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Diplomacy in Action

A Decade in Review, A Decade Before Us: Celebrating Successes and Developing New Strategies at the 10th Anniversary of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act

Luis CdeBaca
Ambassador-at-Large, Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
2010 Freedom Network Conference
Washington, DC
March 18, 2010


As Prepared

Thank you for the invitation to address you today as we discuss where to go next and what strategies will best serve those of you on the front lines against trafficking. The last time I had the honor to address you was when I was a prosecutor at the Department of Justice. Today, I am humbled to be here with my friends in a new capacity. A broader capacity. With broader responsibilities. And with a broader vision of how to combat trafficking worldwide. I wanted to talk with you today about how far we have come, where we are, and where I hope we can go, together.

Recently, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, said, "Slavery is [even] re-emerging in new forms, including the sale of children, debt bondage and human trafficking. Its roots lie in ignorance, intolerance and greed. We must confront these in every way we can. We must create a climate in which such unthinking abuse and cruelty are inconceivable."

Modern history has witnessed as many manifestations of enslavement as there are attempts to define and respond to it in the international community. Ten years ago, the United Nations made yet another attempt, yet this time there was a marked difference. Instead of focusing on one form of compelled service over another – forced labor, bonded labor, slavery, slavery-like practices – there was an effort to put forward the concept that all forms should be criminalized, victims of all forms deserved protection, and prevention of all forms was a worthwhile endeavor to attack the problem at its core. This concept captured in the Palermo Protocol is what we now know by the umbrella term "trafficking in persons" and respond to through the overarching response of the "three Ps." But whatever the particular euphemism we see used, as Secretary Clinton recently said to the Cabinet, "Let’s call it what it is, a modern form of slavery."

In the year 2000, there was a considerable focus on women and children. At the time, the most visible form of trafficking was women and girls from the former Soviet Union being duped by false advertisements for work in Western Europe only to find themselves trapped in brothels and strip clubs. The image of the helpless vulnerable victim, reminiscent of anachronistic approaches to this problem back in the 1800s garnered worldwide attention, but also demonstrated the weaknesses of that old legal regime. It became clear that a holistic approach was needed, one that focused more on the exploitation than merely on the movement of people for immoral purposes. That year, the international community and the United States adopted instruments embodying the "three Ps," which included a strong law enforcement approach that captured the true harm: enslavement in all its forms.

This year, we celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the Palermo Protocol and the 137 countries that have adopted it, as well as the 10-year anniversary of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) signed into law under the Clinton Administration. Thousands of victims have been helped; thousands of traffickers have been arrested and prosecuted, neither of which would have come about without the legal and policy achievements of the last decade.

Over 10 years, we have made appreciable progress in understanding human trafficking:
  • people are enslaved in every country;
  • it is a fluid phenomenon, responding to market demands, vulnerabilities in laws, weak penalties, and economic instability;
  • more people are trafficked for forced labor than commercial sex;
  • there is less duping and kidnapping of naïve victims than there is coercion of people who initially agreed to do the work; movement is not required;
  • men comprise a significant number of trafficking victims; and
  • traffickers use rape as a weapon against women, whether in a field, factory, brothel, or suburban home.

No country has attained a sophisticated or truly comprehensive response to this massive, ever increasing, ever changing crime. Ten years of focused efforts is the mere infancy of a movement; thus, every country is still learning what trafficking is and what works in response to it, and every country must do more to fulfill the promise of the Palermo Protocol as the vast majority of millions enslaved today have yet to feel any progress.

The Obama Administration response builds upon 10 years of the "three Ps" in practice, which has illuminated a new path for the future.

We know human trafficking is: a human rights abuse; a byproduct of conflict; a threat to national security, public health and democracy; a labor and migration issue; and a growing global phenomenon. It is also a crime: a crime akin to murder and rape and kidnapping. And so the Palermo Protocol mandates criminalization of trafficking in persons, and the TVPA is law enforcement driven, because a policy solution to a heinous crime problem must involve freeing the victims and punishing their tormentors.

As long as there are about 5,000 prosecutions worldwide every year, governments send a message that the injustice suffered by victims is not a national or an international priority. Too often the victims of this crime are perceived to be throwaways – runaways, poor, prostitutes, or illegals. Some are still clinging to the image of the "white slavery" victim. These biases and misconceptions of victims impacts whether they are identified and whether their traffickers are brought to justice. A narrow focus hinders a robust law enforcement response and allows traffickers to operate with impunity. Moreover, it diminishes the promise of equal protection under the law, undermining basic rule of law principles. Traffickers should not be assessed by who their victims are, but by the heinous crimes they commit. Otherwise, we are sending a message that the traffickers are not hurting people who matter. All victims have a right to see their traffickers brought to justice and to be heard through the legal process. Compassionate and smart prosecution is thus the foundation of a victim-centered approach.

And yet, prosecution alone cannot provide victims with the compassion and patience that meets their immediate needs and long-term potential alike. The "three Ps" serve as an interlocking paradigm; no single "P" can work independently of another. Therefore, it is not enough to prosecute traffickers if we do not also provide assistance to the survivors and work to ensure that no one else is victimized.

