ECOWAS and the Government of Sierra Leone, in collaboration with the African Programming and Research Initiative to End Slavery (APRIES), convened Regional Conference of ECOWAS States on Ending Human Trafficking 2023, on the 25th&26th April, 2023, with the theme: “Charting a Way Forward for Deeper Cooperation amongst ECOWAS States to End Human Trafficking” during an auspicious event that was held at the Freetown International Conference Centre at Aberdeen in Freetown.
Serving as the keynote Speaker, President Julius Maada Bio, stated that human trafficking is the greatest injustice of our times furthering how it is a toll on human capital development and on the long-term economic and social development of countries in the ECOWAS region maintaining that the impact is unquantifiable.
‘’We must win the fight against human trafficking while protecting and empowering our citizens, especially our youths and ensuring their access to dignified economic opportunities within their own countries,’’ he informed participants disclosing how the Ministry of Social Welfare introduced additional policies and trained technical staff to support its anti-trafficking initiative plus assigning the Honourable Vice President to take leadership of the Presidential Task Force in the fight against Human Trafficking.
He noted that the impact of the reforms set in have been gratifying and according to him, the country secured its first conviction for human trafficking further informing how several convictions have been recorded since.
‘’This conference is an opportunity to strengthen regional coordination and cooperation through shared experiences. The roadmap will be guidepost for the region, and the jointly agreed upon interventions will reflect and amplify our collective goals to combat human trafficking,’’ President Bio said.
The President of the ECOWAS Commission, His Excellency Dr. Omar Alieu Touray, pointed out how the Commission is delighted to collaborate with the Government and People of Sierra Leone, continuing that, the fight against human trafficking is a moral and humanitarian imperative for ECOWAS.
‘’The phenomenon represents a serious obstacle to human security and to peace in general. This accounts for ECOWAS’ decisions to develop and implement regional policies as well as plans of action to counter trafficking of persons and to protect vulnerable groups,’’ he said.
‘’This conference is coming at a good time, as its outcome will feed into the new ECOWAS Plan Action to be validated at the meeting of the ECOWAS Trafficking in Persons Focal Point later this year,’’ the President stated.
President Touray congratulated the Government and people of Sierra Leone for taking the lead on this important issue and also acknowledged the roles of APRIES, IOM and other organizations.
The Director of APRIES, David Okech, disclosed how they conducted their research in three ECOWAS countries- Guinea, Sierra Leone and Senegal, and how their research shows that children have been moved across borders for the purpose of labor trafficking and that girls and young women are being moved across borders for the purpose of sex trafficking.
‘’This conference signifies that ECOWAS members understand the cross border nature of human trafficking and that they are taking the lead in this regard. This event’s collaborative and cooperative spirit, as well as the commitment demonstrated by attending member states, should be emulated across the world,’’ the Director recommended.
Cindy Dyer, Ambassador- at- Large, U.S Department of State Office, stated that, they are prioritizing partnerships and supporting efforts to combat human trafficking globally by strengthening prevention activities, bolstering prosecutorial efforts, and providing protection service to survivors, including the expertise of survivors across all efforts.
She continued that, the Department of State will continue to work with ECOWAS and its member states on implementing constructive anti-trafficking responses, and commending Sierra Leone for hosting the conference.
Giving the closing remarks, The Vice President, Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh, commended all member states for attending, continuing that the country has put in place lots of legislative laws to combat human trafficking.
He maintained that their Government is committed in building Human Capital Development, and part of that work is the fight against human trafficking, as it is a threat to human capital development.
He thanked the Commission, APRIES, and other bodies for their efforts in combating human trafficking. He also wished representatives from member states a safe trip as they return.
The highpoint of the opening session of the programme were artistic performances by two renowned female artists from Sierra Leone and Senegal.