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Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons' Conference for Potential Bidders

Ambassador Mark P. Lagon, Director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Remarks at the Conference for Potential Bidders
Washington, DC
December 4, 2008

Good afternoon, friends and colleagues in the fight to end modern-day slavery. It is a great pleasure to welcome you to today’s second annual bidder’s conference to review the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons’ current solicitation and to share with you our overall goals in anti- trafficking programming. Over 80 organizations confirmed for this event which is so gratifying because it means that we are really growing the movement to end modern –day slavery.

From the start, since the Trafficking Victims Protection Act was merely an idea not yet enacted as law, civil society organizations have been in the forefront of defining the problem, creating the models, and implementing the solutions. It was true 8 years ago and it is very much true today.

In my 18 months as Ambassador-at-Large, perhaps nothing has impressed me as much as the people and programs I have witnessed around the world. The brave and selfless advocates, especially those rescuing and rehabilitating the exploited and abused, often functioning with minimal funding, will always be in my heart. I think of Pastor Patrick, in Cote d’Ivoire, working through the organization Prosperité. He was running a shelter and caring for people suffering from HIV/AIDs. He brought me to a miserable part of town where he rescued women trafficked into prostitution—many “disposed of” after contracting AIDs.

And on the other side of the world, in Mexico, I visited a shelter run by an extraordinary woman, Lydia Cacho, a former journalist. She became so compelled by sex trafficking that she has devoted her life to fighting it. As a journalist, she spoke truth to power about how corrupt officials facilitate human trafficking. Now, she is running a shelter, and, this fall, defining protocols for victim service delivery on behalf of the Governors of states in Mexico – something I’m working with her on this week.

I believe that G/TIP’s role is to serve as a catalyst for the great works that can be achieved by you – faith-based groups, feminist organizations, development firms, multilateral entities – all, non-state actors. And I believe that the State Department’s job is to share as much information as possible with you in order to create the conditions of excellence for your programming. With taxpayer funding, we should be creating models that other funders, in turn, adopt as paradigmatic.

One important development from the early days is that the movement can, today, benefit from the global perspective of G/TIP’s International Programs Office. Under the very capable leadership of Jane Sigmon, this team is working harder than ever to process the lessons we are learning from programming achievements around the world. Jane will speak to some of the specific lessons we have learned but I will share just a few program highlights to give you a sense of what we are looking for when we speak of catalyzing excellence.

In Kenya, the Solidarity Center [American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACLIS)] has a program entitled “Combating Trafficking in Persons Through Partnership with Labor and Faith Based Organizations.” It is an example of a U.S. based NGO partnering with local NGOs and faith-based organizations to combat human trafficking. ACILS identified partners in the hotel industry in Mombasa to spread awareness of human trafficking and empower hotel workers to identify incidences of human trafficking and provide referrals to law enforcement and service providers. ACILS assisted in the organization of a domestic workers union to raise awareness in the whole community in Mombasa on the conditions that many of the domestic workers face at the hands of their employers. ACILS formed linkages with Muslim organizations in Mombasa to provide awareness raising efforts, victim referral networks, and legal services to victims of trafficking. Though the organizations predominately focus on the Muslim community within Mombasa, services are provided to persons who request them regardless of faith.

In El Salvador, to file a complaint against a trafficker, the legal system requires that a trafficking victim must be interviewed by several different law enforcement officials from a variety of agencies—several times—which re-victimizes the victim. Save the Children/El Salvador responded by creating an Inter-Institutional Coordination Guide for Prosecuting Human Trafficking Cases, as well as a Single Interview Guide and a Protocol for Immediate Victim Assistance for use by law enforcement to help streamline the process and minimize re-victimization. Save the Children has signed memoranda of understanding with the Salvadoran Institute for the Integrated Development of Children and Adolescents, INTERPOL, and several municipal governments to support use of these tools. In one case, new alliances were formed to solve a critical vulnerability. In the second case, new law enforcement procedures are being implemented as a result of a program.

We know that in many countries police are not pro-active in identifying victims. NGOs have taken the leadership role in training police, gathering intelligence, and working cooperatively with police to help them to do a better job. International Justice Mission, for example, operating in Cambodia, India, and the Philippines, works with the police to help develop cases and plan what will happen to victims PRIOR to a raid. In this way, police get better evidence which improves the quality of police response, while victims receive protection and assistance through the investigation and prosecution and beyond. Where NGOs build this trust, we see police contacting NGOs more often, especially in the hours immediately following a brothel raid but even, increasingly, prior to a raid. Police stations are simply not equipped to provide a safe, comfortable place for rescued victims.

We’ve learned from experience—in the U.S. and globally—that identifying and protecting sexually exploited adolescents is very difficult. Through World Hope International, I’m pleased that we helped support the establishment of an Assessment Center for girls rescued from sexual exploitation. The center provides comprehensive services for up to 90 days while complex issues related to victimization are sorted out. This time frame is so valuable: It allows victims to make informed decisions about whether to participate in criminal proceedings. It allows time for an assessment regarding a safe, longer-term place for them to live. The program demonstrates tremendous cooperation between the Center, police, social services, and many other NGOs in the city.

I think we all recognize that it’s often easier to point to the promising practices of NGOs doing protection work than it is to point to effective government action. One especially difficult area for most countries is victim identification. There are few good models. Ironically, a Tier 2 Watch list country, Albania, shows how important it is to focus squarely on identification. In recent months, Albania improved its national victim referral mechanism, and, as a result, identified five times more victims than before.

For many years, together with innumerable partners, the State Department has spent many hundreds of hours promoting passage of anti-trafficking legislation. And we have been successful. In the past 5 years, foreign governments have passed over 150 acts of new or amended anti-trafficking legislation. Now, the next generation challenge is to move these countries to true implementation of these laws while establishing true protection for victims. Real needs. Real focus. Real people benefiting. I look forward to our discussion today and will take questions after Dr. Sigmon’s presentation about our 2009 grant program.

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