2018 TIP Report Heroes
Each year, the Department of State honors individuals around the world who have devoted their lives to the fight against human trafficking. These individuals included NGO workers, lawmakers, government officials, survivors of human trafficking, 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 human trafficking trends in their countries and abroad. For more information about current and past Trafficking in Persons Report Heroes, including how to connect with them, please visit the Trafficking in Persons Report Heroes Global Network at www.tipheroes.org.
Ausamah AlAbsi | Bahrain
Ausamah AlAbsi, the CEO of the Bahraini government’s Labor Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) and Chairman of the National Committee to Combat Trafficking in Persons (NCCTIP), has played an instrumental role in increasing protections for trafficking victims and reducing the vulnerability of migrant workers to human trafficking in Bahrain.
As CEO of the LMRA, and previously as the Deputy CEO for Special Projects in the Economic Development Board, Mr. AlAbsi has been a devoted advocate working to improve labor conditions for Bahrain’s large migrant worker population. Under his leadership, the Government of Bahrain launched its National Referral Mechanism for Victims of Trafficking in Persons, which streamlines the identification of potential victims, ensures proper documentation and referral of cases, and provides assistance to potential victims until the resolution of their cases or voluntary return to their home countries. Mr. AlAbsi also led the NCCTIP in establishing an impressive 200-bed shelter for trafficking victims that remains a model for its high standards of victim care and implemented programs to increase protections for Bahrain’s undocumented worker population. In addition, the LMRA launched the “flexible work permit” program in July 2017, an initiative that moves Bahrain away from a strict sponsorship system by allowing some foreign workers to live and work in the country as their own sponsors, in an effort to reduce their vulnerability to trafficking by unscrupulous employers.
Josue Ango | Burkina Faso
Josue Ango, the director of the department in charge of combating violence against children within the Ministry of Women, National Solidarity and Family, is a driving force behind Burkina Faso’s efforts to combat human trafficking. In addition to his regular duties, Mr. Ango devotes his personal time to serving as the National Coordinator for the Working Group on Child Protection including Trafficking in Persons, which brings together Burkinabe government agencies, and national and international organizations, to coordinate anti-trafficking efforts.
Throughout his career, Mr. Ango has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to building the Burkinabe government’s capacity to address this crime. Mr. Ango has organized and conducted trainings for numerous stakeholders, including government officials, social workers, police officers, and traditional and religious leaders on children rights. He drafted the National Program to Combat Child Labor in the mining sector, which included new provisions to strengthen protections for children. Mr. Ango played a critical role in recognizing the need for and developing a solution to establish stronger cooperation between Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire to combat cross-border human trafficking.
In addition, Mr. Ango has worked tirelessly to reduce the vulnerability of youth in Burkina Faso’s two major cities, Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso, through projects focused on the social and economic empowerment and reintegration of homeless youth.
Francisca Awah Mbuli | Cameroon
Francisca Awah Mbuli is a survivor of human trafficking and the founding director of Survivors’ Network, a Cameroonian NGO comprised of trafficking survivors that raises awareness, helps victims escape their trafficking situations, and offers temporary housing, vocational training, and other essential services that survivors need for successful reintegration. As a survivor of domestic servitude, Ms. Awah Mbuli uses her experience to educate and prevent others in Cameroon from experiencing human trafficking. Since 2015, Ms. Awah Mbuli and her organization have helped 28 women from West and Central Africa free themselves from their situations of forced labor, including debt bondage, in the Middle East. Under her leadership, Survivors’ Network has built a unique approach to survivor empowerment by focusing on economic independence and fostering entrepreneurship among women and girls. She has provided guidance to more than 500 victims of trafficking, and her organization has helped create economic opportunities for survivors across Cameroon by providing micro-financing to small businesses and income-generating projects as well as job and small business training.
Ms. Awah Mbuli has sought out creative ways to reach different communities and socioeconomic groups throughout the country, including through appearances on national and international television and radio stations. She has taken every opportunity to advocate for better protections and support services for trafficking victims with Cameroonian and foreign government ministries. Through the outreach campaigns and partnerships formed with international non-profit organizations and her grassroots workshops and programs, Ms. Awah Mbuli and the Survivors' Network have raised the level of awareness among Cameroonians and others around the world.
