UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: What a great room. Wonderful. Good afternoon, welcome, and thank you all for being here. My name is Maria Otero, and I am the Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs. My role at the State Department is to oversee our foreign policy on a wide array of transnational issues, including protection of human rights, the promotion of democratic principles, and of course, our efforts to combat trafficking in persons.
The progress that we have made in the last decade in the fight against modern slavery is chronicled in this report, which I can barely hold. (Laughter.) Many of you in this room have played a role in all of the accomplishments that we are able to talk about today, whether you come from an NGO that is helping restore survivors who have been victims, or whether you are a U.S. Government official who is helping a country pass an anti-trafficking law, or if you’re opening new shelters. It doesn’t matter whether you are one of these or if you are one of our TIP heroes who are here, but you are showing a real difference in the commitments that can be made, the individuals that can make a difference. Each of you every day, here today, is helping us sustain this drive and this movement forward.
In a moment, we’re going to honor those heroes that are seated here to my right, but I’d like to just take a moment to acknowledge the two heroes that are standing here to my left. We have today, marking the 11th annual TIP Report, because over 10 years ago then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton provided the instrumental leadership to help garner the support we needed to pass the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. It’s this congressional mandate that is giving us the drive for our diplomatic efforts today, but it was her leadership a decade ago that moved the United States to renew its commitment to fight slavery and to deliver the promise of freedom. Now, her leadership as Secretary of State has made this a priority issue in our foreign policy today. And it’s her leadership that will continue to guide as we enter what in this report we are calling the decade of delivery in our fights against modern slavery.
As a prosecutor of the Justice Department, Luis CdeBaca spent years putting traffickers in prison. He was there at the earliest moments in this effort, helping to shape the laws, helping to develop the tools, helping to take the work that was needed to tackle this enormous challenge. He now applies that expertise on the world stage with passion, with determination, and he is our ambassador-at-large, directing the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, and it’s an honor for me to be able to work with him. So it’s my pleasure to introduce Ambassador Lou CdeBaca. (Applause.)
AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Thank you, Madam Under Secretary, and thank everyone for being here with us today. This 11th Trafficking in Persons Report is a snapshot, it’s a diagnosis. But we’re not just looking at a government report. We’re looking at a history book, one that starts much longer than 11 years ago.
Yesterday, The New York Times reprinted a story from June 27th 1861 about escaped slaves seen walking openly in the daylight in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. “It seems that less than three months into the Civil War the Underground Railroad was emerging, if not into broad daylight,” the article read, “at least into the pale summer dusk.” The three men trudged along with their heavy bundles, unmolested by the slave catchers, for that era, truly newsworthy. Legally, emancipation wouldn’t come for another 18 months, but on their walk to freedom they made their own dream come true.
Today, 150 years later to the day, we deliver just a little bit more on the promise of freedom that motivated those men to walk North, the promise articulated by the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment, written in blood and tears, enshrined in our values and in such symbols as the Lincoln Memorial and the Statue of Liberty. As I look at this report, which calls for a decade of delivery, I can’t help but think how far we have come in this modern chapter of our abolitionist fight.
But it also makes me think of the people. I think of a 16-year-old boy begging for change on a New York City subway. Jose wasn’t begging because he was trying to get something to eat. He was begging because he was a slave, and the price for not meeting his quota was a beating or a chaining or the stun gun. Exploited, isolated, he couldn’t cry out for help. He couldn’t even know if someone else on the subway platform was offering to help him because he was deaf and far from home. He didn’t even speak American Sign Language. He didn’t even know what to do or what would happen to him, and, like most trafficking victims, whether male, female, young, or old, the last thing he wanted was for anyone to know how scared he was.
When I met him, I was a young prosecutor, and like Jose, the last thing I wanted anyone to know was how scared I was. I didn’t know how to take care of 56 deaf Mexicans. I didn’t know where they’d sleep or how we’d feed them. I didn’t know how to get them the services they needed or even how to talk to them. Frankly, I didn’t know whether or not justice would prevail, because at that time,we didn’t have a 3P Paradigm, we didn’t have a comprehensive law. We had a set of old laws, good people, and a shared conviction that slavery was as worth fighting then as it was in 1861. Mayors, judges, motel owners, subway riders, immigration and FBI agents, and NGO social workers, an entire city that had missed the slavery right underneath their noses every day for two years came together to try to make it right. Together, by hook and by crook, we got housing and schooling, language training, immigration services for Jose and his friends, and we got prison for his traffickers.
The traffickers lured their victims to the United States by going to deaf schools in Mexico with photographs of a better life, photographs of landmarks like the Statue of Liberty. Think about it. They used our very own symbols of freedom to lure their victims into servitude. But freedom, when given a chance, whether it’s a walk north 150 years ago or now, can prevail. Somehow, after months of secretly and painstakingly writing a note, Jose and his friends made it out, got that note to a police station, and made their dream come true. Like those men in Harrisburg, they made their walk. It was up to us then to honor their bravery through our response.
