Global conflicts allow human slavery and exploitation to thrive

By John Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — Modern slavery is tragically thriving in the Twenty-first Century! While ethnic, religious and military conflicts seem to be the grist of news headlines, the quiet and brutal backstory from this global violence regards the vulnerable millions who have been displaced as migrants and refugees. Ironically in the midst of such desperation there’s a “business model” used by human traffickers who are profiting from forms of slavery, which reap profits of over US$150 billion annually.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that “trafficking networks have gone global” with over 21 million people ensnared in forced labor, and extreme exploitation. Families and societies were being torn apart by what he called “gross violations of human rights.”

Addressing a special debate in the U.N. Security Council, Secretary-General Guterres conceded “flourishing where the rule of law was weak and in situations of armed conflict, trafficking was thriving in Syria, where Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (IS) had organized slave markets.” He added that in Nigeria the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram “had considered slavery legal in areas under its sway.”

Yury Fedotov of the U.N.’s Office on Drugs and Crime added, “terrorists used human trafficking to exploit instability and vulnerability … armed groups preyed on children” in what was described as a “low risk, high-reward business opportunity.”

Kevin Hyland, Britain’s anti-slavery commissioner, noted that terrorist organizations openly advocated “slavery as a tactic of war” and that IS was targeting minority groups and establishing slave markets. “Conflict also created environments in which modern slavery could flourish,” Hyland added.

Without question such tactics remain a dark corollary of conflict in many countries. What we are not so politely speaking about here is the forced abduction of girls and women for prostitution and sexual slavery as well as other people for servile labor on farms or ships.

‘No magical solution’

American Ambassador Nikki Haley stressed, “Standing up to modern slavery and forced labor was an element of United States foreign policy.” She added that the Trump administration “would work to end human trafficking and devote more resources to that end.”

And indeed we must as this scourge is becoming wider and more sophisticated, especially given the conflict rich environment throughout the world.

Hungarian Ambassador Katlin Annamaria Bogyay stressed, “it was particularly disturbing that Da’esh (IS), Boko Haram, Al Nusrah and other terrorist groups used sexual exploitation and forced marriage as a tactic.” She added poignantly “modern slavery is a crime of the twenty-first century: adaptive, cynical, sophisticated, extremely complex and highly variegated.” Ambassador Bogyay conceded there is “no magical solution” to the threats and no organization itself can tackle the phenomenon itself.

In other words fighting this Hydra of hate and profitable exploitation takes more than legislation but a wider awareness and willingness to coordinate strategies across borders and among governments.

Archbishop Bernardito Auza of the Holy See feared for “ancient Christian communities, as well as Yezidis and other religious minorities in Mesopotamia…who had been enslaved, sold, killed, and subjected to extreme humiliation.” He decried “the lack of serious efforts to bring perpetrators to justice of such acts of genocide.”