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Universal Human Rights and a Coordinated Approach to Combat Human Trafficking

Andrea G. Bottner, Director, Office of International Women's Issues
Iowa Preventing Abuse Conference
Cedar Rapids, IA
May 2, 2008

End Human Trafficking Now Sign.  AP ImageThank you, Tony, for that kind introduction. I would like to express my appreciation to Mr. Tony Nassif, and the Cedars Cultural and Educational Foundation, for hosting our discussion today. Thank you for your leadership on this important issue.

As the Director of the State Department’s Office of International Women’s Issues, it is a distinct privilege to join you at today’s Iowa Preventing Abuse Conference, and to be given an opportunity to share information about some of the State Department’s efforts to support human rights and to end abuse worldwide, specifically the abuse of human trafficking—or modern-day slavery.

Through forums like this, we continue our dialogue, and more importantly, we continue to identify ways we can further support our shared vision of an America, and a world, where the inherent dignity and worth of every human life is fully realized and human trafficking no longer exists.

As we all know, gender-based violence exists in epidemic proportions around the world. Whether it occurs in the form of domestic violence, the trafficking of human beings, or in the context of war and conflict, such violence and coercion has devastating effects on women’s personal health, the family, and the community.

Preventing gender-based violence and the elimination of human trafficking requires a multifaceted strategy that incorporates a variety of legal, educational, health, and infrastructural reforms. A multi-sector approach, with strong partners, such as NGOs and faith-based groups that are uniquely positioned to provide critical assistance to victims, is essential.

Unfortunately, in too many parts of the world, women still struggle for basic liberties in societies that deem discrimination, exploitation, and violence against women acceptable. In too many parts of the world, women still do not have full protection under the law or equal access to justice. This is unacceptable.

We cannot tolerate women being sold into sexual slavery, denied an education, forced into early marriages, or killed for so-called “crimes of honor.” We must not turn a blind eye when women are excluded from property rights, silenced for speaking out, and suffer disproportionately from abuse.

President George W. Bush is steadfast in his commitment to promoting democracy and respect for universal human rights. Eliminating gender-based violence and the modern day slavery of human trafficking has long been an important goal of U.S. foreign policy. Both President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speak of “the non-negotiable demands of human dignity” and continually reinforce America’s commitment to protecting women against all human rights abuses, especially the threat of violence.

Last month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice presented the second annual Award for International Women of Courage to eight women who have shown exceptional bravery in advocating for women's rights. The women were nominated by U.S. embassies around the world and were selected for their work in transforming their societies by tackling such issues as ending human trafficking; fighting HIV/AIDS; combating female genital mutilation; standing against political corruption; and guaranteeing women's access to justice.

I am proud to share the story of one of the awardees, Ms. Cynthia Bendlin from Paraguay, who was honored for her outstanding courage and leadership in combating the trafficking of women. Through her work with the International Organization of Migration, she has fought the criminal gangs who prey on women in the tri-border area of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. She continues to fight this modern-day slavery despite forced relocation and repeated death threats to herself and her family by the criminal mafia who control the trade in her country.

Cynthia’s work will continue to leave an indelible mark on her society in years to come. By highlighting her as a hero, and the importance of her work confronting human trafficking, America further strengthens the concept of universal freedom and undeniable human dignity in these regions. This is progress to be celebrated.

However, there is much work that remains to be done to guarantee human rights for all, thus ensuring a world that no longer accepts violence against women of any form.

Unfortunately, the trafficking of women and children is a global tragedy affecting millions. Every day, around the world, including in the United States, people are coerced into bonded labor, or bought and sold into prostitution, exploited in domestic servitude, enslaved in agricultural work and in factories, and captured to serve unlawfully as child soldiers.

Human traffickers prey on the vulnerable, regardless of nationality, gender, or age. For example, victims of sex trafficking and labor-slavery can include foreign nationals and U.S. citizens, women and men, as well as children. It is not just poverty and despair, but the traffickers’ evil which exacerbates this problem.

Human trafficking is a dehumanizing crime that involves total control and extreme exploitation, turning people into commodities. According to our statistics, of the estimated 800,000 people trafficked across international borders annually, 80 percent of victims are female, and up to 50 percent are children. Hundreds of thousands of these women and children are used in prostitution each year. This figure does not account for the many millions more trafficked within our own countries.

Human trafficking poses a threat on many fronts. It robs people of their basic rights and fundamental freedoms, it poses a global health risk, and it fuels the growth of organized crime, thereby spurring social breakdown and undermining the rule of law.

The United States has become a global leader in addressing these problems. In 2000, a remarkable and diverse movement coalesced to pass the Trafficking Victims Protection Act which created the State Department’s Office to Monitor Trafficking in Persons, or G/TIP, led by my colleague Ambassador Mark Lagon. That movement, and the subsequent U.S. global leadership it launched, has positively touched countless lives.

In the last five years alone, over 100 countries have passed new laws or amended existing laws to toughen penalties for human trafficking. Thousands of criminals around the world are now prosecuted when, just five years ago, only a handful wound up in jail.

G/TIP is perhaps best known for producing the annual Trafficking in Persons Report, which examines what countries are doing on three fronts—protection, prosecution, and prevention. It is an authoritative assessment of global trends in human trafficking and is our major diplomatic tool for engaging other countries.

