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 You are in: Bureaus/Offices Reporting Directly to the Secretary > Deputy Secretary of State > Former Deputy Secretaries of State > Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage > Remarks > 2003

Remarks at International Conference on Pathbreaking Strategies in the Global Fight Against Sex Trafficking

Richard L. Armitage, Deputy Secretary of State
Hyatt Regency Hotel
Washington, DC
February 25, 2003

Paula, thank you very much. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I know all of you here now are in your second day of this conference. It seems to me that 400 activists together in one place is a tremendous concentration of kinetic energy. So Iím sure by now youíve moved this issue several hundred miles down the road.

I am also aware that following the Attorney General -- Attorney General Ashcroft -- can be a hard act to follow, even when he is not singing show tunes, something he has been known to do. I want to thank him and my friend, Deputy Secretary Claude Allen [Deputy Secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services] for their comments today, and for the contributions both of their Departments make every day to the protection of the innocent and the punishment of the guilty.

Even though you have already accomplished a great deal and listened to many distinguished speakers, I hope you will permit me to repeat the welcome that Under Secretary Dobriansky extended to you when you arrived, to thank you on behalf of Secretary Powell for traveling to Washington, D.C., for this important meeting of hearts and of minds, and to share a few thoughts with all of you.

Indeed, Secretary Powell had hoped to be with you today, but he is on a plane right now -- probably asleep, actually -- returning from a trip to Asia. I know that you are well aware of the high-stakes diplomacy in which he is engaged. Indeed, the stakes just got a little higher with the introduction in the UN Security Council of a second resolution on Iraq. We will be working assiduously over the next several days to secure its passage. Our concerns about Iraq, its chemical and biological weapons and its nuclear intentions, accounted for a significant portion of the Secretaryís agenda in Asia. But he was also talking about North Korea, its self-inflicted desperation, as millions of people face starvation as a result of mismanagement and just plain bad luck. Of course, he was also discussing Afghanistan. And President Hamid Karzai is here in town with us today. In fact he will be meeting with President Bush about the ongoing operations against terrorists still in the region and the international humanitarian effort to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan.

I would say that while the Department of State deals with a wide variety of concerns every day, these are certainly the focal points right now. What makes each of these situations so challenging is the severity of the threat -- not just to US security, but to the security of nations all over the world. But it is also the sheer scale of human misery in each place. Conflict, repression and abuse have been or continue to be the dominant realities for most people in these countries. Poverty, despair and hunger are their constant companions. The world has found out the hard way that such misery does not stay neatly inside national boundaries. Nor do the crime and lawlessness that tend to flourish alongside. We treat this agony as someone elseís problem at our own peril.

And so I am truly grateful to have an opportunity to be with you this morning -- the people who work every day to solve one of the most troubling and elusive transnational problems today for this nation and, indeed, for all nations.

Indeed, our President, President Bush, has asked that I read to you a letter, and I shall do so now.

He said:

"I send greetings to those gathered for the international conference, "Pathbreaking Strategies in the Global Fight Against [Sex ]Trafficking."

Sex trafficking has devastating effects on victims, families, and communities. To protect the rights of human dignity, I have signed a Presidential Directive to advance my Administrationís efforts to fight these crimes and to hold accountable those who engage in them. While working at home and abroad to raise awareness and to provide crucial assistance to victims, America is committed to helping eliminate this and all forms of trafficking in persons.

I commend the event organizers and all those participating in this conference for your important efforts to prevent sex trafficking, support its victims, and prosecute its perpetrators. Your work helps to improve the quality of life for countless individuals in our Nation and around the world.

Laura joins me in sending our best wishes.Ē

George Bush, President of the United States.

Please allow me to humbly add my appreciation to the appreciation already expressed by our President. Indeed, it is remarkable to me that you have made the effort to come here. After all, this is a rare occasion for most of you. You donít spend much time talking about these issues --
you spend your time actually dealing with them. Some of you come from large, multi-million dollar organizations. Some of you come from what I would refer to as mom-and-pop operations. Some of you try to educate young women, to teach them that their own dreams can make them vulnerable. Others hunt down and jail the criminals who steal and corrupt those dreams. Some of you build shelters to harbor and to help the victims. And others have actually been victims.

You all have different experiences to relate, different concerns to raise, and different contributions to make. But even with all of this considerable diversity, you have so much in common. Because each of you, every single person here, is a hero. And today, all of you are standing together in the fight against trafficking of human beings.

