Slavery today

Education to freedom 'responsibility of the entire society' (Koichiro Matsuura, UNESCO General Director)

On the occasion of the 200th year anniversary of the Declaration of independence of Haiti and of the constitution of the first 'black' state, the UN General Assembly declared 2004 International Year to Commemorate the Struggle against Slavery and Its Abolition.
Many steps forward were done during the centuries, but even if banned worldwide, slavery is still a problem for thousands of people around the globe. It involves people of every age in all countries, mostly women, children, teen-agers and working aged men. Victims are kidnapped, bought, deceived, becoming properties of others while slave drivers are often sentenced to spend few years in prison or remain unpunished.

During a conference held on January 2004 in Ghana to mark the beginning International Year to Commemorate the Struggle against Slavery and Its Abolition, Unesco General Director Mr. Koïchiro Matsuura, stated the ‘duty to to remember the victims of past injustice’ underlining ‘the duty of concern, solidarity and commitment towards those today who do not enjoy basic rights and freedoms’. Mr. Matsuura stated the necessity to educate ‘for a ‘better future’, a ‘responsibility of the whole of society’.

Slavery is universally recognised crime against humanity and war crime, transnational crimes often linked to several forms of joint criminal enterprises. It is often associated with drug trafficking, forced prostitution, as well as to the production of products used in every day life or to domestic violence.

The most common forms of slavery

There are several forms of slavery, usually we speak about following forms:

Debt bondage – or Bonded labour – the most widespread in all the world. People who contract a debt, sometimes for essential matters like the purchase of goods of primary necessity, which however can’t be rewarded back again and at times it is handed down to the next generations. In many countries the people don’ t have other means to repay a debt than that of their own labour, being consequently reduced to the status of slavery with mistreatments and forced imprisonment. According to various (non official) estimates in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan there are about 15-20 million people in debt bondage.

Forced labour – related to migrants, often affects people who get involved by work promises in other countries and they are leaded into slavery. Usually the persons are destined to end on the market of the rich countries. The CIA estimates a flow towards the United States of the about 50.000 people, prevalently women and children.

Sexual slavery – sexual exploitation – is considered by the international jurisdiction as a crime against humanity and as war crime. It principally concerns women and children, who are sold, kidnapped, convinced by the fraud to enter on the sex market. They are forced to prostitute themselves on the affluent sex market, which includes paedophilia.

Early and forced marriage and domestic slavery – it mostly regards women and children that are forced to marriage and into lives of servitude, becoming factually a property of the husband.

Trafficking human beings – people placed on the market as workforces, for the production of various goods or for forms of prostitution. The modern forms of the “route of the slaves”, controlled by organized criminal associations.

War slavery – primarily involves women, children and, generally, the civil population. Children recruited as soldiers, whole villages forced to lead lives as slaves (sentence for the case of Foca at the International Criminal Court for Ex-Yugoslavia) are only few examples.

Some numbers

The oldest British association - Anti Slavery - for the struggle against slavery, talks about a minimum of 20 million of people living in slavery worldwide. The UNODC – United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates an increase of 700.000 people per year. In the quadrennial report (2001) of the ILO - International Labour Organization estimates that there were 245.000.000 working children in the year 2002, with an average of 1.2 million of children that become victims of the dealers every year.

Therefore the figures talk about millions of people, but official numbers relied to the global situation of slavery are not available, because of the primary characteristic of invisibility of the phenomenon. Some indicative data will be presented in the year 2005, when the group of experts of the ILO will conclude the quadrennial analysis of the reports on the situation of forced labour, which are to be published annually by each State (ratifying or not ratifying the conventions).

Laws and basic treaties

September the 25th 1926 The Slavery Convention is signed at Geneva. In the first article slavery is defined as the “status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised”. After 27 years and a world war the General Assembly of the UNO approves the resolution 794 (VIII) of 23 October 1953 by the Protocol amending the Slavery Convention “Considering that it is expedient that these duties and functions [the League of Nations was invested with] should be continued by the United Nations”. 1957 the General Conference of the International Labour Organisation approves the Convention Concerning the Abolition of Forced Labour, confirming the principles expressed in the Convention of Geneva of 1926.

April the 30th 1956 the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery is ratified. In 1974 the UN formed a working group on the issue of contemporary forms of slavery. In the nineties the Statute of the ad hoc tribunals and the Rome Statute of the ICC - International Criminal Court define slavery as “war crime” and “crime against humanity”. During the Conference of Durban, hold in South Africa in 2001, the principles of the Conferences are confirmed. It is made an appeal to the governments, to fight the phenomenon. 2002 the OHCHR - Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights made recommendations to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The same year the Convention of the ILO against the worst forms of child labor was adopted.

Translation by Manuel Sommerfeld

Nome autore: Valentina Cosimati
Published on ModestaProposta.net - ASP Unesco Italy


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