January 25th, 2013 • People-smuggling is the fastest-growing form of organised crime, with an estimated turnover of €35 billion per annum. ‘This horrific abuse of the most elementary human rights should be at the very top of the political agenda, certainly in Europe, where every citizen should be protected by the European Convention on Human Rights,’ said SP Senator Tiny Kox in Strasbourg today, where a resolution against modern slavery put forward by the SP and others in the European United Left group won unanimous support.
More than twenty million people across the world, including within Europe, work as modern slaves – not only in the sex industry, but also in agriculture and horticulture, the textile industry, shops, the hotel and catering trade and in private households. In addition, people are illegally traded for their organs and forced into beggary. Men, women and children are ruthlessly exploited but to date, laws to counter these abuses of human rights and the enforcement of these laws in the forty-seven member states of the Council of Europe have fallen well short of what is needed. Stronger legislation, a tougher approach to the perpetrators and better protection of the victims is badly needed if this enormous evil is to be contained. Senator Kox’s plea that this horrific issue remain at the top of the agenda of Europe’s biggest human rights organisation now that the resolution has been adopted received support.
Earlier in the week the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) demanded the release of political prisoners in Azerbaijan, a country which perpetrates many human rights abuses and which has been called upon to meet its obligations if it wishes to avoid measures being taken against it. Russia and Georgia were asked by the Council of Europe to allow access to humanitarian aid to South Ossetia, a region which following the war between the two countries declared itself independent of Georgia and is now one of Europe’s disputed areas. The Assembly spoke at length with Stefan Füle, the European Commissioner for the European Union’s neighbourhood policy, the policy which relates to Council of Europe member states outside the EU, who said he would welcome the chance to take advantage of the knowledge and expertise of this most extensive of pan-European treaty organisations.
The start of a new year is also the time when the various posts are divided up between the political groups. SP Senator Tuur Elzinga was elected Chair of the Committee which manages relations between the Council of Europe, the OECD (which brings together the major industrialised countries) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). PACE serves as the parliamentary platform for both institutions. Senator Elzinga’s report on how the EBRD could play a more effective role in promoting the Council of Europe’s core values – democracy, human rights and the rule of law – was adopted almost unanimously by the Assembly. Tiny Kox was re-elected as leader of the United Left Group and thus will continue to participate in PACE’s executive.