Speech by Lower House Member Moriyama on Why Trafficking in Persons is an Important Issue

Ms. Moriyama at the Regional Trafficking Conference
United Nations University, Tokyo
June 23, 2004

Ms. Moderator, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

It is my great honor today to be speaking before my friends, including Ambassador and Mrs. Baker and Ms. Horiuchi at this very important conference.

The status of women and children has been one of my biggest concerns throughout my administrative and political career for the last fifty years. In 1956 I, as a young labour official in charge of improvement of the status of women, witnessed the enactment of the Prostitution Prevention Law, which prohibits prostitution and criminalizes exploitation in prostitution. At that time, I noticed the problem of prostitution was the violation of the human rights of women mainly caused by poverty. After entering into a political career I constantly worked hard for the betterment of the working conditions and welfare of women. Around 1996, child pornography attracted the attention of the international community and Japan was among the countries being criticized. I took the lead among Diet members in proposing the Bill on Punishment for Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, and on the Protection of Children, which entered into force in 1999. When the Government of Japan, in cooperation with UNICEF and international NGOs, held the Second World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in December 2001 in Yokohama, Japan, I, then the Minister of Justice, made a keynote speech representing the Government of Japan. Thus trafficking in persons has also long been my concern.

My theme today is gWhy Trafficking in Persons is an Important Issueh. It seems almost self-evident to me and I think that the question reflects the indifference or lack of awareness of the general public toward this issue. Therefore I will try to elaborate on my perspective on this issue.

First of all, trafficking in persons is a grave violation of human rights, especially the rights of women and children. Its human rights implications are beyond dispute. Trafficking in persons and related practices such as debt bondage, forced prostitution and forced labor violate the most basic of all human rights. The right to life, the right to dignity and security, the right to just and favorable conditions of work, the right to health and the right to equality are infringed upon: these are rights, which we all possess - irrespective of our sex, nationality, social status, occupation or other differences. How is it possible to ignore or tolerate such victimization of the vulnerable in developing countries, while eagerly protecting the rights of women and children in our own countries.

The next thing to be mentioned is the magnitude of the problem. Trafficking in persons is increasingly becoming a serious worldwide phenomenon. While it is difficult to estimate the whole figure of victimization, we all know the actual cases detected are just the tip of the iceberg and many people believe that, at the very least, hundreds of thousands of people, mainly women and children, are victimized worldwide every year. Trafficking in persons has become such a major scourge that it is often referred to as a contemporary form of slavery.

Third, the underlying cause of trafficking in persons is poverty in developing countries. The growing disparity between the developed and developing countries creates a firm demand and supply of trafficking in persons. Without solving this north-south problem we cannot foresee the eradication of trafficking in persons, but as we all know there is no quick answer to it. In addition, many factors such as rapid urbanization, loss of community, lack of education, spread of consumerist values, political persecution in developing countries and strong demand for commercial sex and cheap labour in developed countries have accelerated and complicated the problem. Of course, organized criminal groups have played a major role in the problem making huge profits, which have in turn been used to finance other criminal activities.

The nature and magnitude of trafficking in persons require special concerted efforts both domestically and internationally to cope with it. To prevent and prosecute trafficking in persons and to protect its victims close cooperation is needed between related agencies, local governments, NGOs and other private sectors. Trafficking in persons, as a transnational organized crime, also requires more than just the creative response of one or two governments. The adoption of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime is a great step forward at an international level. The efforts currently made by large economies such as the United States and the EU countries as well as international and regional bodies are very encouraging. Japan has also begun its efforts to strengthen measures in various areas including inter-agency cooperation and preparation for new legislation for effective prosecution.

I regret that in some cases, Japanfs sincere efforts have not been evaluated correctly. For example, last week, the U.S. Department of State released the Trafficking in Persons Report, which expressed that Japan is not fully complying with the U.S. setting of minimum standards. It may be that the U.S. has not been fully informed of the situation of trafficking in Japan and the efforts of the Japanese Government. I feel that more research could have resulted in different observation. Having said that, admittedly Japan, as well as other developed countries, has a long way to go in the fight against trafficking in persons.

This is my brief perspective on trafficking in persons but I would like to go further on two points. One is the need for international cooperation and the other is the role of NGOs.

With respect to international cooperation in law enforcement activities I would like to draw your attention to the regional efforts of the countries in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Region following the Regional Ministerial Conference on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime held in Bali in February 2002. Experts from the countries of source, destination and transit have met time to time to discuss measures to enhance international investigative cooperation as well as to raise public awareness. I believe this kind of regional framework is very effective and useful and, in actual fact, Japan has been playing an extremely active role in it.

Another example in the same direction is that in the autumn of 2002 the United Nations Asia and Far East Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (UNAFEI), which is operated by the Government of Japan, held an international training course for law enforcement officials in the area, who are in charge of trafficking and smuggling cases.

To tackle the various causes and factors affecting the problem we need to strengthen international cooperation at various levels of society. While the solution to the underlying cause of poverty depends to a great extent on the efforts of the developing countries, Japan supports through ODA various projects, which facilitate development in those countries. Projects for the prevention of trafficking in persons and the assisting of victims in Southeast Asian countries such as Cambodia and Vietnam are also supported through Japanfs Trust Fund for Human Security.

Lastly, I would like to touch upon the very important roles NGOs play or are expected to play. In raising public awareness of the problem or protecting and rehabilitating its victims NGOs play very important roles worldwide and when it comes to the finer details, I think there is much scope for the NGOs to assist and make a difference. In this regard I very much appreciate this opportunity in which we Diet members, government officials and members of NGOs, are able to meet and hold discussions with one other. I would like to express my appreciation particularly to the U.S. embassy, the ILO Tokyo office and Vital Voices Global Partnership for their leadership in planning and preparing for this conference.

I would like to conclude my speech, wishing sincerely that, with this conference as an impetus, more and more people will gain a greater understanding of the problem of trafficking in persons and will build a society in which the dignity of persons, especially that of women and children, is highly respected.

Finally, I would like to express my heartfelt hope that the discussions to be held today and tomorrow will further contribute to reinforcing the prevention of trafficking, the prosecution of offenders, and the protection of victims.

Thank you very much.