"My friend, why do you bring me into this terrible house?", Snaefridur Islandssol, the young daughter of the supreme judge of Iceland asked her friend Arni Magnusson, a 17th century passionate book collector, who had brought her on a visit to a very poor farm looking for an important manuscript. This is a quote from "The bell of Iceland", a famous novel written by Halldor Kiljan Laxness, our Nobel prize author whose centenary is currently being celebrated. The quote illustrates the heroine´s horror at being confronted with the squalid conditions of poor people sharing the same society, a reality that had escaped her or she had been sheltered from.
The Icelanders were in a similar position only a few years ago when Reykjavik with around 112 000 inhabitants suddenly offered more clubs per capita with imported strip-tease dancers than any capital in our neighbouring countries. There were already mixed views on the presence of such clubs which had never been there before, but very few realised the web of human rights violations involved, the existence and complexity of sexual trafficking and the enormity of the problem. When discussions started locally doubting the commitment of the dancers to this way of life, several interviews appeared in the daily papers where dancers emphasised their free choice of this quick and easy way to earn money, usually for their studies at university!
Trafficking in human beings is not a new issue and the history of rulers and conquerors throughout the world is littered with accounts of bondage and slavery. However, today, it can be considered a global problem, presenting some of the most difficult and pressing issues on the international human rights agenda. It reflects the economic situation of the world and to simplify, it can be said that the direction of the trafficking is from the south to the north, from the east to the west, from the poorer areas to the richer. The causes of trafficking are poverty, lack of education and developmental opportunities, lack of employment. The complexities of the problem globally, include: different political contexts and geographical dimensions, different ideological and conceptual approaches, the mobility and adaptability of traffickers, different needs of trafficked persons, inadequate legal frameworks and insufficient research and co-ordination at national, regional and international levels. Also, the link between migration and trafficking can present both political and substantive obstacles.
But basically, at the level of the individual, trafficking is a violation of human rights, undermining the principle of equal dignity of all human beings as well as their integrity, their freedom of movement as well as, in some cases, their right to life. At the level of society it constitutes a modern form of slavery and calls into question the rule of law and fundamental democratic values.
I would like to acknowledge gratefully at this point, that my talk here today is in part based on various reports and other information from the Council of Europe and The United Nations provided by the Division of Equality between women and men at the Council of Europe.
Until 1989 the majority of victims of trafficking arriving in Europe came from other continents, Latin America, Africa and Asia. However, during the last decade, the work of a number of European and international human rights organisations has continued to reveal disturbing facts about migration, exploitation and sexual slavery of large numbers, mostly of women and young girls from Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin wall. The most common age is between 16 and 25 years. The dissolution of the social infrastructures in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union has created an immense potential for traffickers who have lured, tricked, sold or coerced women and minors into situations they have very little hope of escape. An example can be taken from Ukraine. Ms Nina Karpachova, the National Ombudsman, mentioned at one of the Seminars organised by the Council of Europe that: "social, economic as well as political crises in Ukraine have resulted in mass unemployment. Nowadays (in 1998), only 11.5 million jobs out of 23 million are occupied. The share of unemployment among women constitutes more than 80 percent. The women are the first to be dismissed. According to recent information, 1 million 400 thousand Ukrainian women aged from 18 to 25 have no job and form the so-called risk group, i.e. potential victims of the sex business. With the help of intermediaries, 400 thousand women went to work abroad, and more than 100 thousand are exploited in the sex business in countries such as Germany, Israel, Belgium, the Netherlands, Turkey, Greece, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, the USA and even in Africa, Arab Emirates, and China".
However, despite a growing amount of information, there has until recently been much denial and the international community has taken time to react in an effective co-ordinated manner.
During the crisis in the Balkans, the first evidence of sex workers being brought into Bosnia-Herzegovina was as early as 1993 but there was little response by the International Community until 1998. When the Kosovo crisis broke out in 1999 trafficking was already high on the international agenda. However, when fact finding missions reported a situation with clear presence of the conditions for trafficking and representatives of human rights organisations claimed that the Albanian mafia was already operating in the refugee camps, even before the arrivals of aid organisations, there still was a limited response. This has changed now and there has been a progressive raising of awareness and organised, co-ordinated response by most international organisations dealing with human rights.
As trafficking is basically a hidden crime it is very difficult to get accurate information about the scale of the problem and no system or organisation has been capable of providing realistic and reliable information. Estimates of several hundred thousand individuals have repeatedly been quoted, e.g. about 500, 000 women and young girls being transported in Europe each year. It has also been estimated that about 400,00 individuals enter the European Union illegally each year. There is no question that trafficking is a lucrative business and is often associated with other organised crime such as drug-dealing, money-laundering and child pornography. The sums of money believed to be involved are increasing dramatically, a figure of seven billion US dollars per year was given for Ukraine alone and for Latvia a figure was given which was three times the annual budget for the administration of the city of Riga.