Moreover, from a programming perspective, the report not only identifies trends, but serves as a guide for how U.S. Government foreign assistance is prioritized to assist governments to respond more effectively--to address those substantive trends and countries of particular concern. The United States has spent over $528 million dollars for international anti-trafficking programs since 2001 in over 120 countries.

This funding has supported diverse programs ranging from helping Persian Gulf countries draft comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation to stem slave labor, to assisting an NGO which is helping former victims of sex trafficking expand their business operations in Cambodia to ensure they are self-sustaining.

We have also taken steps abroad to fight the demand which fuels sex trafficking. With G/TIP funding, World Vision completed a remarkable public awareness campaign that addressed the demand for child sex tourism. Deterrence messages were placed at every step along the way for prospective child sex tourists including in U.S. airports, on television, in magazines, on the Internet and in airline in-flight videos. The campaign culminated in the destination countries. For example, when tourists left the airport in Phnom Pehn, they were confronted with a billboard message in English: “Abuse a child in this country, go to jail in yours.”

G/TIP also works with its federal partners to mobilize a strong interagency response to helping victims of trafficking. For instance, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) launched a nationwide outreach and educational campaign in 2004 called Rescue and Restore. It also established the National Human Trafficking Resource Center which provides information and resources to victims of human trafficking and others seeking information. The Resource Center makes referrals to local organizations that assist victims as well as to law enforcement agencies in order to help trapped victims reach safety. Over an 18-month period, the HHS national hotline received almost 4,000 calls resulting in more than 120 case leads.

Since 2001, another important interagency partner, the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices have increased the number of trafficking prosecutions by 600 percent compared to the 1995-2000 period. The United States has had four straight years of record-high convictions with sentences ranging up to 50 years.

Many of the models we are creating in the U.S. have proven to be effective, and can also be replicated abroad. Useful models involve close partnerships between the Federal Government and a wide-range of civil society groups.

Our task forces, for example, reflect the close collaboration that can and should exist between government, law enforcement and civil society actors. Forty-two local anti-trafficking task forces have been established in 25 states which work on investigating and prosecuting human trafficking cases in the United States and rescuing victims. The task forces are led by U.S. Attorneys and involve federal, state, and local law enforcement, as well as NGO service providers recognizing their vital role in assisting with the after-care of victims. This collaboration of government and civil society is crucial especially in the realm of victim identification.

We have seen over the years how this important collaboration has been successful in responding to another form of gender-based violence -- domestic violence. A similar movement can be traced when looking at U.S. leadership on this particular issue.

Almost 15 years ago, landmark legislation called the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was passed that created new federal criminal provisions and grant programs and transformed the U.S. response to domestic violence.

The foundation of this legislation is a coordinated, multi-sector victim-centered response, as well as an approach rooted in the belief that criminal justice officials, victims advocates, community leaders, health workers, elected officials, and others must work in collaboration to respond appropriately to violence against women. Victims are safer and justice is better served when everyone in the community understands and is a part of the response. This realization can be understood in the context of human trafficking as well.

As parallel movements to end gender-based violence and human trafficking reach a point of maturation, it is critical for us to do our part and to share best practices.

Perhaps the best example that came out of the domestic violence movement is a model of the coordinated multi-sector response that is needed to respond to gender-based violence. The Family Justice Center model, based on the original Family Justice Center in San Diego, CA, marshals all available resources in a community into a coordinated, centralized service delivery system with accountability to victims and survivors. The goal of these centers is to make a domestic violence victim’s search for help and justice less burdensome and more efficient and effective.

Through the family justice center model, communities are working together to understand and effectively respond to violence against women. Additionally, we are seeing domestic violence service providers considering the linkages between domestic violence and human trafficking in their work. In fact, communities are starting to expand their domestic violence services to include shelter and other services for women who are victims of human trafficking.

This all-inclusive service delivery model has been duplicated successfully all across the U.S. and has begun to spark much international interest. Several countries have already established their own versions of the family justice center model, and many other countries have expressed interest in either learning more about the model or creating their own.

For example, the United States has provided $200,000 to provide technical assistance to set up much needed centers in Jordan and Bahrain and to develop how-to manuals in Arabic. These efforts will assist in providing violence abuse victims with badly needed care, and raise awareness among the public on the ramifications of abuse. I have visited Jordan and have seen the coordinated effort underway which is already leading to progress.

Coordinating services in communities around the world to properly recognize and address violence against women is an important step in mobilizing communities, raising awareness and activating civil society to have the ability to tackle human trafficking.

In both gender-based violence and trafficking in persons, it is critical that we continue to focus on a victim-centered, multi-dimensional and multi-sector approach. As we have witnessed in the U.S., changes in the criminal justice system and a strong coordinated community response are the most effective ways to respond to the crimes of domestic violence and human trafficking. Fortunately, we are seeing stronger community partnerships and multi-sector collaboration working to fight against human trafficking and gender-based violence around the globe.

As a global leader in tackling this issue, the United States has confronted human trafficking on a multitude of levels recognizing our responsibility, not only to share best practices, but to improve efforts to assist victims and throw traffickers in jail.

Strong Presidential leadership, Congressional commitment and support from a diverse coalition comprised of faith-based organizations, community, human rights and women’s groups ensure that the United States' groundbreaking support for the movement to end human trafficking and gender-based violence will continue to be a force for change in the global arena.

Again, I commend the Cedars Cultural and Educational Foundation for hosting this conference, for its vision, and the positive motivation it is generating on behalf of the rights of women and children everywhere. Thank you.

Released on May 28, 2008

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