Opening Statement by Ursula Plassnik, Austrian Federal Minister for European and International Affairs, 13 February 2008

Ursula Plassnik, Austrian Federal Minister for European and International AffairsThe Vienna Forum is a new experience unlike traditional diplomatic conferences. It sounds new, it feels new, it is a new type of alliance, and I warmly welcome all of you to this new alliance: representatives from civil society, activists, NGOs, artists, committed individuals.

Human Trafficking has many cruel faces. It is one of the most serious violations of fundamental human rights and human dignity. In the 21st century, we cannot tolerate human beings to be bought, sold and hired like commodities.

Human trafficking has been recognized as a global issue. It does not respect borders, it affects countries of origin, transit countries and countries of destination and their governments and societies alike.

I take your participation at this Vienna Forum as a commitment to the search for a cooperative, coordinated and comprehensive solution to this trans-national crime.

  At the outset let us remember the facts:

  •   Every year an alarming 2.7 million people worldwide are trafficked.
  • Human trafficking has become a booming organized crime which reaps yearly profits of up to 32 billion US dollars on a global scale - it is thus considered an even more lucrative business than trafficking of weapons.
  • 80% of victims are women and children. They suffer most from this modern form of exploitation and abuse - let's call it by it's real name: slavery.

Such figures illustrate the dimensions of the problem, its trans-national character and the urgency to build a global consensus in fighting and eventually defeating this crime.

Every one of us is called to act.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are all disturbed by the question how such a despicable crime can still occur despite all advances in international human rights standards. With increased media coverage, more and more people become aware of the horrors of human trafficking, yet the crime persists and is even increasing.

The root causes of trafficking have to do with supply and demand. Social, economic and legal factors can all contribute to fuelling the trafficking cycle. Let us just have a look at some of the supply factors:

  • Countries ridden with poverty provide a fertile ground for traffickers to take advantage of vulnerable human beings.
  • Poverty goes hand in hand with lack of education and illiteracy, contributing to the continued exploitation of women and girls especially in areas where social customs and traditions treat them as beings of lesser status.
  • Civil wars and increased worldwide militarization also fuel human trafficking. Traffickers take advantage of the desperate circumstances of refugees and other vulnerable groups.

Because of the complexity of its causes, measures against trafficking need to be comprehensive. Any strategy will have to focus on the three P's - Prevention, Protection and Prosecution - combining active steps to prevent trafficking, to protect victims' human rights and to prosecute the traffickers.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

  • To effectively fight human trafficking, we need to work on two levels:
  • We need to raise public awareness on this terrible violation of human rights that is often too little known, even invisible. Trafficking has to be exposed publicly as what it is: a modern type of slavery. 

And we need the political will to take the necessary steps in combating human trafficking.

The Vienna Forum as a new form of multilateral diplomacy combines representatives from governments and international organisations, parliamentarians, civil society, committed individuals, and it will set in motion a global and sustained process to end human trafficking. By bringing together all stakeholders, we will generate consolidated support in our societies and in the international community.

In this Forum, we will facilitate new partnerships among the participants, drawing on all available experience and expertise in order to set the compass for future action.

Last but not least, the Forum demonstrates how the joint energies of the Vienna based international organisations can be combined in the common strive for human security.

And may I say this as one of the hosts: We consider Vienna as Human Security Hub with the many international organisations based here:

  • The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime assists states in the fight against organised crime and initiated the UN Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking UN.GIFT - let me especially commend Doris Buddenberg for her work on the Vienna Forum
  • UNIDO works to ensure human security in its comprehensive sense as freedom from fear and freedom from want
  • The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe OSCE and its Special Representative for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings
  • And on the disarmament side the International Atomic Energy Agency IAEA and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation CTBTO.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

No country is immune against human trafficking. Given its geographical location in the heart of Europe, Austria is affected both as a country of transit and as a country of destination.

Human security has long been one of Austria's a foreign policy priorities. In our project to fight human trafficking we are pursuing a dual track, taking initiatives both on the national and international level.

On the national level:

  • By setting up a National Action Plan against Human Trafficking;
  • By setting up a National Task Force bringing together representatives from the Ministries of Interior, Justice and Foreign Affairs with NGOs working in the protection and assistance of trafficking victims;
  • In our Austrian diplomatic and consular representations all over the world are instructed to inform those groups of persons particularly at risk to become victims of trafficking about the potential dangers, as well as about the legal situation in Austria. We are bringing to their attention emergency telephone numbers to provide a first contact in case of need;

As regards the international track, we have taken concrete steps to support regional cooperation particularly in the Western Balkans:

  • We are supporting regional women's networks both in their efforts to raise awareness among women at risk about the dangers of human trafficking and in their cooperation with local police, justice and social institutions;
  • We help to train and sensitise police forces in the region in their fight against human trafficking;
  • And we contribute to providing shelters for trafficking victims in different places.
  • To facilitate international cooperation, Austria has moreover signed and ratified all relevant international legal instruments such as the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Additional Protocol on Human Trafficking, which was - as mentioned earlier by Director-General Costa - negotiated in Vienna under the auspices of the UNODC and was one of the first countries to ratify the European Convention against Human Trafficking.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Over the next three days I expect in-depth discussions on important issues such as vulnerability reduction, victim protection, law enforcement strategies and criminal justice responses. We are looking forward to the contributions of the private sector, religious communities, the media and other groups in the fight against human trafficking.

We know: Achieving our common goal to end human trafficking will require sustained efforts from all of us.

Words are not enough. Let us act together. Let us act now.

I wish all of us - wherever we come from - the necessary commitment and the necessary perseverance in our work so that we will be living up to be responsible neighbours and citizens of the global village.

Listen to the speech