President's Corner

Zonta International increases awareness of trafficking in persons at Vienna side event

12 December 2016

Zonta International increases awareness of trafficking in persons at Vienna side event
By Barbara Devin, member of Zonta International United Nations Committee, Vienna

The Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the Protocols Thereto was established to improve the capacity of States Parties to combat transnational organized crime and to promote and review the implementation of this Convention. Numerous Side Events accompanied and complemented the conference in Vienna in October.

The side event, “The many aspects of trafficking - Health aspects, trafficking of human organs and trafficking in human beings for the purpose of organ removal, sex exploitation,” was organized by Zonta International together with Soroptimist International.

The speakers addressed the lack of common understanding about trafficking, the strong stereotyping of trafficking and its victims and the negative aspects and results by the standardization of the services, provided by states.

The side event aimed to increase and differentiate awareness of the growing danger from the numerous ways of criminal trafficking in persons (e.g. implications for women’s and girls’ health, impact of education to counter trafficking and underlines the hidden risks of “forced migration” as base for organ harvesting).

Helga Konrad, Ph.D., head of the Regional Implementation Initiative on Preventing and Combating all Forms of Trafficking in Human Beings, discussed the growing evidence of the physical and mental health risks and consequences associated with human trafficking.

The limited ability to enforce a legally binding international law provisions on the right to health and the use of vague language combined with the need to implement international and European standards in countries with very different health care system has led to a divergent understanding and application of the existing legal frameworks in many countries.

This has resulted in different healthcare services offered to nationals, migrants and victims of trafficking. In this context, Konrad referred strongly to SDG 8.7 – the international community will have to frame exploitation not solely as a problem of the criminal justice system. Instead, human trafficking needs to be explored across a number of policy areas including business, trade, labor and migration, as well as protection and health.

Vadim Pisarevich, head of Department for Global Policies and Humanitarian Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus, drew shaking attention to trafficking of human organs and trafficking in human beings for the purpose of organ removal.

Belarus initiated the discussion on the issue of a possible universal legally binding tool against trafficking in human organs in late 2014. Pisarevich shared that organ trafficking actually affects more men than women.

Yvonne Simpson, president of Soroptimist International, presented the organization’s projects in Nepal, which focus on improving the lives of women and girls through education, empowerment and enabling opportunities. SI sees education and awareness about trafficking in human beings as a key tool for empowerment of women in order to escape the danger of migration and trafficking.

Ursula Werner, a Zonta International director, focused on the prevention of and response to human trafficking and unsafe migration of women and girls in Nepal, a Zonta-funded project. Partnering with UN Women, Zonta has committed US$1 million over the next two years to create sustainable foundations for addressing the connection between human trafficking and foreign labor migration of women and girls in Nepal.

Per-Anders Sunesson, ambassador at large for combating Trafficking in Persons, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Sweden, moderated the event and he succeeded at stimulating the discussion and the response of the numerous nongovernmental organizations present.

The discussion focused on the prevention of and aftercare for victims, in particular women and girls. Various institutions and social societies presented their activities and tools to raise attention to prospective trafficking victims and to provide intensive care of rescued survivors.

According to the participant lists, the event attracted around 90 people. Among them were 27 Zontians and Soroptimists.

The complete list of names is available with Vienna UN team for reference.

The panelists and audience agreed that the facets of trafficking seem to increase constantly. Human trafficking is one of the most lucrative businesses worldwide. Organ trafficking and organ harvesting as a final purpose of migration have risen to a particular financial source.

Protection and health of victims require foremost attention and measurements in order to prevent human trafficking. We must train healthcare personnel and educate women and girls about the dangers and disadvantages of trafficking. Raising awareness of the signs and signals of trafficking in traveling, tourism and accommodation business is also vital. Finally, do not forget to educate the boys!

Again, as observed during the main sessions of the conference, social societies, NGOs, private institutions and organizations play a vital role regarding cooperation and support of Member States to implement UN conventions and protocols in their countries. More and more UN and Member States realize this and rely on NGO’s assets, such as intricate knowledge about human trafficking, experience with victims and paths of criminalization of trafficking, the ability to raise financial means, and the resources to stress inevitably the implementation of activities and measures agreed on by governments of Member States.




Susanne von Bassewitz is the 2018-2020 President of Zonta International and the Zonta International Foundation.

»Read her biography.