The cornerstone of sexual trafficking is the demand by the clients. It is extremely disturbing to realise that European men constitute a consumer group that is served by this large-scale violation of human rights. The key element in maintaining the industry of sexual trafficking is the demand by the client but the fact is that the essentially male clients of the sex trade are invisible and anonymous. Very few studies have been done on these clients to understand their need for consumption. Two Scandinavian studies are quoted, one by Sven-Axel Mansson at the Social Sciences School of Lund University and another by Priør and Taksdal from Norway on "The man in the sex trade". On the basis of several series of interviews with men who buy sex, Mansson identifies three sets of motives for this behaviour: curiosity, sexual variation and convenience; loneliness and problem in making contacts; problems in the relationship with the partner. The Norwegian study places buying sex in the present context of relations between men and women. According to them, while in the past men´s purchase of sex was a confirmation of male dominance, now, given the changes that have taken place in society, this purchase may appear to be an attempt to win back this lost dominance. They consider that the reasons for buying sex have changed. The fact remains that women, placed in a situation similar to that of men, do not react in the same way and are not inclined to turn to buying sex.
This demand for a thriving sexual industry could not be met if it were not for organised criminal networks that supply the clients. There are three types of organisations described:
The large organisations with a hierarchical, international structure and political and economic contacts at all levels, both in the countries of origin and in the destination countries. The traffic is generally covered by a legal façade and builds upon a thorough knowledge of the law and administrative practice in different destination and transit countries. The victims are promised high earnings in the destination countries. Sometimes it is agreed at the outset, orally or in writing that they will work as barmaids, dancers, "hostesses" or prostitutes. In other cases they are enticed by the prospect of obtaining a good job, with no allusion made at all to prostitution. Victims have reported that they were transported in groups and that they had passed through the hands of several intermediaries (and sometimes several countries) before reaching their destination. On the way they were medically examined for AIDS or any venereal diseases. During the journey they generally had no idea where they were or where they were being taken. Sometimes they were left in a transit country and forced to prostitute themselves there. On arrival at their destination, their passports were confiscated.
Medium-sized organisations differ from the large organisations mainly in that they do not sell the victims to other groups, but keep them under their control, placing them in their own clubs and brothels. The victims of these organisations are subjected to close surveillance, forced to sign acknowledgements of debts (they are often made to contract substantial loans before leaving their country of origin) and required to hand over a large proportion of their earnings from prostitution for the use of rooms and other facilities. The pressures exerted are often very strong: the victims are held against their will, beaten, raped, drugged, underfed and fined if they do not do the organisation's bidding.
Small organisations are based on the demand of clubs or cabarets and other establishments of this type, and supply women or men.
There is also a minority group of people who have migrated to Europe without going through any of these organisations. These people use a broad range of methods, both legal and illegal, for crossing frontiers, sometimes with the help of others who exploit their vulnerable situation.
Regardless of the way in which the victims enter destination countries - whether through the intermediary of a trafficking ring or not - they nearly always enter the same prostitution circuit where they are obliged to use the "services" offered by the criminal organisations. A common feature or practice of all of these organisations is to keep the women constantly moving and prevent them from settling down or making contacts were they work. In this way it is easier to avoid the involvement of the police.
Here in Reykjavik, the young imported girls who many claim are coerced or forced to prostitute themselves in so-called private dances as well as performing for larger audiences, live an isolated, guarded existence. They are said to earn little money unless they resort to prostitution. They do not seem to have normal access to primary health care e.g. for contraception but have increasingly been known to seek medical care to ask for an abortion. The objectification or treatment of these girls like consumer goods, violates the dignity of all women. It has, in my view, together with other forms of the widespread pornographic industry resulted in more violent and degrading sexual behaviour by some Icelandic men, reflected in the pattern of sexual assaults experienced by some of the victims attending the Rape Trauma Service in Reykjavik during the last three to four years.
I would now like to turn to the many international organisations and the approaches used or recommended by them to combat sexual trafficking. First of all, let us turn to the approaches and recommendations.
Studies and research have led to an increased knowledge and created groups of experts in the field who have been instrumental in creating programmes and plans of action and recommendations. Information, awareness-raising, education and training by seminars, workshops, video-tapes and printed material in information campaigns both in the countries of origin as well as in the countries of destination have been very important. In the country of origin it is important to alert different actors such as police, immigration officials, judges, social workers, embassy staff and teachers to their role towards the victims of trafficking and to the dangers faced by certain persons. Furthermore it is of utmost importance to approach the potential victims such as refugees with information about the real conditions they would be living under in the destination country. There is considerable misinformation misleading people who want to emigrate. For example, a survey carried out in 1998 among grammar school girls in Moscow, revealed that the two professions they were most interested to follow were "model" and "prostitute". Recommendations emphasise the importance of preventive education in the school system, right from the onset as the victims are getting younger and younger.