A victim-centered approach does not mean helping a trafficked person long enough to obtain the testimony; it means obligations that extend well beyond the confines of a criminal case. It means partnerships between law enforcement and service providers, not just to win the case, but as colleagues sharing the responsibility of letting the survivors’ voices be heard.

Protection means policies with the best interest of the victim in mind. Like counseling, legal services, educational and economic opportunities and all of the good work that the Freedom Network is known to perform so well. It means the conception of a system and process that recognizes and reinstates the power of the survivor. We can and must assess how better to allow you as service providers to do your jobs, including ways in which legal service providers can keep their doors open. As I work with countries around the world, I see too many who condition any relief on not just willingness to cooperate as here in the United States, but on actual testimony and even winning the case. And in many countries, even that will only delay the inevitable detention and deportation. We need to constantly assess how we can do better. Protection must be viewed and implemented as a responsibility to restore the dignity of a person whose rights were violated just as we view other victims of crime.

Similarly, every trafficker put in prison leads to the prevention of trafficking of future victims by that trafficker. The Palermo Protocol describes prevention as creating public awareness campaigns, addressing root causes, and conducting law enforcement-related activities. But these strategies alone cannot be the sum of our prevention efforts. A decade later, governments are expanding their understanding of prevention to include policies and practices that cut off modern slavery at the source. This includes initiatives in which government, corporations, and consumers come together to ensure that free trade means free labor rather than labor for free.

Prevention at its best targets key vulnerabilities in legal systems, policies and implementation, which allows trafficking to occur such as unregistered births, tolerance within government procurement and contracting, unchecked labor recruiting companies, restrictive visas that can be used as coercive tools, or lax labor law enforcement. It lies in targeted initiatives to protect the rights of marginalized, low-income workers including domestic servants, farm workers, miners, and garment workers who are subject to offenses on a continuum of labor exploitation including trafficking.

Again, we must remind ourselves of the victim. Do we value cheap lettuce more than we value the hands that picked it? We must still criminalize the trafficker and protect the victims while also devising laws, policies and partnerships that allow us to attack the problem at its source.

Prevention can and should also be an effort in harnessing the economic impetus for this crime in order to fight it by increasing criminal and civil penalties for companies that do not adequately police their supply chains and granting preferences to those that do.

This vision of the "three Ps’ I believe is more nuanced and better understood than it has been at any point in our 10 years working together. But it won’t be realized unless we all hold one another accountable to it. The TVPA helps us do so with important new tools that stand for the proposition that ignorance is not an excuse. The strip club owner, who looks the other way as so-called talent agents enslave women, is no longer just a bystander; he is an accomplice. So too for the grower who looks the other way as farm labor contractors use force and threats to get in the crops. To those who have turned a willfully blind eye to the exploitation in front of them, the new law puts down a marker: whether you partake or profit, you’re accountable. Period.

And in that spirit, we need to hold ourselves accountable as well. To hold countries, including our own, accountable for policies and practices that either create or further endanger populations vulnerable to trafficking. This year, we will rank the United States in the annual Trafficking Report for the first time because, as Secretary Clinton said, "I believe when you shine a bright light you need to shine it on everyone, and we will rank ourselves." Last week, the State Department posted a federal register notice inviting your submissions in reporting on the degree to which the United States complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in persons. I am hoping that you will help us present an accurate picture of the successes and challenges the United States faces in combating trafficking, particularly with what is happening at the state and local level.

A year ago, when President Obama took office, people around the globe were hopeful for a new day where America would lead the world through positive change. Today, we have seen the early stages of positive change take place on a range of issues, including human trafficking.

The United States continues to be a global leader on this issue. I am mindful that the world is not only watching, but also replicating what we do. And by "we," I mean everyone in this room. I have seen how our good work at home becomes the international standard to which other countries are held. I am proud in my role as Ambassador to hold up the Freedom Network’s standard of care and partnership as true models for others to follow. You know all too well that our strength is in a collective, collaborative approach because when it is fragmented or partial the victims continue to suffer. Together we bring to bear amazing energy, talent and resources and I think we need to think of ways to capitalize on them.

And so together, let’s agree to spread some core messages:
  • That we are here to assist all trafficked persons whom we encounter, be they foreign born or U.S. citizens or found in labor or sex trafficking;
  • That we will engage in partnerships with the private sector to have companies offer jobs to trafficked persons and who are willing to be accountable for their supply chains;
  • That we will work to identify the weaknesses in our laws and our implementation to provide a better system of enforcement and services;
  • That we will challenge people to think about their slavery footprint and consider where their food, clothing and manufactured goods come from;
  • That we will force what has largely been a federal effort down to the state and local level as well;
  • That we will overcome barriers to identification and services, continuing a victim-centered approach and focusing on populations at greatest risk; and
  • That we keep our doors open to continue the discussion.

In this year of anniversaries, we now find ourselves in an era of new partnerships and new possibilities. We can capitalize on this moment through your leadership, your hard work, and a renewed commitment to work in partnership. There is so much energy and goodwill in this room that, together, I believe we can start to dismantle modern slavery as it exists today in bold new ways.

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