Each year, the Department of State honors individuals around the world who have devoted their lives to the fight against human trafficking. These individuals are NGO workers, lawmakers, police officers, and concerned citizens who are committed to ending modern slavery. They are recognized for their tireless efforts – despite resistance, opposition, and threats to their lives – to protect victims, punish offenders, and raise awareness of ongoing criminal practices in their countries and abroad.
In 2009, Aminetou Mint Moctar, spearheaded highly visible public campaigns to denounce trafficking of young Mauritanian girls to Gulf States and the exploitation of Mauritanian and West African women living in domestic servitude. Because of the work of Ms. Mint Moctar and others like her, the Government of Mauritania now recognizes the existence of these practices. Ms. Mint Moctar has fought for these women – whose voices are not heard in Mauritanian society – to create a legal framework to protect victims and fight impunity. She has been a vocal opponent of the traditional practice of early marriages, which increases girls’ chances of being trafficked or sexually exploited. She heads the Association Femmes Chefs de Familles, an organization she founded in 1999 to provide assistance to victims of domestic violence, rape, and slavery. For her work with these sensitive and often taboo issues, Ms. Mint Moctar has been accused of being a bad Muslim and a traitor to her country and has received innumerable threats. But Ms. Moctar continues her dedication and commitment to assisting female trafficking victims and raising awareness about their plight on a national and international level.
Natalia Abdullayeva has been working since 2003 to combat human trafficking in northwestern Uzbekistan, focusing her efforts on prevention. She has published anti-trafficking advertisements and disseminated them in the markets and buses heading for Kazakhstan, a primary destination point, and she has conducted labor trafficking information sessions on regular private shuttle vans en route to the border. She created a small group of lawyers and volunteers to reach the most remote areas of the Karakalpakistan region, particularly targeting those segments of the population who are without access to television, radio, and newspapers.
Ms. Abdullayeva has also developed partnerships with the private sector, cooperating with the local cellular phone company to disseminate free text messages with anti-trafficking information and a hotline number to subscribers. Moreover, she has established a cooperative relationship with the regional government, working closely with local officials to address trafficking prevention and repatriation of victims.
Read more about Natalia Abdullayeva.
Linda Al-Kalash, of Tamkeen for Legal Aid and Human Rights in Amman, stands with and assists trafficking victims as they seek justice and take their traffickers to court. In the organization’s first 10 months, she received more than 200 complaints of forced labor in numerous sectors and, along with her small team, directly filed lawsuits or worked with prosecutors to file criminal charges in more than 20 cases. These included two ground-breaking cases involving employers who allegedly sexually assaulted, abused, detained, and withheld payments from their domestic workers. Moreover, Ms. Al-Kalash won all 20 cases involving nonpayment of wages and successfully negotiated the payment of wages, release of travel documents, and other remedies for many more migrant workers. Ms. Al-Kalash and her team have received numerous e-mail, telephone, and handwritten threats from a variety of sources. Organizations and individuals who work with Ms. Al-Kalash have also been threatened. Despite the threats, Ms. Kalash remains determined to help the most vulnerable members of society.
Read more about Linda Al-Kalash.
After years of leading innovative efforts for victims of domestic violence and children, Ganbayasgakh Geleg founded the Gender Equality Center (GEC) in 2002 to provide shelter, psychological and legal counseling, rehabilitation, and advocacy for victims of sex and labor trafficking. Under her leadership, the GEC has become a pioneer in urging the Mongolian government to recognize and address human trafficking as a crime. The organization has assisted nearly 300 trafficking victims to date, and its hotline is the primary means for domestic and overseas victims to report their situations and seek counseling in Mongolian.
Ms. Ganbayasgakh has designed university curriculums, textbooks, and pamphlets on the nature of human trafficking. She has organized more than 400 trainings for government officials, police, border forces, social workers, doctors, teachers, and members of civil society. The trainings raised public awareness and focused on prevention, victim protection, and other means of combating the crime.
Ms. Ganbayasgakh’s efforts extend beyond the borders of Mongolia. Recognizing the routes traffickers use, she helped craft an agreement between the police departments of Zamiin-Uud and Erlian, China, to share information and cooperate in combating trafficking.
Read more about Ganbayasgakh Geleg.
Sattaru Umapathi, the anti-human trafficking officer of the Crime Investigation Department for the state of Andhra Pradesh, has led numerous interstate and intrastate rescue operations across India. Officer Umapathi has played a key role in rescuing victims and arresting traffickers; he has contributed to multiple convictions, leading to sentences ranging from four to 14 years’ imprisonment. He also forged partnerships with NGOs across the country and implemented UNODC anti-trafficking protocols in his state police department.
