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Today's debate again demonstrates your strong commitment as Parliamentarians towards combating trafficking in human beings, a modern form of the slave trade.
Trafficking for the purpose of prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation remains a vast problem in Europe. According to a Eurostat report published last week, the majority of victims are trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. And the victims of sexual exploitation are nearly all women.
The drafters of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings recognised this gender aspect to trafficking. The Convention therefore requires specific policies for women, as they are more likely to be exposed to trafficking for sexual exploitation.
GRETA has followed up on this in its reports and stresses the need to address trafficking in human beings as a form of violence against women and to take account of gender-specific types of exploitation.
Furthermore, the Convention puts emphasis on the need to discourage the demand that fosters all forms of exploitation of persons, especially women and children. In particular, governments should consider making it a criminal offence to knowingly use the services of a victim of trafficking.
This provision of course does not address the use of the services of a sex worker as such. But it clearly addresses the situation where a sex worker is exploited in the context of trafficking in human beings.
The Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence - Istanbul Convention - takes a further strong stance on violence against women, and it sets out a comprehensive legal framework to combat all forms of violence against women.
This violence includes some of the most heinous experiences a woman may be subjected to, like sexual violence, domestic violence, forced marriage, or female genital mutilation. But it does not explicitly prohibit prostitution.
The approach to prostitution varies significantly among our member states. While some states authorise the selling and buying of sex, others prohibit such acts. Prostitution is a complex issue and attempts at regulating this will have to address a wide range of factors, none of them easy. The drafters therefore felt that that this was outside the remit of the Istanbul Convention.
Ladies and gentlemen, after this brief overview of the Council of Europe's legal instruments related to your topic for discussion, please allow me to inform you about the Council of Europe participation in the recent Commission on the Status of Women in New York. I attended the high-level segment of the Commission's meeting with some of you and the Istanbul Convention was very much the centre of attention. Many of the elements of the Agreed Conclusions adopted after long debates and negotiations reiterate or reinforce the provisions of the Istanbul Convention, both in terms of substance and sometimes even in the language used.
As many of you know, the Council of Europe was very present at the CSW and organised a Side Event together with the Permanent Mission of France to the UN. On this occasion, Ms Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, described the Istanbul Convention as the ‘golden standard' and ‘primus inter pares' among instruments targeting the elimination of violence against women. I also want to highlight the important role of Mr Mendes Bota in promoting the Istanbul Convention during the CSW.
As you can see, the Istanbul Convention is gaining ground and serves as inspiration much beyond Europe. We must build on this momentum and use the Agreed Conclusions of the CSW to promote ratification of the Convention and to intensify responses to violence against women and girls.
I hope this will lead to many more ratifications this year and I am very grateful for the support parliamentarians like you are lending to the promotion of the Istanbul Convention. I would like to invite you all to keep up the momentum and do everything in your power to keep the Istanbul Convention on the political agenda in your countries. Most recently Montenegro has ratified the Istanbul convention bringing the total number of ratifications to 4. But we need 6 more for the Convention to enter into force. I am hoping for this target to be reached this year.
Let me conclude by saying that, with these two powerful Conventions – trafficking in human beings and the Istanbul Convention – we have a solid legal framework in place; we now must ensure that they are efficiently implemented to ensure that the protection provided in them reach as many as possible.
Thank you for your attention.