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COVID-19 crisis putting human trafficking victims at risk of further exploitation

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Lockdowns, travel restrictions, resource cutbacks and other measures to curb the spread of the new coronavirus are putting victims of human trafficking at risk of further exploitation, while organized crime networks could further profit from the pandemic, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

New analysis from the agency shows that the crisis is having an impact on the lives of trafficking victims before, during and even after their ordeal.

“With COVID-19 restricting movement, diverting law enforcement resources, and reducing social and public services, human trafficking victims have even less chance of escape and finding help”, said Ghada Fathi Waly, the UNODC Executive Director.

As countries have closed their borders due to the pandemic, some victims are unable to return home. Others face delays in legal proceedings, as well as a reduction in the support and protection they rely on. Some are also in danger of further abuse or neglect by their captors.

“Human trafficking is the result of the failure of our societies and economies to protect the most vulnerable”, said Ilias Chatzis, chief of the UNODC section that works to combat this crime.

“They should not be additionally ‘punished’ during times of crisis.”

Children in danger of new forms of abuse

UNODC said its partners report that due to the pandemic, more children are being forced onto the streets to search for food and money, thus increasing their risk of exploitation.

School closures have not only blocked access to education but also a source of shelter and food for millions of children. The UN recently reported that some 370 million students worldwide are now missing out on school meals, often their only reliable source of nutrition.

Meanwhile, a UN independent human rights expert has underlined the urgent need for child protection services during the pandemic.

Mama Fatima Singhateh, fears the reported surge in violence against children, coupled with new forms of sexual exploitation and abuse, will have “devastating” lifelong implications for millions of youngsters worldwide.

Even before the crisis, as many as 66 million children were already living in “a precarious socio-economic situation”, according to Ms. Singhateh, who is the Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

‘Drive-thru’ services for child sexual exploitation

Ms. Singhateh said travel restrictions have spawned new ways to sexually exploit and abuse children, such as attempts to establish “delivery” or “drive-thru” services. There has also been a spike in people trying to access illegal websites featuring child pornography.

“Producing and accessing child sexual abuse material and live-stream child sexual abuse online has now become an easy alternative to groom and lure children into sexual activities and to trade images in online communities”, said Ms. Singhateh. In common with all the UN’s independent rights experts, she is not a UN staff member nor does she receive a salary from the Organization.

Organized crime could benefit

UNODC warned that the pandemic has also created new opportunities for organized crime to profit.

“Traffickers may become more active and prey on people who are even more vulnerable than before, because they have lost their source of income due to measures to control the virus”, said Mr. Chatzis, chief of the agency’s Human Trafficking Section.

Some countries have diverted resources meant for fighting crime to the battle to defeat COVID-19. At the same time, services to assist trafficking victims are being reduced or even shut down.

“We know that people in a vulnerable situation are more exposed to contracting the virus, and they have less access to healthcare if they get sick,” said Mr. Chatzis.

“So it’s alarming to hear that, in some places, trafficking victims no longer have access to shelters, some refuges have even closed down due to the virus and others lack protective equipment – putting both victims and staff at risk.”

UNODC steps up support

As the pandemic deepens, UNODC is constantly monitoring the situation through its network of field offices and global partners.

It is also ramping up support, such as helping anti-trafficking units to get protective equipment, and assisting countries in evaluating the impact of the crisis on resources for victims, law enforcement and justice systems.

“As we work together to overcome the global pandemic, countries need to keep shelters and hotlines open, safeguard access to justice and prevent more vulnerable people from falling into the hands of organized crime”, said Ms. Waly, the agency’s chief.

UNODC further recommends that governments act to ensure that while current restrictions on travel and freedom of movement are respected, access to essential services for victims of human trafficking is guaranteed without discrimination.

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Human Rights

2021 Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy

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Each year, the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy assembles hundreds of courageous dissidents and human rights activists, diplomats, journalists and student leaders to shine a spotlight on urgent human rights issues.

The Geneva Summit is sponsored by 25 human rights NGOs from around the world. The Geneva Summit has been featured in media around the globe, including CNN, Agence France Presse, AP, The Australian, Radio Free Europe and ANSA.

This year, the 13th  Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy was held on June 7 and 8. The event was free to all the people who made online registration. This year the summit hosted different voices from different parts of the world.

In this year’s summit, the leading Turkish journalist Can Dündar who was arrested, jailed and forced into exile for his reporting on Erdogan’s government was one of the speakers addressing Human Rights and Democracy on the Fragility of Freedom and Democracy panel.

For the full text of the Fragility of Freedom and Democracy panel, click here.

The list of the other speakers is as follows:

Waad Al-Kateab, Syrian refugee and award-winning documentary filmmaker on the conflict in Syria

Rayhan Asat, Uyghur activist, sister of Ekpar Asat who was abducted by Chinese authorities

Nathan Law, Former member of Hong Kong Legislative Council who fled arrest & sudden leader of 2014 Umbrella Movement

András Simonyi, Academic & former Hungarian Ambassador to the U.S.

Prof. Irwin Cotler, Chair of Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, former Minister of Justice & Attorney General of Canada.

Gulalai Ismail, Pakistani women’s rights activist, former political prisoner who escaped the country

Tania Bruguera, Cuban political performance artist repeatedly arrested for her work

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Belarusian opposition presidential candidate forced to flee after rigged elections

Jihyun Park, Escapee and survivor of a North Korean forced labor camp

Daria Navalnaya, Daughter of poisoned and jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny

Kylie Moore-Gilbert, Australian-British academic just freed after two years in Iranian prison as a victim of hostage diplomacy

Evan Mawarire, Zimbabwean protest leader, arrested six times and tortured for his human rights work

Yang Jianli, Chinese dissident, former political prisoner, survivor of Tiananmen Square and President of Initiatives for China

Vladimir Kara-Murza, Leading dissident against Putin regime, Chairman of Boris Nemtsov Foundation, survivor of two poisoning attempts

For links to other speakers’ quotes, videos, livestream, and more, click here.