Officer Umapathi has changed the mindset of the his state’s law enforcement community by teaching officials to stop treating trafficking victims as criminals. He has organized judicial conferences and addressed a colloquium in New Delhi, helping educate the judiciary about the need to treat victims with empathy. Officer Umapathi argued for application of the more stringent sections of Indian law in trafficking cases, such as laws related to minors in prostitution, import of foreign girls, and unlawful compulsory labor. He successfully implemented a rescue protocol that included the payment of $220 as interim relief for trafficking victims. Thanks to Officer Umapathi’s dedicated efforts, Andhra Pradesh is becoming a model for other Indian states fighting human trafficking.
Read more about Sattaru Umapathi.
Christine Sabiyumva is a pioneer in Burundi as one of the first women to become an army officer. Now a commander of the National Police’s Women and Children’s Brigade, Mrs. Sabiyumva is well known on the streets of Bujumbura, where she personally searches for children in prostitution and human traffickers. In 2008 and 2009, Ms. Sabiyumva broke a human trafficking ring in which businessmen and women lured 17 young victims across borders to Rwanda, Kenya, and Uganda for sexual exploitation. She continues her work with dedication and determination despite the lack of technical support and human resources available to her, such as dedicated police vehicles or communications equipment. Mrs. Sabiyumva has taken the lead role in reducing trafficking in Bujumbura through investigations, protection, and public awareness campaigns. She is currently traveling across Burundi, with international donor support, to sensitize local officials to the dangers of human trafficking and to raise awareness among local populations about the different types of human trafficking and genderbased violence prevalent within the country.
Read more about Christine Sabiyumva.
Irén Adamné Dunai is the deputy head of the Department for Gender Equality at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor. She was a founding member of the inter-ministerial human trafficking working group and has organized numerous training opportunities for professionals and NGOs to improve assistance for trafficking victims. In 2005, Ms. Dunai negotiated an agreement between the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to provide a 50-bed facility and fund a service contract to open the first shelter for victims of sex trafficking in Hungary. The same year, she helped establish the crisis hotline, which has referred more than 70 trafficking victims to crisis centers. Ms. Dunai personally ensured crisis center workers located near the borders were trained to identify trafficking victims and support their special needs. As a result, these centers now offer short-term shelter to trafficking victims prior to transferring them to the trafficking shelter. In 2009, she secured financial support to open a second shelter for trafficking victims.
Read more about Irén Ádámné Dunai.
Brother Xavier Plassat, a French Dominican friar, came to Brazil in 1983 and began to work with the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) in 1989 on behalf of the rural poor in the rapidly growing northern part of the country. Since 1997, he has been the coordinator of CPT’s National Campaign Against Slave Labor. He leads an extensive network of volunteers who denounce cases of slave labor, provide necessary services for the rehabilitation of rescued victims of forced labor, and advocate for legal enforcement and consistency of public policies against modern slavery. CPT works closely with NGOs, trade unions, landless movements, and small farmers in all 26 states and the Federal District. The organization receives complaints directly from escaped laborers, collects and publishes extensive data on the slave-labor problem, and runs a number of programs to provide alternative employment and income for freed workers.
Brother Plassat has represented CPT on the National Commission for the Eradication of Slave Labor since 2003. He received the Chico Mendes Resistance Medal in 2006 and the National Human Rights Prize of the Presidency of the Republic in 2008. On behalf of CPT, he received the Harriet Tubman Freedom Award in 2008 from Free the Slaves and the John Templeton Foundation.
Read more about Brother Xavier Plassat.
Laura Germino coordinates the Anti-Slavery Campaign for the Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a community organization of more than 4,000 migrant farm workers. Since the early 1990s, she and her co-workers have investigated numerous violent slavery operations in the agricultural industry of the southeastern United States, resulting in the federal prosecutions of the ringleaders and the liberation of more than 1,000 workers. The CIW’s Campaign for Fair Food calls on the world’s largest food corporations to demand an end to slavery and other human rights abuses in their produce supply chains. Ms. Germino has helped develop curriculum for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement on advanced investigative techniques in human trafficking and for the National Sheriffs’ Association on first response to victims of crime. As a co-founder of the Freedom Network Training Institute, she trains NGOs and law enforcement agencies on how to identify and put a stop to modern slavery operations. She has presented on forced labor at the OSCE’s technical seminar in Vienna on agricultural labor trafficking and at the 15th World Congress on Criminology in Barcelona. While CIW has been honored on many occasions, Ms. Germino’s insistence that the focus be on the workers has largely kept her out of the limelight.
Read more about Laura Germino.