Yanira Violeta Olivares Pineda | El Salvador
Yanira Violeta Olivares Pineda is the head of the national Specialized Trafficking in Persons Unit in San Salvador, where she leads a team of prosecutors dedicated to holding human traffickers accountable and delivering justice to victims. Ms. Olivares Pineda has been a central and fearless figure in elevating human trafficking as a priority issue for the Salvadoran government and strengthening its efforts to combat this crime. Under her exemplary leadership, the Unit has overcome resource constraints to maintain constant pressure on traffickers. Ms. Olivares Pineda personally opened more than 143 cases involving 174 victims, securing more than 30 convictions with punishments ranging from four to 20 years in prison.
In her role, Ms. Olivares Pineda has been a strong partner of the U.S. government, establishing procedures for information- and intelligence-sharing with U.S. law enforcement on trafficking investigations that have resulted in the identification of traffickers in both the United States and El Salvador, the seizure of their assets, and an increase in the number of traffickers extradited from the United States to El Salvador.
Maizidah Salas | Indonesia
Maizidah Salas is a leading voice for migrant worker rights in Indonesia. Using her experience as a former migrant worker and survivor of human trafficking, Ms. Salas pioneered the establishment of the Village of Migrant Workers, a community that provides skills training and support to individuals and their families who migrate for economic opportunity and that works to increase awareness about human trafficking among this vulnerable population. Her organization employs former migrant workers, including trafficking survivors, to provide training on safe migration practices, economic empowerment, and early childhood education for those working or considering work overseas. The Village has become a model community in Indonesia.
Since 2011, Ms. Salas has served on the executive board of the National Council of Indonesian Migrant Workers’ Union and as the Chairwoman of the local Indonesian Migrant Workers’ Union in Wonosobo. Her ambition and drive have also led her to establish a school for children of migrant workers in a village in Wonosobo, which garnered recognition from the Indonesian government.
Ms. Salas has been a staunch advocate for trafficking survivors and their families, elevating the importance of protecting their rights and offering needed services. She has also raised awareness among Indonesians about human trafficking through multiple public outreach campaigns, including through her role in a recent anti-trafficking film.
Sunita Danuwar | Nepal
Sunita Danuwar has made the remarkable transformation from trafficking victim to one of Nepal’s leading social activists. As the co-founder and Executive Director of Shakti Samuha, an NGO founded in 1996 that began providing shelter support to trafficking victims in Nepal in 2004, Ms. Danuwar has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to empowering other survivors. Under her leadership, Shakti Samuha has expanded its services to provide repatriation assistance, legal aid, vocational and life skill training, livelihood support, job placement services, and psycho-social counseling to more than 20,000 people in some of the poorest communities across 13 districts in Nepal.
Ms. Danuwar has worked tirelessly to prevent human trafficking in poor and rural Nepali communities, traveling to villages to raise awareness and creating plays depicting human trafficking. She recently published her autobiography, Ashuko Shakti (“The Power of Tears”), to elevate self-esteem among survivors and empower them to overcome social stigma when discussing their experiences.
From 2009 to 2011, Ms. Danuwar headed the Alliance Against Trafficking of Women and Children in Nepal, a national network of NGOs working to raise strong and collective voices against human trafficking, and served as a board member of the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, a global anti-trafficking network. Since 2014, Ms. Danuwar has served as a survivor representative on the National Committee on Controlling Human Trafficking. In each of her positions, Ms. Danuwar dedicated herself to giving a voice to trafficking survivors and elevating their perspectives.
Blessing Okoedion | Nigeria
Blessing Okoedion is an inspirational voice in the fight against modern slavery. Ms. Okoedion plays an integral role in pushing Italian authorities to ensure that survivors, especially Nigerian women and girls, receive the services they deserve during their healing process and that law enforcement and service providers engage with survivors in an increasingly culturally informed, victim-centered manner. She selflessly devotes her time to ensure survivors feel they have a trusted champion who can advocate on their behalf as they go through the process of reintegrating into society, including through her work as a cultural mediator for trafficking victims staying in a local shelter run by a community of Ursuline sisters.