In that case and other cases in the 1990s, we reacted as best we could. We cobbled together a victim-centered approach of goodwill and common values and a lot of hard work to vindicate this critical civil right. And yet we knew that America owed victims of modern slavery much better than an ad hoc, modern underground railroad. Luckily for us, so did the White House. Coming out of Beijing and through the President’s Interagency Council on Women, a bipartisan consensus and an international paradigm emerged, the famous Ps – prevention, prosecution, protection, and now partnerships – as Secretary Clinton said last year, “a fundamental governmental responsibility to act.” A lot has changed in the last decade. The fight against trafficking has become a social and a cultural imperative.
If you go to the Underground Railroad Freedom Center today, you’ll see an exhibit on modern slavery and how it affects you because they realize that the walk to freedom didn’t end 150 years ago; it’s a journey that someone is having to take every day. And just like the editor of that Harrisburg newspaper, the folks at CNN know that this fight is newsworthy, having aired dozens of stories in the last few months through their innovative Freedom Project. The fight has changed governments with almost 150 signatories to the UN Protocol and over 130 countries with comprehensive laws. At the United Nations with Goodwill Ambassadors like Mira Sorvino, who joins us today, and others, the work is happening in a multilateral fashion.
And in New York, things have changed as well. Most of the deaf Mexicans chose to stay in the United States and have good jobs. There’s now not just federal laws in New York, but a cutting-edge state statute and local task forces and victim protections. And that scared boy, Jose, is now grown up. Last year, he was named employee of the year by the folks that he works for as a janitor. His responsibility every day is to take the ferry across, put on his uniform, and clean the Statue of Liberty. (Applause.)
We know that around the world, there are still tired, huddled masses yearning to breathe free, to take that walk, 27 million of them. That’s the story of this report. The rankings are critically important, but it is the truths in these country narratives that drive us to action, to seize the opportunity of the moment, to finally make good on the promises so dearly won.
Just like the walk north to freedom so many years ago took leaders and guides, fighting modern slavery does not happen by accident. It too takes leaders like Richard Holbrooke, to whom this year’s report is dedicated, who always reminded us of the fact reflected on page 3 of the report that slaves are first and foremost people, people just like us; leaders like a first lady who ignited a global understanding that this scourge still persists in the modern era, that every survivor deserves a recovery and rehabilitation, and that every trafficker deserves free room and board courtesy of the government for a very long time. (Laughter.) Leaders like a senator from New York, who supported this cause through the last decade of development, and now, as Secretary of State, leads us into the decade of delivery, a promise fulfilled so that that statue in the harbor, a beacon of freedom for Jose and so many others, stands not just for what we aspire to be, but who we actually are.
It is my honor to introduce that leader, our own Lady Liberty, the Secretary of State. (Applause.)
*Awards are presented to the TIP heroes.
*Sheila Roseau gives remarks on behalf of the TIP heroes.
UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: Well, I want to thank Shelia for sharing not only her remarkable story but certainly for sharing with us some of the things that are being done. And I want to thank all of you for being here today.
Even though Shelia was trying to give credit to a lot of people and say that these heroes were not really the ones that make things happen, in fact, I think these TIP heroes are shining examples of what a single person can do and the tremendous impact that they can have. And as we look to the future of this struggle, which will continue to have many challenges for us, this idea is one that helps us carry forward. It’s going to be critical for governments to enforce laws. It’s going to be critical for us to be able to have more structural changes, strong partnerships that are going to change the way in which human trafficking is taking place. We’re going to need more collaboration with the government, with civil society, with the private sector. Everyone will need to join forces. We’re going to need to be more innovative in order to bring solutions to this fight.
But in addition to that, all of us are going to have to hold ourselves accountable to this, because in some ways, each of us contribute to it. If you stop and think a little bit about whether the shrimp that you ordered for dinner was cleaned by an enslaved child in some processing plant or the coffee that you drank was picked by a woman whose boss has confiscated her passport and has withheld her wages, it becomes clear that modern slavery is not something that is distant and remote and far away from us, but it is something that knocks at our very doorstep.
So part of our responsibility is also to spread the knowledge, to spread this acting with responsibility. It’s something that will ensure that we will make progress, that we will not lose the momentum that we have as we are entering a decade of delivery, and that we won’t be slowed in the work that we are doing. So for the millions of the victims who live as victims, all of what we are doing will make a difference.
So again, I want to thank all of you for being here, for advancing freedom, for advancing dignity, and for helping remove modern slavery from the face of the earth. Thank you very much. (Applause.)