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First National Conference on Trafficking in Persons in Haiti

Lumos voices

First National Conference on Trafficking in Persons in Haiti

On Wednesday 21 June 2017, we launched the first National Conference on the Trafficking in Persons in Haiti. The National Committee aims to address a huge challenge: over the next few years, the Republic of Haiti will take its place on the global stage among the key champions fighting trafficking in persons.

More than two centuries ago, those who were trafficked were the dehumanised under the Black Code, they were the condemned of a concentration camp system, they were the syllabary maroons. Nevertheless, it was they who taught all nations of the earth the true significance of universal freedom. Against the slavers of the entire world, against the most powerful colonial army of the era, they were able to win the fight for fundamental rights of all people and against trafficking in persons. They were the ones who paved the way for Simon Bolivar in Latin America. They were the ones who inspired Victor Shoelcher in France. It was they who provided the example for Abraham Lincoln in the United States. I speak here of Makandal, of Boukman, of Sanite Belair, of Toussaint Louverture, of Catherine Flon, of Jean-Jacques Dessalines. They were the first in the New World to rise up against trafficking in persons practiced by the Western powers. Haiti is the fruit of their fight against slavery of the Modern era. That is why I am committed to ensuring Haiti becomes a country where trafficking in persons is banished in all its forms. First and foremost, this is an exercise in memory. We must reconcile the Haitian nation with its original identity and the spirit of its ancestors. We must put down beacons that allow us to pluck our history from the depths of silence.

Haiti must today ask itself the question of what it actually wants for its women and children. Haiti must also ask the question of what it wants to offer to its young men who dream of nothing but leaving. For my part, as President of the National Committee for the Fight against Trafficking in Persons, the answer is unequivocal. I want them to live in their homes in safety and wellbeing, protected from violations of their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

It is a monstrosity in the 21st Century for a child to be sold like cattle. There is nothing normal about a person being labelled “restavek” and to experience the associated abuses. I consider forced begging in the streets of our cities as one of the worst forms of child labour. The sexual exploitation of our teenage girls is unacceptable. In our orphanages, it has been proven that more than 80% of the children have living parents and that some are victims of all kinds of abuse and trafficking; I am thunderstruck. I am horrified to learn that many of our citizens are victims of forced labour as well as organ trafficking domestically and internationally. I am especially concerned by the increasing scale of the illicit trafficking of migrants across all ten departments of the country. It is thus with the greatest energy that I denounce and condemn these injustices that mainly affect the most vulnerable categories of Haitian society. These flagrant violations of fundamental human rights cannot be tolerated in the first free, independent Black Republic of the New World. Everything must be done to combat trafficking in persons and the illicit trafficking of migrants.

In June 2014, the Haitian state enacted a law to fight trafficking in persons. In 2015, in accordance with this law, the National Committee for the Fight against Trafficking in Persons was formed by the Presidency. These efforts are welcome, it is true. But they are not sufficient. We must now work to strengthen the capacity of the Committee. The Committee members must accomplish an important mission for the Haitian State, that of defining and launching national policy on the fight against trafficking throughout the country. I invite all concerned actors to work and coordinate with this inter-ministerial, intersectoral committee. I call for the support all those concerned to assist the Committee to prevent trafficking in persons, to guarantee protection for victims, to ensure the prosecution of offenders and to develop national and international partnerships.

Trafficking in persons is a significant obstacle to building the rule of law. Because it primarily affects women and children in Haiti, it is a considerable blow to those who are most precious in our society. This first national conference presents an important occasion for the Haitian state to reaffirm its commitment to fighting this scourge. I am particularly proud to see the three powers of the Republic brought together at the same table to come to a consensus on the best strategy to fight against trafficking in persons. The legislature is important in this fight. As is the judiciary. And the involvement of the Executive is crucial.

I am equally happy to see the Ministers who are most relevant to the cause and consequences of trafficking in persons were present at the conference to confirm their commitment to the fight that must be fought against this phenomenon. I greatly encourage them to accord the Committee all necessary support so that it may accomplish its mission. I ask the Minister of Justice and Public Security to pay particular attention to the issue of prosecuting traffickers for whom there can be zero tolerance.

Over these two days of reflection, sharing of experience and debate, many potential avenues to address trafficking were explored. These rich proposals were integrated into the draft National strategic plan that will be implemented over the next five years. I invite all actors from State, civil society and international cooperation and development, as well as technical and financial partners to support the work of the Committee.

Over these two days, participants understood the need to institute a Coordination group on trafficking in persons. It is an excellent initiative. It seems to me that dialogue must be permanent and inclusive if we truly want the Republic of Haiti to become once more a champion in the fight against this global scourge.