“We must break the silence” on the shameful scourge of contemporary slavery, said archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi yesterday in Geneva at the 27th session of the UN Human Rights Council. Tomasi is the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations Office in Geneva.
Tomasi further spoke of “shocking forms of contemporary slavery,” which he called an “open wound on the social body,” including mass kidnappings and trafficking in young girls. He referenced activities by Boko Haram Islamic extremists in Nigeria and militants of the self-styled Islamic State in Iraq.
Approximately 250,000 children–said Tomasi–have been forcibly recruited, and even used as human shields on the front line of armed conflict, while 5.7 million children are victims of forced labor or forced marriage.
The archbishop’s words underscore the theme taken up by Pope Francis in his Message for the 48th World Day of Peace, January 1, 2015. Francis’ message bears the title “No Longer Slaves, but Brothers and Sisters.”
A statement released by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace last month explained Francis’ choice of this topic for his annual message.
“Too many abominable forms of slavery persist in today’s world: human trafficking, trade in migrants and prostitutes, exploitation, slave labor, and the enslavement of women and children,” the statement reads.
It goes on: “Shamefully, individuals and groups around the world profit from this slavery. They take advantage of the world’s many conflicts, of the economic crisis and of corruption in order to carry out their evil.”
Also commenting on the topic of the Pope’s message was Iraqi Bishop Shlemon Warduni of the Chaldean Catholic Church. “This is an important theme not only for Iraq, but for the whole world,” he said. “The world is progressing toward slavery… we are slaves of divisions, personal interests, of wars and crises,” he said.
In Geneva yesterday, Archbishop Tomasi emphasized the need to fight against poverty, unemployment, lack of education, and illiteracy to eliminate the exploitation of children and trafficking in human beings. “The international community has already developed a number of international conventions and agreements” against contemporary forms of slavery, “but the Holy See believes that these instruments do not fully meet their goals if we do not inspire at the same time to a wider political will and the involvement of all members of society.”
Today we are witnessing a “wide range of continuing human rights abuses, particularly in those areas where civil strife and political violence has resulted in the killing of thousands of innocent people and displaced many others,” he said.
“There is a real risk that these people will be unable to return to their homes from which they were forcibly uprooted,” he noted.