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Japan will host the first international symposium exclusively focusing on ways to combat the increasingly serious problem of human smuggling in the Asia-Pacific region in mid-January, Foreign Ministry officials said Thursday.

The symposium will be held at a Tokyo hotel on Jan. 20 under the ministry’s sponsorship. Academics as well as officials from regional governments and international organizations will be invited to attend, the officials said, requesting anonymity.

According to the officials, the participants will include Carol Bellamy, secretary general of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); Toshinori Kanemoto, head of the International Criminal Police Organization, or Interpol, as the police body is better known; and Helena Carlen, vice chairman of the End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism (ECPAT), a Bangkok-based international nongovernmental organization.

The officials said the symposium will aim to help deepen the participants’ understanding of the current human-smuggling situation in the Asia-Pacific region as well as their understanding of the steps being taken by Japan and the international community to cope with the problem.

The officials said they expect the outcome of the discussions to be reflected in Japan’s preparations for hosting the next annual summit of the Group of Eight major nations in Okinawa in July. The G8 comprises the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and Japan.

Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi has expressed a desire to have the question of “human security” and “an Asian viewpoint” reflected in discussions at the Okinawa summit, which will be the last G8 summit held in Asia in the 20th century.

In a speech at a symposium on human security in Tokyo earlier this month, Obuchi said Japan will make ensuring human security a major pillar of its foreign policy and intends to actively take the initiative in the international community to achieve that goal.

Human security is a relatively new concept, which, unlike national security, focuses on protecting civilians from various threats, including organized crime.

At its summit in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the G8 nations established a group of high-level security experts to discuss measures to combat international organized crime.

At their most recent summit, in Cologne, Germany, in June, the G8 leaders also vowed in a declaration to “sustain the momentum of international efforts to combat transnational organized crime and the threat it represents to political, financial and social stability worldwide.”

The G8 leaders specifically stressed the need for an early conclusion of the negotiations on U.N. conventions and protocols on organized crime. The U.N.’s legislative measures to combat organized crime, including ones on human smuggling, are presently being negotiated. They are to be adopted in the autumn of next year.

“The issue of human smuggling is becoming increasingly acute in the Asia-Pacific region as a whole, reflecting a rapid globalization, continued poverty and growing activities by transnational criminal organizations,” said an official of the Foreign Ministry’s Human Rights and Refugee Division.

“Japan is no exception,” the official said. “There are a lot of cases in which criminal organizations help smuggle women into the country from other Asian countries and force them to serve as prostitutes.

“The issue of human smuggling in the Asia-Pacific region needs to be addressed comprehensively by taking measures not only to prevent and crack down on the matter, but also to protect victims in close cooperation between governments, international organizations and nongovernmental organizations,” the official said.

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