Legislation. There are important differences between the member States in the laws relevant to trafficking and especially as regards prostitution. This often gives rise to arguments at international level that are difficult to reconcile. However, the change of legislation to criminalize sexual trafficking, prosecute the traffickers and protect the human rights of the victims has already taken place in many countries but is still needed in others. A project under the auspices of the Council of Europe, called Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe, involves a specialist task force to assist countries in the region to write and adopt relevant anti-trafficking-legislation.
Support for victims, right of return and rehabilitation. Great emphasis has been put on the importance to support the victim and facilitate return and reintegration, which can be complicated and requires co-operation between the country of destination and the country of origin.
Finally, as trafficking is an inter-sectoral activity, crossing borders, a great emphasis has been put on securing co-ordination and co-operative measures at regional, national and international level.
National authorities and organisations together with regional and international organisations have in recent years taken up co-ordinated co-operation in order to combat the many complex aspects of sexual trafficking. My time does not allow further description of all their good work but I would like to mention some of them:
The following organisations are all listed as involved actors in regional activities in the region of SEE but are indeed representative of the international scene.
Various International Conventions are binding and have been ratified by the countries involved. The Convention against the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Recently adopted Optional Protocol to the CRC. The ILO Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour. UN Convention Against Trans-national Organised Crime and its two additional Protocols.
SEE Regional Agreements
The Palermo Anti-Trafficking Declaration of South Eastern Europe. Agreement of Co-operation to Prevent and Combat Trans-border Crime (SECI Agreement).
Stability Pact Task Force on Trafficking in Human Beings (SPTTF)
Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe 'Task Force on Trafficking in Human Beings' Prevention - UNOHCHR and ILO
Awareness raising - UNICEF and Save the Children
Assistance and protection to victims - ICMC
Return and reintegration - IOM
Legislative reform - Council of Europe and OSCE/ODIHR
Law enforcement co-operation and training and exchange - SECI, ICMPD, IMP
These agencies bring their expertise to all of the areas of concern and co-operate in a cross-sectoral manner.
Southern European Co-operative Initiative (SECI)
There are a number of international agencies working on the issue of trafficking in the region. The following organizations are particularly active:
Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)
The OSCE is engaged in a number of activities to combat trafficking in human beings, including the fields of law enforcement, public awareness, research, training, and support for non-governmental organisations.
Council of Europe (CoE)
A variety of significant initiatives in analysing the situation, gathering expertise and spreading knowledge and information as well as facilitating and promoting co-operative efforts.
International Organisation for Migration (IOM)
IOM is the main organization working in the area of assistance to the victims and trafficking prevention.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR)
Since 1998, OHCHR has taken an active interest since 1998 in the problem of trafficking in persons, focusing in particular on trafficking in women and children.
United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)
Globally, UNICEF's experience in addressing commercial sexual exploitation of children in Asia and West Africa focuses on the following: raising public awareness, child rights advocacy, improving situation of children at risk.
United Nations Family Planning Activities (UNFPA)
UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, helps developing countries find solutions to their population problems.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
UNCHR is not actively involved in anti-trafficking actions.
International Labour Organisation (ILO)
Within the ILO's mandate, trafficking in persons for purposes of labour exploitation, in particular forced and compulsory labour and other slavery-like practices, is covered by a number of ILO Conventions.
International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD)
ICMPD is an inter-governmental organisation created in 1993 at the initiative of Switzerland and Austria and is based in Vienna
The International Migration Policy Programme (IMP)
IMP is an inter-agency activity of UNITAR, UNFPA, IOM and ILO, implemented in collaboration with UNHCR, UNICEF, ICMPD and other relevant international and regional institutions
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs)
La Strada Foundation
The most active NGO in the area of trafficking prevention, assistance to the victims and reintegration is La Strada Foundation.
International Catholic Migration Committee (ICMC)
ICMC is an organization that works in the area of forced migration, and serves uprooted people.
Trans-national AIDS/STD Prevention Among Migrant Prostitutes in Europe (TAMPEP)
TAMPEP is a project that seeks to increase empowerment and self-esteem among migrant sex workers. It educates social and medical establishments to better respond to migrant sex workers' health needs.
Save the Children
Save the Children is the leading international children's charity. The charity has 80 years of experience in working with the poorest children in 70 countries worldwide. It conducts emergency relief and long term development programmes.
International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX)
In September 2001, IREX, a US based NGO, started the Regional Empowerment Initiative for Women programme, with the USAID funding.
Local non-governmental organizations (Local NGOs)
On the local level, primarily women's organizations have concerned themselves with trafficking but there is little networking between NGOs on regional level, especially between countries of origin and destination.
To conclude, the important work of all these many organisations will hopefully help to find solutions to many of the complex problems of human trafficking for sexual purposes and the Council of Europe has proposed a special convention for Europe on the issue, which has been supported by Mary Robinson, the High Commissioner for Human rights. But their contributions do not leave you and me and the rest of our societies free from taking a strong stand against the violation of human rights involved. What if it was your daughter or your sister?