President's speech at the international conference on "Current trends in human trafficking in the Western Balkans" held in Tirana

Honourable President Meta,
Dear participants,
Ladies and gentlemen,
 
Great to see you here in Tirana!
 
President Meta, thank you for the invitation and especially for the fact that through this forum you are ensuring that we collectively focus on a problem that worries, damages and tarnishes societies, institutions and inter-institutional cooperation in the region and globally over the years.
 
Trafficking in human beings is not just a serious crime and a serious violation of human dignity and rights - trafficking in human beings is a persistent and deeply troubling stain on our societies. Therefore, I welcome and praise this initiative of yours, which aims to coordinate our efforts toward combating and addressing the sources and effects of this phenomenon in the Western Balkans.
 
Economic parameters, fragile security, destabilizing tendencies and social instability, as well as challenges to the rule of law, create favourable space for the development of trafficking in human beings in our region. Criminal networks use the lack of order and any gap in our cooperation and legal and institutional interaction to develop and increase their activity.
 
The problem with trafficking in human beings lies in the fact that it is still considered by most of the society as a distant phenomenon that affects only certain groups of the society. While it is true that the most common victims of trafficking are children, girls and women and vulnerable sections of society, human trafficking does not recognize race, gender, age or border.
 
Traffickers can commit this crime in any sector and environment, whether legal or illegal, including work in factories and restaurants, hotels and even mines and private homes. What is clear is that countless businesses closely linked to traffickers' networks benefit from the misery, lack of economic prospects and social inequalities faced by victims of trafficking. Traffickers are constantly getting rich at the expense of those who have been held hostage by poverty.
 

In light of recent developments in Europe related to the war in Ukraine, our continent is increasingly exposed to situations where women and children fleeing war zones in Ukraine remain vulnerable in foreign countries. According to initial estimates, illegal sex trafficking of women and children in and around Ukraine has reportedly increased significantly.
 
It is painful to see millions of women and children leave their homes in search of security in foreign lands and see some of them end up moving from the tragedy of war to the tragedy of trafficking.
 
While forms of trafficking may be obvious, such as the case of sexual exploitation, including prostitution, slavery, domestic work, forcible deprivation of liberty, and related practices, trafficking can often be camouflaged behind other criminal offenses. Respectively, victims are often exploited in various ways and in other illegal activities, but these cases of trafficking in human beings are no longer investigated and registered as such.
 
The presence of different and inconsistent systems for identifying trafficking cases in the region, inconsistencies in definitions and institutional constraints, but also almost exclusive reliance on the police and the exclusion of labor inspectors in case identification processes, directly and negatively affect the successful identification of trafficking cases. Addressing these issues should be the focus of our ongoing cooperation and coordination.
 
An estimated 27 million people - women, men and children - are trafficked each year around the world. Women and girls have been the main victims of trafficking since 2008, when the European Union began collecting data on trafficking in human beings. Almost three-quarters of all victims in the EU are women and girls, who are mainly trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
 
Children also continue to make up a significant number of victims in the EU and most of them are girls trafficked for sexual exploitation.
 
In Kosovo, in more than 60% of trafficking cases the victims are under 18 years old. Whereas, it is precisely women and girls who are the main victims of this crime. But, both in Kosovo and in the region, statistics continue to be deficient.

These statistics speak for themselves: the economic empowerment of women and girls is a key precondition for combating trafficking in human beings.
 
In the US Department of State's Trafficking in Persons Report 2021 for Kosovo, Kosovo is ranked in the Second Tier (Tier 2). We have evidence of increased action towards the adoption of new standard operating procedures and the improvement of the work of basic prosecutions, but also towards the increase of resources for the protection of victims, including funding for NGO and state-run shelters against trafficking. 
 
Our ongoing efforts include taking concrete steps to prevent this phenomenon. This, among other things, through the establishment of state authorities whose mandate is precisely the prevention and awareness of citizens against these crimes. Kosovo has already drafted a new strategy against trafficking in human beings, which is expected to be approved soon. We have also established the National Authority against Trafficking in Human Beings, as well as the Commission for Compensation of Victims.
 
However, the low sentences for traffickers and the imposition of insufficient sentences for convicted traffickers by judges prove that we still have work to do.
 
What makes the situation even more troubling is the fact that trafficking networks are showing increasingly higher levels of professionalism and expertise as well as the sophistication of tools and methods. In this regard, the misuse of information technology by criminals for the recruitment and exploitation of victims of trafficking stands out.
 
Faced with such a reality, Kosovo's membership in international organizations such as INTERPOL becomes an issue of particular importance. It should be clear to everyone, to countries that know us and those who have not yet made this decision, that Kosovo's membership in INTERPOL is not just a political ambition. It is a precondition for our social and institutional success in terms of combating trafficking in human beings and in general in the fight against international crime. Our membership would seal collective efforts to fight organized crime and trafficking networks in the Western Balkans.

Therefore, our goal for membership in these organizations is above all closely linked to our serious efforts to fight organized crime, guarantee human rights and prove ourselves as reliable partners in addressing the challenges which we have in common and which hurt and hurt us infinitely. To say NO to Kosovo in INTERPOL, and in the Council of Europe means NO to the fight against crime and trafficking, as well as to the guaranteeing of human rights.
 
Today, in this forum, we have the opportunity to review the realities that surround us and to understand that in our efforts to combat these dangerous phenomena, cooperation and standardization of protocols of prevention, protection, and prosecution are the most effective way of cooperation towards guaranteeing a future stripped of the clutches of human trafficking.
 
We need to be clear that our victory in the fight against the trafficking of human beings is closely linked to our investment in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals. Many cases of trafficking in human beings begin with an individual seeking decent work and a better life. If we really prioritize the creation of economic opportunities, the fight against inequalities and the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies, we would directly contribute to combating the parameters that put people at risk of trafficking in the first place.
 
"Human rights are not a privilege given by the government. "They are the rights of every human being through the virtue of his humanity," said our Gonxhe, Mother Teresa of the whole world. The protection of human rights is the most realistic measure of the success of democracies. We have a moral and collective responsibility to combat trafficking in human beings and to provide adequate support and protection to victims.
 
Trafficking in human beings is not just a phenomenon that must be addressed through the legal and institutional prism. Trafficking means a lost opportunity for personal development and advancement, a life away from school benches or family and loved ones - it means suffering, pain, and despair. We must break the chains of this crime before they destroy the fate of more people.
 
Therefore, in the fight against trafficking in human beings we must be vocal and determined, but above all we must cooperate, coordinate and be uncompromising. This forum creates additional space for action, so I believe in the substantive commitment of all and the identification of concrete steps for action.

Thank you!