UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: Good afternoon, everyone. And welcome to the Department of State. It’s wonderful to have you all here. I want to especially welcome Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith for being here with us. Thank you for being here. (Applause.)
Every year, this event brings together committed leaders and activists from across the anti-trafficking movement, and the enthusiasm that’s surrounding this rollout shows us the momentum that we have built in the struggle against modern slavery.
I am Maria Otero. I am the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights. My office oversees the bureaus that help countries and governments create just societies, societies that are grounded in democratic principles that guarantee respect for human rights and that apply the rule of law. Whether we’re helping strengthen judicial systems or we’re denouncing human rights abuses or helping build strong law enforcement capacities or combating trafficking in persons, we’re aiming to help countries protect the individual citizens in their countries.
Trafficking challenges are one of the problems that we have. And it is also the one area that deals with one of our most fundamental values. That is the basic freedom and dignity of every individual. Trafficking also tears at the very fabric of society. It rips families apart. It devastates communities. It holds people back from becoming full participants in their own political processes in their own economies. And it challenges the ability of countries to build strong justice systems and transparent governments. That’s why fighting modern slavery is a priority for the United States. In that fight, we partner with governments around the world to improve and increase the prosecution of this crime, to prevent the crime from spreading, and to protect those individuals who are victimized by it.
While governments bear this responsibility of protecting their individual citizens, this fight depends on a broader partnership as well. Without the efforts of civil society, the faith community, the private sector, we would not be able to advance and we would not be able to see the advances that the report highlights. The report that we are issuing today guides our work. It represents the very best knowledge and information on the state of modern slavery in the world today. It shows the fruit of partnerships around the world. It shows the strides that we’ve made in protecting individuals, and it shows how far we yet still have to go to assure the basic human rights.
I want to thank everyone who has worked this last year to compile these reports, from the NGOs that submit this information to the governments that provide us with data, from the diplomats in our overseas missions, to the staff of the Office of Monitor and Combating Trafficking in Persons who are here today. And today really is the culmination of tireless work over many months that they have taken on. And for that reason, it is really my pleasure and my privilege to be able to introduce my colleague who runs that office and who has shepherded and given leadership to this process, our Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons Luis CdeBaca. (Applause.)
AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Thank you, Madam Under Secretary, for the introduction and for your leadership here at the State Department. Bringing so many different issues together under this label of civilian security over the last year has allowed room here in the State Department and across the U.S. Government for constructive collaborations, whether we’re dealing with human rights, migration, criminal justice, war crimes, counterterrorism, or, as today, human trafficking. Because building democracy, growing economies, unleashing the full potential of the individual, these things don’t just happen. They start with people.
Around the world in the last year, we’ve heard those people, their voices calling, calling out for democracy, for greater opportunity. We recognize that sound. It’s the sound of hope. And traffickers ensnare their victims by exploiting that hope, especially the hope of the vulnerable. “Come with me, I’ll help you start a modeling career. Pay me $10,000, I’ll get you that job. I love you. I’ll take care of you. Just do this for us.” As long as the Trafficking in Persons Report is needed, we will find in its pages account after account of traffickers peddling false hope.
But that’s not all that we find in the pages of this report because every year that passes, those false hopes are overtaken more and more by real hope; the real hope that the modern abolitionist movement provides. And just as trafficking takes many forms, the way that we fight slavery today, the way that we provide hope for those who have been exploited, is growing. It is growing more diverse and more innovative, and so are the people who are stepping up.
We see it in the private sector, where corporate leaders are using their business skills. They’re hearing from consumers who don’t want to buy things tainted by modern slavery. Leaders like CEO Tom Mazzetta. When he read a report about forced labor in the fishing industry, he wasn’t just shocked. He acted. He wrote two letters. The first was to the company he used, until that day, to source calamari. The second was an open letter to all of his customers telling them that his brand was his family, his family name, and he would not taint it or his customers with slavery in his supply chain. We’re inspired by his principled stand.
We see it among activists like Jada Pinkett Smith and her family, who have a unique platform from which to act. When her daughter Willow began asking about these types of subjects, she didn’t just explain it away as something that happens over there. She got to work. She’s launching a new website to serve as a resource for victims and survivors and is an information hub for those who seek to learn more about this crime. Jada, we thank you for your advocacy.
We see it in people’s day to day lives, like when Aram Kovach was watching CNN one day. He saw the story of a young boy castrated because he refused to take part in a begging ring. He wasn’t just horrified by the reality of modern slavery. Aram did something. He got in touch with the boy’s family and he paid for him to come to the United States for surgery. Mr. Kovach we’re moved by your compassion.
And if I can take a moment of personal privilege, we see it in the men and women who contribute to this report: our colleagues at embassies around the world, in our regional bureaus here in Washington, and especially the reports in political affairs team of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. We thank you all for your rigor, your commitment, and the zeal with which you attack this problem.
And we see it ultimately in the victims, the survivors, whether they choose to become activists or whether they choose to lead a life of quiet anonymity. When you log on to slaveryfootprint.org – and I hope you do – and it asks you how many slaves work for you, remember that those victims are not statistics. It’ll give you a number, but these people are not numbers. They are people with hopes, with dreams, with courage, and with names. Remember their names, names like Amina, Maria Elena, Joel, Ashley. It’s their courage that challenge us to deliver on this promise, this promise of freedom.
