Thursday, April 26, 2007

UN: Anti-Trafficking Drive Hits Culture Barriers

Antonio Maria Costa, director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)

VIENNA -- Global efforts to crack down on human trafficking are handicapped by lack of information from countries whose cultures have not deemed some forms of slavery to be a crime, U.N. officials said on Monday.

The United Nations is trying to raise awareness that two centuries after the transatlantic slave trade was abolished, millions of adults and children are sold into prostitution or made to work in degrading conditions for little or no pay.

"We operate in an information fog. We don't know the scope of threats we face and can't gauge global trends. We just see the tips of icebergs," said Antonio Maria Costa, director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

"It's time to move from statements of intent and legislative mandates into realisation of goals and delivery of results," he told a meeting of the U.N. Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice in Vienna.

Costa told a news briefing during a break in the meeting: "When families (in Asian villages) sell their daughter, it's not out of poverty necessarily, it may be cultural."

He said only a fifth of member states had so far responded to a UNODC questionnaire asking them to identify and measure their organised crime problems. "Many do not know (what to say), and ask for our technical assistance."

A diplomat close to the UNODC said its campaign was running up against cultural traditions in some significant developing nations that tolerated human trafficking and related slave labour outlawed by U.N. conventions.

"In case of human trafficking, until now it often hasn't been tracked. It's only now that police in some countries are coming to realise that it's a crime," said the diplomat, asking not to be named.

"Normally, they would arrest a load of women and treat them like prostitutes and completely miss the point that they are actually victims of horrendous (trafficking to clients abroad)."

More than 110 countries have signed and ratified a U.N. protocol against human trafficking since December 2003 but many criminal justice systems have not curbed the practice.


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