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Slavery survivors demand lead role in fight against trafficking

by Kieran Guilbert | KieranG77 | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 25 January 2021 17:58 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: A survivor of slavery who wished to remain anonymous poses for a picture in New Delhi, India March 7, 2018. Picture taken March 7, 2018. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

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Global council of trafficking survivors-turned-advocates urge governments to put victims at heart of policies and programmes

By Kieran Guilbert

LONDON, Jan 25 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Countries must enable victims of human trafficking to play a key role in programmes and policies to tackle the crime, the first global alliance of survivors-turned-advocates said on Monday.

The 21-member International Survivors of Trafficking Advisory Council (ISTAC) aims to help governments improve their anti-trafficking efforts and ensure they are focused on victims.

The council was set up by the human rights arm of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) - a watchdog covering 57 member states - amid growing calls for trafficking survivors to be trained as leaders in the movement.

While survivors of modern slavery are often relied upon to share their stories and support other victims, few are given the chance to influence or spearhead anti-trafficking initiatives.

During the virtual launch, speakers ranging from U.N. and U.S. officials to Britain's Princess Eugenie - who campaigns on the issue - said the council should inspire countries to ensure such efforts are not only informed by survivors but led by them.

"Engagement of survivors must be substantive and not tokenistic," said OSCE Special Representative Valiant Richey.

"Their voices can help mobilize the most important ingredient in the fight against trafficking: political will."

U.N. special rapporteur on trafficking Siobhan Mullally said survivor-led initiatives were best placed to respond to changing trends, reach out to victims, and challenge stigma as the coronavirus pandemic leaves more people vulnerable globally.

The economic slowdown caused by COVID-19 has made countless people jobless and destitute, while trafficking victims are less likely to be found or receive help with attention and resources diverted elsewhere, various U.N. experts have said.

An estimated 25 million people worldwide are victims of labour and sex trafficking, according to the United Nations, with concerns growing that more will be exploited as support services are halted and efforts to secure justice are hindered.

While acknowledging the challenging climate, experts and officials at the launch spoke of increased survivor engagement and leadership - from domestic worker alliances to national councils including victims in nations from Albania to Canada.

Last year, a project in India trained 50 female survivors to be campaigners in communities at high risk of modern slavery.

And earlier this month, Kenyan trafficking survivor Sophie Otiende joined the board of directors at The Global Fund to End Modern Slavery (GFEMS) - a public-private partnership.

"When we support the growth and leadership development of survivors, we open ourselves to the possibility of a world in which trafficking ceases to exist," said Lisa C. Williams, a survivor of sex trafficking and the U.S.-based chair of ISTAC.

"We commit ... to harness the awesome power of our collective survivorship so that we can liberate the young and the vulnerable from slavery, seek justice for their abuse and hold their abusers accountable," she said during the event.

The council includes survivors from 14 nations and is part of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

Related stories:

Laws to leaders: three aims for the anti-slavery movement in 2021

Indian ex-slaves unite to inform unaware survivors about coronavirus

Former slaves say give them the skills to lead anti-trafficking drive

(Reporting by Kieran Guilbert; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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