The COVID-19 pandemic has played into the hands of slavers and traffickers and requires stronger government measures to prevent exploitation of vulnerable people, more than 50 independent UN human rights experts said in a statement on Monday.
There was a direct link between the pandemic, socio-economic vulnerability and the risk of exploitation, they said. Exploitation could mean forced labour, including the worst forms of child labour, or being sold, trafficked and sexually exploited.
Governments and businesses should recognise how the loss of jobs, income or land could put vulnerable groups at greater risk, such as people already facing discrimination on grounds of sex, race, age, disability, religion, nationality and economic status, and people without basic services such as sanitation and education.
“If workers don’t receive adequate economic, social and other support from governments, without discrimination on grounds of migration and other status, they face serious risk of exploitation, including being subjected to slavery, servitude, forced or bonded labour, or trafficking in persons”, the statement said.
“In this regard, we are concerned that these practices have increased in the past months. In some cases, victims are further subjected to ill-treatment, torture, or even disappearance when they are prevented from informing as to their fate and whereabouts and put outside the protection of the law.”
Signatories to the statement included many Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups –independent experts who report to the UN Human Rights Council – as well as the Board of Trustees of the UN Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, which was set up by the UN General Assembly in 1991.
Governments must do more to protect victims
They said governments must increase their efforts to identify and protect victims of slavery and trafficking, ensuring their access to essential health services, including reproductive health services, psycho-social counselling, legal assistance, vocational training, income-generating support and remedies without discrimination.
Governments should also try to remove social and employment inequalities that can make some people more at risk of slavery and exploitation, while international solidary was needed to ensure child protection was adequately funded, the human rights experts said.
“We call upon Member States and other entities to address the structural causes that contribute to slavery and exploitation and continue providing support to those offering comprehensive assistance to victims, including through contributions to the UN Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, which will celebrate its 30th anniversary next year”, they said.
The statement’s first signatory, Tomoya Obokata, the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, plans to hold a webinar on Tuesday to discuss aid for racially discriminated groups subjected to slavery during the global pandemic.
The statement was issued ahead of the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery on 2 December, which marks the day in 1949 that the United Nations General Assembly adopted the first Convention to fight human trafficking.
The Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. The experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
Child labour ‘robs children of their future’, scourge must end
Although child labour has decreased significantly over the last decade, one-in-ten children are still caught up in harmful work, the UN’s labour agency said on Friday, kicking off a year-long bid to eradicate the practice.
Breaking down the stats
While the number has dropped from 246 million in 2000 to 152 million in 2016, ILO noted uneven progress across regions.
It pointed to some 72 million children working in Africa, which account for almost half of the world’s total. This is followed by Asia and the Pacific, home to 62 million child labourers.
ILO highlighted that 70 per cent of these children work in agriculture – mainly in subsistence and commercial farming and livestock herding – and almost half in occupations or situations considered hazardous to their health and lives.
The COVID factor
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has considerably exacerbated the situation by rendering everyone more vulnerable to exploitation, compounding poverty within defenseless populations and jeopardizing hard-fought gains in the fight against child labour.
Furthermore, school closures have pushed millions more children into the labour market, so they can contribute to the family income.
“With COVID-19 threatening to reverse years of progress, we need to deliver on promises now more than ever”, said the ILO chief.
A year of action
On a positive note, ILO said that joint and decisive action can reverse this trend.
In collaboration with the Alliance 8.7 global partnership, ILO launched the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour to encourage legislative and practical actions to eradicate child labour worldwide.
Target 8.7 calls for immediate measures to end forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking while also eliminating the worst forms of child labour, including use of child soldiers, and by 2025 ending child labour in all its forms.
The 12-month campaign will also prepare the ground for the fifth Global Conference on Child Labour (VGC) in 2022, which will welcome additional commitments towards ending child labour in all its forms by 2025, and forced labour, human trafficking and modern slavery by 2030.
“This International Year is an opportunity for governments to step up and achieve Target 8.7 of the Sustainable Development Goals by taking concrete actions to eliminate child labour for good”.
Pandemic curbs trend towards ever-increasing migration
Travel restrictions and other curbs to movement put in place in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, have put a significant dent in migration figures, but the overall trend shows 100 million more people living outside their countries of origin in 2020, compared to the year 2000, a new UN report revealed on Friday.
‘Migration is part of today’s world’
International Migration 2020 Highlights, published by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), shows that the pandemic may have slowed migration flows by around two million people last year, cutting the annual growth expected since mid-2019 by around 27 per cent.
Since the year 2000, however, there has been a major increase in migration. That year some 173 million people lived outside of their countries of origin. Twenty years later, that figure had risen to 281 million.
In a statement, Liu Zhenmin, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said “The report affirms that migration is a part of today’s globalized world and shows how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the livelihoods of millions of migrants and their families, and undermined progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.”
Less money sent home
The economic crisis that following in the wake of the pandemic has had a major impact on remittances, the money migrants send home to their countries of origin. The World Bank projects that remittances sent back to low- and middle-income countries may see a $78 billion dip, around 14 per cent of the total amount.
