Good morning Deputy Minister Voda, good morning Ambassador Norman, Deputy Ambassador Wilton, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Today, I want to talk about the victims. I want us to enter their world. Because they are everywhere, and we need to see them. We also need to recognize their strength, their bravery, and the opportunities they can have in the future if we can stop trafficking, together.
Imagine you are a child, 13 or 14 years old, in a dark, unfamiliar room. You can leave only when your trafficker – your jailer, really – lets you out to work as a prostitute, in a factory, or in a field. You are there because someone looked at you and saw profit rather than a person. Someone promised you a beautiful life in a big city, a great job, and a bright future. In reality, someone enslaved you.
You could also imagine yourself in your 20s, or 30s, and so on. Because not all victims are young, and not all victims are girls, though many of them are. But no matter how old those victims are, and no matter where they come from, they all share one clear need.
They need to be rescued.
But to rescue them, we need to identify them. Identification of victims of trafficking is crucial to saving their lives, and of vital importance to a successful prosecution. Victims need to be identified to receive services. And, this is why the proper training of police, social workers, prosecutors, and judges is so important. These are not dry, bureaucratic exercises. They rescue victims.
Once rescued, the two most important things to a victim are shelter and justice. Albania’s shelters for trafficking victims are outstanding, and their reputation is very strong throughout the Western Balkans. I encourage the Albanian government to fulfill its commitment to provide funding for those shelters for the coming fiscal year, and to ensure sustainable funding for the future. I call on the Government of Albania to continue to be the fine example for the region.
And then there is justice. The importance of justice is twofold. First, it gives victims comfort to see those who trapped and exploited them atone for what they did. It also prevents traffickers from enslaving others again. I urge our law enforcement colleagues to continue investigating, prosecuting, and convicting traffickers – including officials who allow this awful crime happen. Serving justice on the perpetrators serves the persecuted. It also protects potential victims.
I want to also underscore that justice is meant to serve victims, not punish them. Sometimes this seems obvious, but victims continue to be prosecuted – usually for prostitution. Prosecuting victims for being enslaved is not just, which is why I call on the government and law enforcement to increase implementation of Albania’s law exempting victims from penalties for unlawful acts that were committed as a result of trafficking. Please do not victimize the victims.
I would like to conclude by highlighting the spirits of trafficking victims. Because they are strong. They are survivors. And, in spite of the horrors they have been through, they are thriving. Some of them are entrepreneurs. Some of them are helping other survivors. Trafficking victims can have a beautiful life, whether in a big city or small village, they can have a great job, and a good future. Government and officials need to do their part to protect the right of victims to pursue a better future.
We know what we have to do – see them, rescue them, shelter them, and give them justice. The hashtag title of this conference is spot-on: together we can stop trafficking.
Thank you for the opportunity to address you today.