The release of the 20th anniversary Trafficking in Persons Report marks a historic milestone in the fight to end trafficking in our world. The United States is committed to ending all forms of modern slavery, and one of the strongest indications of our commitment is this report. We remain steadfast in declaring that there is no excuse for human trafficking, and governments must take bold action to address it in all its forms.
We have accomplished so much in the last 20 years. 20 years ago we did not have the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) that created the Trafficking in Persons Office and mandated that stopping traffickers and caring for survivors should be prioritized in foreign policy. The passage of the TVPA at the end of the year 2000 established the annual Trafficking in Persons Report as a critical tool for diplomacy in action.
20 years ago, there was no UN protocol to end trafficking in persons. A few weeks after the United States passed the TVPA, the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, was adopted, and 80 countries signed-on right away. In the last 20 years, that number has more than doubled. Today, 178 parties have acceded to the Protocol. The Protocol is now one of the most widely adopted international legal instruments.
Since 2000, we have seen 154 countries pass anti-trafficking legislation.
Our engagement has made a difference. This report and the United States have made a positive difference. And now it is incumbent upon all of us to ensure these laws are put to use. Governments must take action and lead if we are ever to see a world free from human trafficking.
Even as we highlight this great progress, it is important to note that some governments are themselves acting as traffickers. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo has determined that 10 countries, rather than fulfilling their commitment to protect victims, have a “government policy or pattern” of trafficking, forced labor, sexual slavery, or recruitment or use of child soldiers: Afghanistan, Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Eritrea, North Korea, Russia, South Sudan, and Turkmenistan.
As people of good will, we must not allow these countries to deny the freedom and dignity endowed to all human beings. For the next 20 years and beyond, the TIP Report will continue to serve as a tool to these ends.
The call of this 20th anniversary is clear. We must commit ourselves to our goal of freedom. What traffickers are doing is an affront to human dignity and life – but – we can stop the traffickers, protect the victims, and work to prevent this crime.
Our work generates tangible hope for survivors around the globe.
About the Author: John Cotton Richmond serves as Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.