This will negatively affect the livelihoods of millions of migrants and their families, especially in those countries with a big diaspora. India, for example, has the largest diaspora in the world: 18 million people born in India live outside the country. Other nations with significant diasporas include Mexico, the Russian Federation (11 million each), China (10 million) and Syria (eight million).
US and Germany top destinations
Unsurprisingly, high income countries are the most coveted destinations for migrants. The US takes the top spot with 51 million migrants hosted in 2020.
Germany hosted the second largest number of migrants worldwide, at around 16 million, followed by Saudi Arabia (13 million), the Russian Federation (12 million) and the United Kingdom (nine million).
Many migrants do not travel far, however. Nearly half of them remain in the region from which they originated. For example, in Europe 70 per cent of migrants come from another European country. Similarly, some 63 per cent of migrants in sub-Saharan Africa come from a country in the same region.
Most refugees in lower income countries
Contrary to some perceptions, the vast majority of refugees, around 80 per cent, are hosted in low- and middle-income countries, and constitute some 12 per cent of all international migrants.
The number of refugees is rising faster than voluntary migration: the number of people forced to leave home due to conflict, crises, persecution, violence or human rights violations has doubled from 17 to 34 million since the beginning of the 21st Century.
In recognition of the need to better manage migration, the General Assembly has adopted several landmark agreements, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. DESA says that around 60 countries have begun to adopt measures to ensure safe, orderly and regular migration.
UN officials fear US terrorist designation will hasten famine in Yemen
Senior UN officials have expressed concern over the potential impact of the decision by the United States to designate Yemen’s Ansar Allah, more commonly known as the Houthi movement, a terrorist group, the Security Council heard on Thursday.
Briefing the online meeting, UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths said Yemen was going through dark times following a deadly attack last month on its newly-formed Cabinet, and with millions facing potential famine, but emphasized that peace is still possible.
Mr. Griffiths condemned the 30 December attack at the airport in Aden, which targeted the Government officials who had just arrived from Saudi Arabia. Dozens of civilians, aid workers and a journalist were also killed.
“The attack cast a dark shadow over what should have been a moment of hope in the efforts to achieve peace in Yemen. The formation of the Cabinet and its return to Aden was a major milestone for the Riyadh Agreement and for the stability of state institutions, the economy, and the peace process”, he said.
“The Government has launched an investigation into the Aden attack and has made its conclusions public earlier today that Ansar Allah was behind the attack.”
‘Chilling effect’ on peace efforts
For more than five years, Yemen has been mired in conflict between the internationally-recognized Government, which is backed by a Saudi-led coalition, and Houthi rebels.
On Sunday, the United States announced it will designate the group a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) under domestic law. Mr. Griffiths expressed serious concern over this prospect.
“We fear in my mission that there will be inevitably a chilling effect on my efforts to bring the parties together. We all hope to have absolute clarity on far-reaching exemptions to be able to carry out our duties”, he said.
Yemen remains the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Some 16 million people will go hungry this year, and 50,000 are already essentially starving to death, amid a shortfall in aid. Preventing a massive famine is the most urgent priority, the UN Humanitarian Affairs chief and Emergency Coordinator told ambassadors.
Yemenis stockpiling food
Mark Lowcock called for the FTO designation to be reversed, which Mr. Griffiths also supported, outlining its potential impact on aid relief in a country that overwhelmingly relies on food imports.
He explained that humanitarian agencies provide food vouchers or cash to needy Yemenis so they can shop at markets.
“Aid agencies cannot, they simply cannot, replace the commercial import system,” he stressed. “What this means is that what the commercial importers do is the single biggest determinant of life and death in Yemen.”
Mr. Lowcock reported that Yemenis are already rushing to markets to stockpile food, while commercial traders fear the designation will affect their operations.
“Some suppliers, banks, insurers and shippers are ringing up their Yemeni partners and saying they now plan to walk away from Yemen altogether”, he said. “They say the risks are too high. They fear being accidentally or otherwise caught up in US regulatory action which would put them out of business or into jail.”
Although the US plans to introduce licences so that some aid and imports can continue, the relief chief said further details will not be available until 19 January, the day the designation takes force.
Reverse designation, or face catastrophe
The head of the World Food Programme (WFP), David Beasley, gave a blunt assessment of the prospects, putting aside his prepared remarks to speak “heart-to-heart”.
“We are struggling now without the designation. With the designation, it’s going to be catastrophic. It literally is going to be a death sentence to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of innocent people in Yemen,” he said.
Mr. Beasley, an American, also removed his “UN hat” for a moment, to speak about his engagement with Washington, which allocated $3.75 billion to WFP last year.
“I’m very grateful for that”, he said. “But this designation, it needs to be re-assessed, it needs to be re-evaluated, and, quite frankly, it needs to be reversed.”
Mr. Beasley added that Yemen is among several countries facing famine, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these crises.
The WFP chief called for Gulf States “to pick up the humanitarian financial tab for this problem in Yemen”, and urged the Council and world leaders to apply pressure on the warring parties to end their fighting.
“I can assure you that Mark Lowcock and I will be before you pretty soon talking about other countries,” he said. “And if we can’t solve this one – this is man-made completely – shame on us.”
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