Cardinal Vincent Nichols told a UN conference this week that the collaboration between the Catholic Church, through the Santa Marta group, and law enforcement officers to combat human slavery around the world, is starting to work.
Cardinal Nichols, who is President of the group, was the main speaker at the event entitled “Cops and Clergy Working together: The Work of the Santa Marta Group in the Fight against Human Trafficking Worldwide.”
The group was set up after a April 2014 meeting at the Casa Santa Marta, the Pope’ residence, when Pope Francis encouraged its establishment calling human slavery “an open wound on the body of contemporary society”.
According to Cardinal Nichols’ spokesman, the group aims to foster “a symbiotic relationship between law enforcement and the resources of the Catholic Church”.
The panel at the press conference for the event included Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in New York, Kevin Hyland, who is just ending his four years as the UK’s Independent anti-slavery commissioner, and Argentina’s Federal Police General Commissioner, Nestor Roncaglia.
Archbishop Auza pointed out the crucial work of women religious in the group, who had an essential role in the care and rehabilitation of victims. Commissioner Roncaglia affirmed the necessity of ensuring that there were no territorial limits to the work of the group –its work had to be global.
Mr Hyland explained how this can work in practice, describing how it was established that many trafficked people originated in Edo state in Nigeria. He had therefore travelled there to make communities aware of what was happening to trafficked people, help give people reason to stay where they were, and work with law enforcement and local government officials.
Cardinal Nichols explained that the partnership between church and police – “perhaps not the most obvious one on the world” – was growing in its “breadth, its membership and its efficiency”. Trust was not a “given” at the start, he said, but this was “a really important dynamic in this cooperation” and had to be built,
Generated, as it had to be, by honesty.
In this respect, he said participants were not only keen to trumpet any success, but increasingly prepared to give account of their failures – again, an essential component of progress.
He cited Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Myanmar, who had said with deep sorrow that “in this part of the world human trafficking is getting worse”.
“We want to deal with what is true, and that’s the point we’re at,” said Cardinal Nichols.
Mr Hyland explained that 40 million people were being kept in conditions of modern slavery – domestic servitude, forced labour, sexual exploitation and forced criminality, or being used for their organs. Sixteen million of these, he said, were people “in our private economy”.
“We need to make sure no business in the world thrives because of human trafficking or modern slavery,” he said, citing the fact that coltan, used in mobile phones, is often mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo by children as young as four.
“No business should have that in its supply chain,” he said. “Santa Marta can reach out and show where that’s happening, and help make it “a crime of the past, putting it “in the history books where it should have been placed a long time ago.”