We have to recognize the risks that internet’s criminal misuse poses
Event on “Combating Online Sex Trafficking: confronting challenges, forging cooperation”
Statement by Mr. François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations - 14 March 2018
Ladies and gentleman,
Thank you for your kind word of introduction. It is a great honor and pleasure to be here with you this evening to speak about a very important issue and a shared priority, combating online sex trafficking.
I would like to start by expressing my warmest thanks to all of you with a special word of appreciation to our partners and co-hosts for organizing this meeting. I would like to start with Yves Charpenel, President of the Scelles Foundation, who is a source of inspiration and admiration, with a special word also to Yves Scelles, the representative of the family here and vice-president of The Scelles Foundation – a foundation whose commitment to our common cause is truly exemplary. My warmest thanks also to Proskauer, our host tonight, it is very important to be with you and I also know your commitment to this fight. I also want to thank Sanctuary for Families and the Thomson Reuters Foundation. It is a great privilege to be part of this conversation, which has become one of our vital, crucial causes at the UN, where we have developed over the last year a strong French-American partnership at the Security Council and at the UN as a whole with my colleague Nikki Haley, including on this very cause. So these exchanges with representatives from civil society and the private sector are always extremely important and valuable. We, as France, want to remain at the forefront of the international efforts to fight against online sex trafficking.
1/-Trafficking in persons for the purpose of sexual exploitation still constitutes one of the most widespread forms of exploitation today and a grave infringement to human dignity. This phenomenon, let’s be clear about it from the outset, is now being driven by criminal organizations that are highly organized and know how to adapt their modus operandi in order to increase their profits in this fast-growing “market”. They exploit the vulnerabilities of certain populations by promising easy money to their victims when in fact all they do is benefit from their sexual exploitation.
While the Internet offers immense opportunities, we also have to recognize the risks that its criminal misuse also poses. In fact, criminals have now clearly realized that they can use the Internet to increase their profits. This virtual universe, which by definition is accessible to all and has physical borders, helps them expand the prostitution market on a global scale, with high profit margins and low visibility. The “risk-benefit ratio” is clear and high. But the use of internet is not limited to the exploitation itself. In addition to supporting the logistical dimension of sexual exploitation, the Internet can also be used to help human trafficking networks to recruit individuals, through fake job announcements for instance. It can also be used as a means to keep pressure on the victims, through the publication of images and videos of victims and access to their personal information.
2/- I am not going to talk too much about these issues since several other experts will talk about it more in depth later and who are much more qualified than I am but I was asked to focus on the international dimension of the fight against online sex trafficking and on practical recommendations for action. Indeed we can take action on several levels.
First, all States have a responsibility to take action on the national level, in accordance with the relevant international conventions and in particular the Council of Europe Convention on cybercrime and the United Nations Convention on Transnational organized crime and its protocol on trafficking in persons. This is the backbone of international law in this field. Trying to implement these international laws means adopting comprehensive legislations and frameworks to deal with trafficking in persons for the purpose of sexual exploitation and the criminal use of the internet. As you may know, in addition to our national plan of action, France adopted a new and important law in 2016 to strengthen our legal framework for combating sexual exploitation. It criminalized the act of paying for sexual services and put an end to the infraction of soliciting. Under French legislation, websites hosts and service providers also have to comply with certain legal obligations. For instance, they have a duty to inform the authorities of any illicit activity as well as to publicly disclose the steps taken to combat online sex trafficking.
However with respect to the fight against other transnational crimes that are facilitated by the misuse of Internet, no State can act alone. We are all aware of that. And this is especially true for the fight against online sex trafficking. Not just because it is a global phenomenon, but because victims are often not in the same country as the perpetrators, and websites that a being misused are also often hosted on servers that are abroad. So, for a wide range of reasons we need to act on the international front.
From both a political and practical vantage point, there is simply no alternative to international cooperation. Cooperation with the countries of origin of the victims, cooperation with the countries where websites are hosted, as well as, and this is why we are gathered here tonight, cooperation with the private sector. This is now the most important part of our fight. We must strengthen our dialogue and cooperation with Tech companies, big and small, in order to tackle this problem together; otherwise we will not be able to succeed. And in this respect, there may be an example we can build on, among others of course: for the past two years, we have made extensive efforts to combat the use of Internet for terrorist purposes. Within the G7, the European Union and at the United Nations, France, alongside its partners such as the United Kingdom and Italy, to mention just a few, has advocated in favor of partnership with Tech companies. It is one of our top priorities and President Macron is personally very much committed to this. We have recognized the importance of building mutual trust with Internet and social media companies in order to achieve a strategic alliance, and to promptly identify and remove illicit content from online platforms, in a manner consistent with our fundamental rights and values.
What we have also learned along the way in the context of counter-terrorism is that the sharing of best practices and technology should also aim to enhance the resilience of smaller companies. This is also very important. The private sector has considerably stepped up its efforts, including by creating a “Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism” (GIFCT), which is a very important body. At the first meeting of the Global Forum in August 2017, representatives from the tech industry, governments and non-governmental organizations came together to focus on three key areas: technological approaches, knowledge sharing and research. In our view, this level of engagement by all stakeholders and this type of public-private partnership should be replicated in order to respond in an efficient way to the use of Internet for sexual exploitation purposes.
3/- I would like to conclude with a simple but important statement: you can count on France. We consider this fight to be at the top of our priorities for moral, ethical reasons, because our values are directly violated, but also because politically we feel that in today’s testing times the best way to fight this scourge is through multilateralism, through international cooperation and partnership. For this, President Macron is really taking the lead because we strongly believe in multilateralism as the best way to proceed in term of efficiency, it is not only an act of faith, to win this battle. And to do that, we need to stick together. You can count on us to remain fully mobilized at the national level of course, as well as within the European Union and naturally at the United Nations. As the issue is primarily being discussed in Vienna, where the UN Office on drugs and crime (UNODC) is located, we intend to raise awareness of the question of the use of internet for sexual exploitation purposes at the next session of the Commission for Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ) in May 2018. We will also remain actively engaged here in New York, both at the Security Council and the General Assembly, to make sure that this crucial dimension of the fight against sexual exploitation is taken into account.
So you can count on me, you can count on President Macron’s strong commitment to this crucial cause that we have in common as I’m sure we can count on each and every one of you.