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We can’t wait 267 years to achieve equal economic participation for men and women

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Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world has seen numerous industries stumble as the crisis has hit many sectors’ productivity and employment rates. And in this scenario, women have been the hardest hit. According to the International Labour Organization, 5% of all employed women lost their jobs, compared with 3.9% of working men. The crisis has exacerbated the existing gender inequality in the labour market, widening gaps even further across several sectors

A report from the World Economic Forum (WEF), released in March 2021, shows that at the current rate of progress it will take around 267 years to close the gender gap in economic participation and opportunity. It’s a striking number that is the result of two conflicting trends. First, even though at a slow pace, the proportion of skilled women professionals is increasing. On the other hand, there is still an overall income disparity and women in leadership positions are a minority – women represent only 27% of all managerial positions, according to the same report from the WEF.

Advocating for economic equality means also advocating for a more sustainable and greener economy, and the post-COVID recovery is an opportunity to build back greener and more inclusive societies and economies. Sustainability cannot exist when inequality runs rampant. According to ILO, women have the tools and networks to create tangible sustainable solutions and influence how we produce, consume and market sustainable products.

Supporting the European Union Green Deal can be the driver for the global transition to a green economy, and this will only be possible if women are also among the protagonists of such transformation. Ensuring that women have equal access to skills development programmes for green jobs can be the pathway for a more inclusive and sustainable future. Women are globally poorly represented in crucial sectors to the greening of the economy, such as construction (9% of female participation), engineering (12%), and manufacturing (24%). The lack of targeted training and supportive policies may exacerbate already existing gender inequalities when progressing towards the green economy.

Women are important actors to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and promoting women’s access to high-quality green skills training programmes in high-demand sectors leads to a better future for all.

Thandiwe Banda, a beneficiary of one of UNIDO’s programmes in Zambia, graduated from the course in heavy equipment repair and set the example on how women can successfully partake in male-dominated fields. “Some of my colleagues would think that because I am a female, I wouldn’t deliver according to my supervisors’ expectations. But, when I was told that I was the first female to ever work in the mechanical department, I became more confident and aware that if I worked very hard I would open more doors for other females,” says Banda.

Engaging in the discussion on how we can make Thandiwe Banda’s professional journey a reality for other females is an important step towards boosting progress in equal economic participation and potentially establishing a more encouraging timeline for such.

To participate and contribute to the cause, join UNIDO’s Lab Debate at the 14th edition of the European Development Days (EDD21), which will take place virtually on 15 June 2021 at 16:20 (CEST). The session will explore the effects of private-public partnerships in engaging champions in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET), who represent and advocate for stronger female participation in male-dominated sectors. Our panel of experts will explore the question: can the TVET system be the change-maker in providing industrial skills equally for a more sustainable future?

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The pandemic has become a big challenge for the indigenous peoples of the North – Ambassador of Finland to Russia

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The coronavirus pandemic has become a big challenge for the indigenous peoples of the North, including due to the forced closure of national borders, said Finnish Ambassador to Russia Antti Helanterä.

“The pandemic, of course, is a challenge for all of us, but for the North … given that in our north and for its inhabitants, the state borders have hardly had any meaning over the past few decades. But all countries were forced to close their borders because of the pandemic, and peoples far from the capitals do not have an open border in the North. It means, the situation in the North has changed, “the ambassador said at the Russian business forum in St.Petersburg.

He also noted the importance of cross-border cooperation of the Arctic states and expressed hope for interesting projects within the framework of Russia’s chairmanship in the Arctic Council.

As Andrey Grachev, Vice President of Norilsk Nickel, noted in his speech, in 2020, in the year of the coronavirus pandemic, together with the communities of the indigenous peoples of the north, the company developed and launched a five-year program to support this population group, which includes measures to improve the quality life in settlements and the development of crafts of communities of small peoples.

“We conduct a constant dialogue and do our best to preserve the culture, way of life, traditions in Taimyr. We have pursued this policy before. We have concluded an agreement with the Association of Indigenous Small Peoples of the North of Russia. Negotiated with 36 largest communities in Taimyr. Their proposals became the basis for us – our program. Its budget is 2 billion rubles “, – said Grachev.

Earlier it was reported that representatives of the indigenous peoples of the extreme north of Taimyr signed a cooperation agreement with the world’s largest producer of palladium and nickel – Norilsk Nickel.

Dozens of members of the communities of the Nenets, Nganasans, Dolgans and Enets will receive financial support for the construction of schools, kindergartens and other necessary needs.

The indigenous peoples’ organizations that signed an agreement with Norilsk Nickel unite more than 90% of the indigenous population of the northern regions of Russia.

Indigenous peoples and Norilsk Nickel have developed a joint action plan worth 2 billion Russian rubles ($ 25.9 million). The support plan includes support for traditional activities, protection of habitats, and financing of housing, medical, infrastructure, tourism, social and cultural projects.

The new program is the result of an ethnological expedition that took place in the summer of 2020 in Taimyr.

The expedition members conducted over 100 interviews and surveys of representatives of indigenous peoples. Based on their proposals, priority tasks were identified, including the creation of seasonal jobs in areas such as tourism, reindeer husbandry, fishing and hunting. In particular, it is already planned to build workshops for the processing of reindeer and fish, purchase refrigeration units, build an ethnic complex with workshops for the production of fur products, subsidize helicopter transportation, targeted training in specialties in demand in the company, the publication of textbooks in native languages ​​and many other complex solutions.

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