand that human trafficking must not be seen primarily or exclusively from the perspective of national security, nor must governments continue to regard it as a spin-off of illegal immigration.
The primary reason why we must object to THB is because of the harm it causes to people. We must never forget that THB is about the plight and suffering of human beings and not about transactions in soulless goods. After all, we are dealing with people and not in stolen cars.
While progress has been made in addressing THB, it is mainly in enacting laws and establishing mechanisms. But, there is probably no one here who seriously believes that we are actually being successful in making traffickers nervous about what they do. Consequently we must reflect on these facts and use them to evaluate our strategies and efforts and improve upon them.
Monitoring and evaluation are vitally important. So far, monitoring and evaluation have been little more than an afterthought and at best conceived as self-edited reporting on project outcomes by governments, NGOs or IOs. This is not enough. What is needed, is independent external objective evaluation; evaluation that is based on professional methodology and standards, informed by trafficking expertise.
Indeed, I would argue that monitoring and evaluation are the two most important new elements that must be added to current responses in order to strengthen our understanding and the results in all facets of our work against human trafficking - and if we wish to drastically improve our responses to it. This means that monitoring and evaluation need to be adequately resourced as an integral part of all anti-trafficking projects.
Another question we will have to raise is: How are we to move our practical work forward when we still think of research as cutting and pasting information that already exists? The current model of what passes for research in human trafficking is little more than just shifting information around to little purpose.
Unless quality research by established professionals is officially supported, it cannot be surprising that that we will fly blind when it comes to constructing more effective responses. This requires experience mature enough to permit of analysis, to constructively critique current models and approaches and the ability to generate new ideas. It requires governments and donors who recognize and care about the difference.
Finally, data collection is important and there have been some improvements in recent years. But, even more important is better analysis of what the data means and linking the findings to policies and operations to make them more effective.
I have addressed the responsibility and accountability of countries and governments in the context of anti-trafficking efforts. Let me now add that I also see need for the larger institutional actors -such as the large international organizations and financiers - to take on such responsibility and accountability. They are the ones dominating the decisions about how resources are allocated in this fight against human trafficking.
Of course, there would be much more to be said on this complex puzzle of THB. Let me conclude by reiterating that what we need, if we really wish to contain, if we really wish to fight human trafficking, is a truly comprehensive and multi- pronged approach - bringing together those who work in poverty reduction, development, education, in employment sectors, in human rights and labor rights protection as well as those who address issues of corruption, organized crime, migration and legal reform.
And, governments and states would be well advised not to simply control migration and prostitution, but to adopt diverse, long-term policies and strategies in dealing with unemployment and labor migration and to develop options other than trying to get rid of victims of trafficking as quickly as possible, - strategies, such as joint programs of (re) integration and more socially balanced economic programs.
This conference, which will end in a few moments, is actually a beginning: it is the start of a global initiative in the fight against THB - in the true sense of the word.
I would hope that we can keep up the momentum and the enthusiasm - and the immense know-how and expertise - generated by this conference and that we will translate all this into concrete action.
Let's add just one recommendation, one single recommendation to the many that already exist: let's do it!