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Speech by Ms. Pratibha Mehta, UN Resident Coordinator at 8th COMMIT Senior Officials Meeting

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Date:         14 February 2012
Event:       8th COMMIT senior official meeting
Speaker: Ms. Pratibha Mehta, UN Resident Coordinator

Distinguished Delegates and Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to attend this 8th Senior Officials Meeting for the COMMIT Process.  It is also an honour to address such a large and distinguished group of delegates, many of whom have travelled great distances to join us today.

The theme of our meeting today is “Sustained Unity and Cooperation” – a very fitting theme at this critical juncture of the COMMIT Process.  Eight years have passed since the COMMIT MOU was signed in Yangon in 2004, effectively launching the COMMIT Process.  And five years ago, in 2007, the First COMMIT Declaration was signed in Beijing.
Since its launch in 2004, I am delighted to note that the COMMIT Process has gone from strength to strength. COMMIT has been recognized as a “global best practice”.  According to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, Ms.Joy Ngozi Ezeilo,  (and I quote): “COMMIT demonstrates that governments can effectively work together to address human trafficking as one….COMMIT continues to gain momentum even after seven years in existence – something that is rare in this world of starts and stops.”

As the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Viet Nam, I am particularly pleased with the significant progress made by Vietnam in its anti-trafficking efforts since SOM 7.  I would like to congratulate the Government of Viet Nam for the concrete steps that have been taken and their important outcomes.  Allow me to highlight just a few of these.

Arguably the most significant achievement has been in the area of legislation and criminal justice. One of the results of technical assistance provided under COMMIT, as well as training workshops and study tours conducted over time, Viet Nam officially amended its Penal Code in relation to counter human trafficking, which came into effect in 2010.

Another tangible outcome of the counter trafficking activities conducted in Vietnam is the endorsement of the country’s very first Trafficking in Persons (TIP) law, which came into effect on 1 January 2012. The National Assembly adopted this first anti-trafficking law in March 2011 to include men.  This new TIP law is a milestone for the Vietnamese anti-trafficking movement, with government and non-government partners working hard towards this achievement.

In addition, Vietnam ratified the United Nations Transnational Organised Crimes Convention on 29 December 2011.  Some gaps and limitations remain in terms of its applicability, which we hope will continue to be addressed. We have learned through application of anti-trafficking laws in different countries and regions that such direct, comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation may be seen as a foundation to a broader package of legislative and policy reforms to address different aspects of the crime. We hope that what will soon follow is the development of provisions for penalties and consistency with the international definition of the crime.  

We also hope that all these achievements will radically support many more victims of human trafficking, assisting them through our developing understanding of the crimes committed against them. By understanding the impact on the lives of so many more victims who in the past may not have been identified, we can provide support to them to return to their families and societies successfully. As many of you here know, the experiences of trafficking can leave deep scars that victims, whether they are male or female, children or adults, need assistance to recover from. Further, assistance in a range of areas of reintegration, beyond physical and psychological health, may also be needed. This can be in the forms of social, economic, legal and livelihood assistance, all of which are critical steps to reduce the vulnerability of those who had already been victimized from being re-trafficked.

While we welcome the anti-trafficking efforts of the Government of Vietnam and the other five GMS countries, in cooperation with the international community and civil society, this meeting is first and foremost an opportunity for the COMMIT countries, international organizations and NGOs to review overall progress since the last SOM, discuss challenges ahead, and identify ways to tackle these in a collective manner.

We know that trafficking remains an enormous problem in our region and beyond.   As a regional anti-trafficking community, we should ask ourselves today: are our efforts to tackle the so-called “4 P’s” of human trafficking – protection, prevention, prosecution and policy frameworks – actually making a difference to the lives of victims and communities vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation?  

We should also ask ourselves: how can we keep up the good momentum and level of commitment that has been built over the years, to continue to strive for a region free of human trafficking?  How can we ensure that the strong spirit of partnership among COMMIT Governments, international organizations, civil society and the private sector, is sustained and built upon in the future?
I am very pleased that the Governments of COMMIT will sign the Second Joint Declaration of the Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative Against Human Trafficking, to reaffirm their commitment to continue to work together as a strong, unified force against human trafficking in the region.

But it is not enough to sign a declaration, or to meet in this room to talk about commitment and sustainability.  What will make the critical difference, are the concrete steps taken to follow up on our decisions, to implement the new laws that we are proud to see adopted, to effectively use the anti-trafficking training that has been conducted to put more criminals behind bars, and to provide the proper range of services and level of care to trafficking victims.

We have been fortunate through the COMMIT Process to find tremendous political will and determination amongst Ministers and Senior Officials, as well as amongst the Taskforces and partners in each of the COMMIT member countries, to address the crime of human trafficking. Taking this determination and capacity to the frontline of counter-trafficking, to the authorities who come into direct contact with the victims on a regular basis, is an important development that we see in different stages across the region. It is at this frontline that the future heroes of counter-trafficking will be found.
I would like to reassure you of the commitment of my own organization, the United Nations, to continue to support COMMIT in any way it can. We are proud to be closely associated with the work of this successful mechanism, and commend the esteemed group of people that make it work. I extend my appreciation to all six governments of the GMS for their achievements in tackling human trafficking over the years and congratulate them for their sustained efforts and for participating in this meeting.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Government of Viet Nam and the Ministry of Public Security for hosting this very important event.

I would also like to thank UNIAP for coordinating and facilitating the organization of this event.
Thank you very much.