Ms. Okoedion has demonstrated exceptional courage in drawing from her own experiences as a trafficking survivor to raise awareness about human trafficking in Italy, where she was subjected to sex trafficking. Ms. Okoedion also partners with the Catholic Church, particularly women religious, and travels throughout her home country of Nigeria to educate vulnerable women and girls in poor and remote areas to help them detect traffickers’ fraudulent recruitment and employment tactics, including false promises of work and a better life in large cities and other countries. In 2017, she published a book, co-written with an Italian journalist, to tell her story and to shine a light on this abhorrent practice.
Ivana Radovic | Serbia
Ivana Radovic is the Head of Policy and Learning at ASTRA, one of Serbia’s leading grassroots anti-trafficking NGOs. In this role, she has worked tirelessly to strengthen Serbia’s response to human trafficking through advocacy and engagement with the government, the development of reports and resources for practitioners, and the provision of legal representation for victims, including free legal review of workers’ employment contracts to ensure compliance with labor laws. She also acts as ASTRA’s public relations officer, boldly serving as the public representative of the organization in the face of threats, harassment, and scrutiny.
Ms. Radovic produces the organization’s annual report on the successes and shortfalls in Serbia’s prosecution efforts on human trafficking cases and has authored a number of key manuals that Serbian court officials reference extensively. These tools have played an instrumental role in helping Serbia’s judicial system provide relief to victims in an increasingly victim-centered manner and enhancing prosecutors’ and judges’ understanding of human trafficking in its various forms.
As a result of Ms. Radovic’s work to build ASTRA into one of the most credible NGOs fighting human trafficking in the country, Serbia’s government established a cooperative relationship with the organization and has included its staff in many of its anti-trafficking initiatives to serve as subject matter experts.
Kim Jong-chul | South Korea
Kim Jong-chul is the founder and former Director of the Advocates for Public Interest Law. He has worked tirelessly as an attorney to ensure justice for victims of human trafficking and as a researcher whose groundbreaking investigative findings have shed light on the issue of forced labor in South Korea and around the world. Mr. Kim’s renowned research studies are based on his meticulous on-the-ground investigations. His findings have increased understanding of forced labor and other human rights abuses across multiple countries and industries, including seafood in East Asia, cotton in Uzbekistan, steel mills in India, electronics in Mexico, palm oil in Indonesia, and garments in Bangladesh.
Through Mr. Kim’s criminal litigation work and administrative advocacy on behalf of trafficking victims, he has fought to prevent the detention and deportation of sex trafficking victims and to secure convictions against fishing companies and individuals for sex and labor trafficking. As a recognized subject matter expert on human trafficking, he has worked extensively with South Korean members of parliament to craft a law that strengthens regulations to prosecute traffickers, protect victims, and prevent human trafficking.
Yosief Abrham Mehari | Sudan
Yosief Abrham Mehari is a practicing medical doctor who has demonstrated an unparalleled commitment to serving survivors of human trafficking in Sudan. He devotes his personal time to ensure victims in Khartoum and in Sudan's remote areas receive high-quality medical care and support. Dr. Abrham Mehari dedicates his nights and weekends to lend his medical expertise on a volunteer basis at Eritrean and Ethiopian safe houses, where the majority of the beneficiaries are victims of trafficking. He has selflessly offered to be on call 24/7 so victims have a primary point of contact when they first seek services after escaping their traffickers.
Access to medical care is often limited or non-existent for trafficking victims who lack legal status and fear reprisal from traffickers. These challenges are exacerbated when the service providers that do exist lack the medical supplies needed to appropriately care for victims. In a demonstration of his extraordinary generosity, Dr. Abrham Mehari often purchases medicine and even medical equipment using his own resources. In addition to volunteering his resources and expertise, Dr. Abrham Mehari coordinates with Sudanese authorities and service providers to see that victims receive proper care and traffickers are held accountable.