There are a number of countries represented here today that face concerns about trafficking for some time, particularly the sexual exploitation of women and children. But as a global, transnational issue on such a staggering scale, this trade in human flesh is a relatively recent phenomenon. Indeed, it is frightening how fast this insidious business has grown. I think you know the numbers -- and the tragic faces behind those numbers. As many as 4 million people are now sold or stolen every year. Fifty thousand of them end up here in the United States -- and those are just the ones we can count. This is an industry that already brings the hardened criminals running it some seven billion dollars a year, a business so lucrative that our intelligence community estimates it will outstrip the illicit trade in guns and narcotics within a decade.

Of course, it is not just the scale of trafficking that is so vast, it is also the scope. This is a local problem. Communities of every size on both the origin and destination ends of this chain of sorrow have to contend with victims -- and with criminals.

This is a regional problem. Traffickers are regularly transiting state boundaries, too often with impunity, taking advantage of the lack of communication and the inconsistency of laws and enforcement from one nation to another.

But this is also a global problem. Victims, usually young women, end up in slavery and servitude half a world away from home, enduring a constant assault on their bodies and their dignity -- often in a place where they donít speak the language and donít have legal permission to stay.

This vast and vile system thrives on isolation, of the victims from their families and from the communities where they are deposited. But also the self-imposed solitary confinement of local, regional and national efforts to combat this insidious trade.

In this room, weíve got people who work to counter this nefarious business at the local, at the regional and at the global levels. Without question, each of you is playing a critical role in saving lives, whether you are a government minister, commanding an entire bureaucracy to prosecute criminals, or whether you are a parish priest, comforting a victim in a rural village. We are going to defeat this awful trade one person at a time, if we must. (Applause). But without question, it would be far better to join forces Ė as nations, as activists, as private individuals, and as government officials, and multiply the effects of our individual efforts.

The truth is that no single government, no single group can access every dark corner where the criminals operate. The only effective way to have the kind of reach required is to work in partnership with other nations and organizations and individuals, wherever and whenever we can. Indeed, the highly-organized criminals engaged in sex trafficking do not respect borders or boundaries. If we are going to counter them, we simply cannot afford to be any less effective.

And thatís why this conference is so important. Each of you has an established record of success. You have so much to share with each other, including the practical strategies and the practical solutions for dealing with problems and challenges you all face.

I understood you heard last night from Deputy Prime Minister Winberg and Vice President Santos, and that they were able to share with you some of the ways in which Sweden and Colombia have made a national commitment to countering this trade. In that regard, I believe the United States also has much to bring to the table. We are relatively young in our formal efforts to fight trafficking, but we have already had great success in establishing a strong system, even in a short space of time. And while the dedication of a few key individuals, including people you are hearing from or meeting with at this conference, gives us important momentum, I believe we owe much of this progress to an unusually high degree of cooperation within our own government, between Congress and the Administration, but also between the US Government and non-governmental organizations. And it is my belief that the Directive the President just signed, which he mentioned in his letter to you, will help to consolidate and codify our framework for dealing with trafficking.

I know that Deputy Secretary Allen and the Attorney General told you in some detail about this framework for prevention, protection, and prosecution. And I believe the track record they told you about is something the United States can and will continue to share with other countries. But I just want to say a few words about some of the specific mechanisms housed at the Department of State.

In particular, I want to single out the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, your host for this conference. This is the Office responsible for, among other things, writing our annual report, which is not only a clear statement that trafficking is a priority in US foreign policy, it is a document that carries actual consequences. For the first time this year, the findings of the annual report will help determine whether certain nations are subject to sanctions for failing to take adequate measures to fight trafficking. The Department of State also supports prevention, protection and prosecution projects around the world. In some cases in partnership with the Agency for International Development and in others by grants to other governments and private groups engaged in the fight against trafficking.

As I said, we are all in this fight together, and it is essential, absolutely essential, that we join forces. The United States is backing this commitment with resources and with actions. I sincerely hope that many of you will do the same -- and that this conference will be only the first time you come together with your colleagues and your comrades at arms.

As you all know, the stakes are almost unbearably high. In far too many places in the world, freedom, the rule of law, and respect for human lives are hard to come by. And so in the end, this conference, this fight we are all engaged in, this is not just about what we stand against. This is also about what we stand for. (Applause). We all stand for a world in which women, children and men everywhere have the opportunity to live in dignity, where dreams for a better life can become reality.

And so I want to encourage all of you to continue this noble endeavor, to thank you for your commitment to securing freedom, human rights and the rule of law not just for your own nations -- but for all of the nations of the international community.

Thank you all very much. (Applause).

Released on February 25, 2003

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