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World Faith leaders join Pope to sign human trafficking declaration

Pope Francis at today's Global Freedom Network meeting

Pope Francis has joined 12 other world faith leaders in a ground-breaking initiative “to eradicate modern slavery” by 2020.

The Pope, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew from Greece and senior representatives of the Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist faiths, gathered at the Vatican this morning to adopt the Joint Declaration Against Modern Slavery.

The declaration stated: “Modern slavery, in terms of human trafficking, forced labour and prostitution, organ trafficking, and any relationship that fails to respect the fundamental conviction that all people are equal and have the same freedom and dignity, is a crime against humanity.”

The declaration on the World Day for Abolition of Slavery was organised by the Global Freedom Network, which was launched at the Vatican in March. Pope Francis opened this morning’s conference with a very strongly worded condemnation of human trafficking as a crime against humanity.

He said that everyone is born with the same dignity and freedom, and that anything that hurts this is an abhorrent crime against humanity. Everyone is called to action, he said; we must deplore everything depriving people of their God-given dignity.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said: “No human body can in any circumstances be an object to be enslaved.” He continued: “We gather to affirm a deep shared commitment for the liberation of those humiliated, abused and enslaved.”

He said: “Today when faiths are seen as source of conflict, the interfaith end slavery movement is a good sign.” We can end slavery by creating “slave-free” supply chains, and not investing in companies that enslave. “We have the will, we have the common purpose, this can be done; may God bless our action together.”

Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka said he had joined the historic end slavery event “to ask that all forms of slavery be condemned with the harshest penalties”. He said: “Enslaving a person undermines the image of God,” and he praised “the memory of all peoples and nations who have ever lighted the torch of liberty and gave their lives for it”.

“Islam considers emancipation of slaves as one of the greatest acts of worship,” said Dr Abbas Shuman, representing the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar. He said that we must work together to “push countries to enact laws and legislations that deter the deprivation of freedoms”.

Hindu guru Mata Amritanandamayi, who is known as Amma (Mother), spoke of the need for love and empathy as the transformative power to end slavery.

Speaking to the conference by video, Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew said it was tragic that “the most negatively affected are the vulnerable and poor”. Also on video, Grand Ayatollah Sheikh Basheer Hussain al Najafi said that “contemporary slavery is unjust and unfair” and is a “means to spread terror”.

“We faith leaders must work together” to “free human beings from slavery in all its forms,” said Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi al-Modarresi. He called upon God “to give this assembly his blessing and I join my voice to this cause”.

‪UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon sent his support to the End Slavery event, saying: “We must join forces to stop this crime.” He went on: “Modern day slavery and trafficking are serious violations of human dignity and rights.”

He said: “Let us come together across faiths, across communities and across the world”, calling for “renewed commitment to cooperate” to end slavery and money for funds that “give victims a place where they can be heard”.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, is this week hosting a conference in London on sex trafficking. The meeting of the Santa Marta group, named after the guest house in Rome where Pope Francis lives, includes Church leaders and senior police; it will be attended by Cardinal John Onaiyekan of Nigeria, Home Secretary Theresa May and Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe.

Last week the Archdiocese of Westminster announced the opening of Caritas Bakhita House in west London, a “triage” centre for the emergency placement of women escaping human trafficking. The house will provide accommodation for up to 14 women over the age of 17, offering both them and non-residents emergency support, psychosexual therapy, legal and financial assistance and mentoring and help with accessing accommodation.

Retired Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland, a Catholic, was appointed Britain’s first anti-slavery commissioner by the Home Secretary last month.