Archbishop Auza talks of the importance of partnership at UN conference

Archbishop Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, has given an address at “The Santa Marta Group: Police and Religious Leaders Partnering to Eradicate Modern Slavery By Building Trust in Leadership, Action and Accountability” at the United Nations.


I am very happy to welcome you to this afternoon’s event on the Santa Marta Group and its work in bringing police and religious leaders together in partnership to fight the plague of human trafficking and all forms of modern slavery.

The Santa Marta Group takes it name from Pope Francis’ residence in the Vatican. It was in that residence, in April 2014, that police chiefs from around the world stayed during a two-day conference that culminated in a joint declaration, called the Santa Marta Commitment, in which the senior law enforcement officials pledged themselves: to eradicate the serious criminal activity of trafficking in persons; to work together on an international level to improve prevention, pastoral care and reintegration or those who have suffered; and to develop partnerships with the Church and civil society to bring justice to those who are responsible for these horrendous crimes and to alleviate the suffering of the victims.

The Santa Marta Group exists to follow through on those commitments.

Pope Francis has addressed the members of the Santa Marta Group several times and said that this association offers an “essential contribution to addressing the causes and effects of this modern day scourge,” and that “during the short period of its existence, the group has achieved a great deal.” After acknowledging that the approaches and expertise of law enforcement and of the Church to human trafficking certainly differ, he insisted that they are “complimentary” and “can and must go together.

Cooperation between bishops and police chiefs, he says, is “decisive” for governments to “reach the victims of human trafficking in a direct, immediate, constant, effective and concrete way.

Those adjectives echo what Pope Francis himself said here at the United Nations during his 2015 speech to the General Assembly, when he emphasized that “our world demands of all government leaders a will that is effective, practical and constant, [leading to] concrete steps and immediate measures for … putting an end as quickly as possible to the phenomenon of social and economic exclusion, with its baneful consequences: human trafficking, the marketing of human organs and tissues, the sexual exploitation of boys and girls, slave labor, including prostitution…. We need to ensure that our institutions are truly effective in the struggle against all these scourges.

Pope Francis believes that the Santa Marta Group is not only already a crucial part of those necessary, practical, concrete and immediate means to end trafficking as soon as possible, but also a very important and inspiring sign of the type of partnerships needed across the board if our institutions are going to be successful in that fight.

With the help of God and your cooperation,” Pope Francis told the Group’s members, “this indispensable service of the Santa Marta Group will be able to liberate the victims of new forms of slavery, rehabilitate the excluded, unmask the traffickers and those who create this market, and provide effective help to cities and nations.”

Here at the United Nations, so many Permanent Missions, Agencies, and civil society organizations have been working so hard for many years in the fight against human trafficking and all forms of modern slavery.

  •  The international community adopted in 2000 the landmark Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children.
  •  In 2010, the UN passed the Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons, just re-appraised last year, that focused our efforts on the four P’s of prevention, protection of victims, prosecution of crimes, and strengthening of partnerships.
  •  In 2015, we adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in which there are three separate targets related to human trafficking, 5.2, 8.7 and 16.2, in which the global community committed itself to “eliminate all forms of … trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation” of women and girls, to “take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labor, end modern slavery and human trafficking,” and to end the “abuse, exploitation, trafficking … against children” by 2030.
  •  And throughout this year, as we have been engaged in intergovernmental negotiations toward a Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, we are poised to adopt Objective 10, which is a highly detailed eight-part commitment. It aims to strengthen international resolve to end impunity against trafficking networks; to improve laws, procedures, judicial cooperation and enforcement to enhance prosecution; to protect and assist migrants who have been trafficked; to disrupt financial flows; to make sure victims are not criminalized; to facilitate access to reporting; to ensure that the protection and assistance of victims are not conditional upon cooperation with authorities; and to provide trafficking victims with temporary or permanent residence and work permits to allow them access to justice and to a new life.

These commitments, and others, are really important, but they’re not enough. They need to be followed up with action on the ground. And the Santa Marta Group is one of the many groups collaborating on the ground to make these international commitments consequential. Today we are going to find out how.

I’d like to finish my opening remarks by referring to a story from the Gospel that I think illustrates very well the role of the Santa Marta Group in the battle against human trafficking.

The Papal Residence is named after Saint Martha, a woman from just outside of Jerusalem who, with her brother Lazarus and sister Mary, used to welcome Jesus to her home. Once, when Jesus was over, Martha was working in the kitchen while Mary stayed in the living room, sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to him talk. Martha appealed to Jesus to tell Mary to get up and help her. And since that time, Saint Martha has been considered not only a patron saint of hospitality but also of hard work!

When I think about the Santa Marta Group, I see that same hard work and hospitality. The enduring struggle to eradicate modern slavery is indeed difficult labor, but the members are engaged in it with persevering commitment. The members and organizations affiliated with it are also a model of hospitality. They strive to care for those who are or have been ensnared in human trafficking with dignity, even as they would seek to care for Jesus himself; and they help to rehabilitate those who have been wounded, feeding them and accompanying them with perseverance on a new Passover from slavery to true freedom.

And that’s why so many find the Santa Marta Group collaboration a powerful burst of light amidst the profound darkness of human trafficking.