By Dalia Rabie
LUXOR: Business leaders, public figures, as well as the youth, were all identified as key contributors to the global fight against human trafficking during a two-day forum organized by “End Human Trafficking Now,” an initiative by the Suzanne Mubarak Women’s International Peace Movement (SMWIPM), in Luxor.
The Luxor International Forum, held on Dec. 10–12 and hosted by the first lady herself, brought together over 400 participants, including CEOs of major corporations in different sectors, government representatives, high profile media figures, international and grassroots NGOs, artists, and many other eminent personalities.
Participants agreed that no country is immune to human trafficking, and could be either a country of origin, of transit or a target destination. They also agreed on a need to harmonize and to clarify the definition of human trafficking.
“The lines of exploitation are blurred, [therefore] we can lose sight of the issue,” Mubarak said. “This is a multidimensional challenge that has been misunderstood and underestimated.”
In her speech during the forum’s opening session, Mubarak said that Luxor was chosen to host the forum since it “symbolizes remarkable achievement — a repository of ancient wisdom and the dawn of human consciousness.”
Mubarak said that while stories of victims of human trafficking are endless, behind the statistics are people merely seeking personal security and looking to escape poverty and repression.
The First Lady also cited the Palermo Protocol, which was signed 10 years ago, stating that although it has made a difference, “the struggle is ongoing” and “the battle has just started.”
She said her faith in the private sector and its ability to remove the root cause of human trafficking led her to launch the “End Human Trafficking Now” global campaign.
Opening speeches were also given by Princess Sabeeka bint Ibrahim Al-Khalifa of Bahrain, Princess Mathilde of Belgium, Exxon Mobil Corporation CEO and Chairman Rex W. Tillerson, and UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedetov, all of whom commended Mubarak for her commitment and efforts.
What next after Palermo?
The keynote speeches were followed by a discussion titled “What next after Palermo?” by a panel that included Egyptian Minister of Population Moshira Khattab, Secretary General of the Interpol Ronald Kenneth Noble, the Bahraini Under-Secretary for the Ministry of Foreign affairs, as well as a host of other prominent speakers.
Panelists agreed that the problem is not with the protocol, which is recognized by 117 countries as of 2010, but rather with its implementation.
Khattab said that in Egypt, while laws exist that penalize human trafficking, obstacles in dealing with cultural norms remain.
“There are certain practices that are still acceptable, such as child marriages, which is viewed as the ultimate protection for girls … and child labor which is viewed as a duty,” Khattab said, adding that “you can’t criminalize practices overnight.”
She also highlighted several achievements, such as implementing action plans that ensure girls’ education, as well as a declaration made by 65 villages around Egypt denouncing various violations.
She also lauded new laws criminalizing child marriages and setting a marriage age, describing it as a “revolution.”
Panelist Sussan Tahmasebi, recipient of the Human Rights Watch’s Alison Des Forges Award, urged governments to ensure women’s rights in their respective countries as a way to combat trafficking. She also challenged key government decision makers to allow independent civil societies to do their jobs.
Law and Corporate Practice
The forum was divided into four main sessions, the first of which was titled “Law and Corporate Practice,” where a panel of experts debated whether enabling legal frameworks enhance positive corporate practice.
Taher Helmy, partner at Baker and McKenzie law firm, highlighted the lack of adequacy and legislation, underlining the need for harmonizing legislations across the world.
Helmy also explained that corporations should be given an incentive to help combat human trafficking: “If you engage in the fight, you will give yourself a better image, and [will] improve your brand name and image [as well].”
Christopher Davis, international campaign director of The Body Shop International, cited a campaign where customers are urged to sign petitions against human trafficking.
Youth Speak Out
Underlining the role of the youth, the forum included over 130 young participants hailing from 39 different countries, including members of the SMWIPM International Youth Network.
In a session titled “Youth Speak Out,” young panelists showcased different initiatives taken to end human trafficking, such as the One Child organization founded by Cheryl Perera, the Youth Partnership Project against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children founded by Amie Jobe, and the Beauty against Human Trafficking campaign launched by 2009 Miss Universe Vaida Ragenaite.
Taha Hegazy, from the SMWIPM International Youth Network, also called for a new paradigm for the term “human trafficking.” He explained that the language doesn’t properly convey what it entails.
No to Exploitative Tourism
In the session titled “No to Exploitative Tourism,” panelists addressed the challenges faced in training personnel to be actively involved in preventing and exposing human rights violations that take place in hotels.
Sophie Flak, executive vice president of Accor Group, said it is difficult since hotel personnel are trained to “treat the guest like a king.”
However, Samih Sawiris, CEO of Orascom Development Group, disagreed, saying the hotel should be held responsible for any violations. He said that when some hotels speak out against human trafficking and denounce human rights violations, others will follow suit.
Taleb Rifai, secretary-general of the World Tourism Organization, said that it is important to be “frank and blunt about the evils of the [tourism] industry.”
He explained the travel and tourism industry should strive to be part of the solution, not the problem. He suggested that the income generated by tourism be used to deal with issues of poverty and marginalization, which, according to him, are the two main challenges.
“We must recognize the power that is at hand,” Rifai said.
Impact of Media and the Entertainment Industry
The final session focused on the role of the media and the entertainment industry in raising awareness about human trafficking. Panelists included Naguib Sawiris, executive chairman of Orascom Telecom, Hollywood actors Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, who founded the Demi and Ashton Foundation to End Human Trafficking, actress Mira Sorvino, who is also the UNODC goodwill ambassador on human trafficking, as well as Egyptian actors Mahmoud Kabil and Yosra, among other artists and prominent media figures.
Panelists agreed that there was a problem with branding the term “human trafficking.”
“If I met a person who was being trafficked and I asked them if they were being trafficked, they wouldn’t know what I was talking about,” Kutcher said.
Sawiris called for changing the term altogether. “We need a more shocking title, such as ‘Child Abuse’ or ‘Forced Prostitution,’” he said. “We need to stop hiding and not be ashamed, we need to face it with its exact description.”
Panelists also highlighted the role of citizen journalism.
“Anyone who has a Twitter or a Facebook account is the media. Don’t depend on others,” Kutcher said.
A day prior to the forum, a workshop was organized by Stop the Traffik movement, where they engaged attendees in interactive exercises and other activities. The workshop was attended by the participating youth as well as First Lady Mubarak.The forum also included an inauguration of an art exhibition and a world preview of a film about human trafficking titled “Not my Life” at the Karnak Temple.
According to UN figures, the total market value of human trafficking is approximately $32 billion, with over 2.5 million people currently living as victims of this form of modern-day slavery.
Panelists of the discussion titled “What Next after Palermo?” (Photo by Hassan Ibrahim)
Panelists discuss the role of the media and the entertainment industry during the last session.(Photo by Hassan Ibrahim)