And it’s my pleasure to introduce someone who has never turned away from that challenge. From the start of this effort, when most people didn’t want to talk about modern slavery, to this day, when we recommit ourselves to the vision of a world without slavery, ladies and gentlemen, the Secretary of State. (Applause.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Thank you all very much. And I am delighted to see a standing room only crowd here in the Benjamin Franklin Room for this very important annual event. I welcome all of you here to the State Department. And I want to begin by thanking Ambassador CdeBaca and his team for all the hard work that goes into this report, and the passion that they bring to the fight against modern slavery. I would like, Lou, for you and your team to either stand or wave your hand if you’re already standing. Could we have everyone from – (applause) – thank you. I so appreciate what you do every day, not just when we roll out the report, and I’m very proud to be your colleague.
I also want to welcome our 10 TIP heroes, whose work is making a real difference. You will hear more about each one individually when we recognize them, but I want, personally, to thank them because they do remind us that one person’s commitment and passion, one person’s experience and the courage to share that experience with the world, can have a huge impact. And I am delighted to welcome all of our TIP heroes here today. Thank you. (Applause.)
And I will join Lou in thanking Jada Pinkett Smith and Will for being here, and through you, your daughter. Because, as Lou said, it was their daughter who brought this issue to Jada’s attention, and I am so pleased that she has taken on this cause. And we look forward to working with you.
In the United States today, we are celebrating what’s called Juneteenth. That’s freedom day, the date in 1865 when a Union officer stood on a balcony in Galveston, Texas and read General Order Number 3, which declared, “All slaves are free.” It was one of many moments in history when a courageous leader tipped the balance and made the world more free and more just. But the end of legal slavery in the United States and in other countries around the world has not, unfortunately, meant the end of slavery.
Today, it is estimated as many as 27 million people around the world are victims of modern slavery, what we sometimes call trafficking in persons. As Lou said, I’ve worked on this issue now for more than a dozen years. And when we started, we called it trafficking. And we were particularly concerned about what we saw as an explosion of the exploitation of people, most especially women, who were being quote, “trafficked” into the sex trade and other forms of servitude. But I think labeling this for what it is, slavery, has brought it to another dimension.
I mean, trafficking, when I first used to talk about it all those years ago, I think for a while people wondered whether I was talking about road safety – (laughter) – what we needed to do to improve transportation systems. But slavery, there is no mistaking what it is, what it means, what it does. And these victims of modern slavery are women and men, girls and boys. And their stories remind us of what kind of inhumane treatment we are still capable of as human beings. Some, yes, are lured to another country with false promises of a good job or opportunities for their families. Others can be exploited right where they grew up, where they now live. Whatever their background, they are living, breathing reminders that the work to eradicate slavery remains unfinished. The fact of slavery may have changed, but our commitment to ending it has not and the deeply unjust treatment that it provides has not either.
Now the United States is not alone in this fight. Many governments have rallied around what we call the three P’s of fighting modern slavery: prevention, prosecution, and protection. And this report, which is being issued today, gives a clear and honest assessment of where all of us are making progress on our commitments and where we are either standing still or even sliding backwards. It takes a hard look at every government in the world, including our own. Because when I became Secretary of State, I said, “When we are going to be issuing reports on human trafficking, on human rights that talk about other countries, we’re also going to be examining what we’re doing,” because I think it’s important that we hold ourselves to the same standard as everyone else.
Now, this year’s report tells us that we are making a lot of progress. Twenty-nine countries were upgraded from a lower tier to a higher one, which means that their governments are taking the right steps. This could mean enacting strong laws, stepping up their investigations and prosecutions, or simply laying out a roadmap of steps they will take to respond.
But this issue and the progress we’ve made are about much more than statistics on prosecutions and vulnerable populations. It’s about what is happening in the lives of the girls and women I recently met in Kolkata. I visited a few months ago and was able to meet with some extraordinary women and girls who were getting their lives back after suffering unspeakable abuses. One young girl, full of life, came up and asked me if I wanted to see her perform some karate moves. And I said, “Of course.” And the way she stood up so straight and confident, the pride and accomplishment in her eyes, was so inspiring. This was a child who’d been born in a brothel to a young mother who had been forced and sold into prostitution. But when her mother finally escaped and took her daughter with her, they were out of harm’s way and finally able to make choices for themselves.
Now I don’t know what’s going to happen to that young girl, whose image I see in my mind’s eye, in the years and decades ahead. But I do know that with a little help, her life can be so much better than her mother’s. And that’s what we need to be focused on, and it’s what we need to try to do for all victims and survivors.
That’s why in this year’s report, we are especially focused on that third P, victim protection. And in these pages, you’ll find a lot of proven practices and innovative approaches to protecting victims. This is a useful and specific guide for governments looking to scale up their own efforts. What kind of psychological support might a victim need? How should immigration laws work to protect migrant victims? How can labor inspectors learn to recognize the warning signs of traffickers? And what can you and all of us do to try to help?
When I met with the people who were working with victims in Kolkata, I met several young women from the United States who had been inspired by reading about and watching and going online and learning about what was happening in the efforts to rescue and protect victims. And they were there in Kolkata, working with organizations, NGOs, and the faith community, to do their part. So this is a moment for people to ask themselves not just what government can do to end modern slavery, but what can I do, what can we do together.
Ultimately, this report reminds us of the human cost of this crime. Traffickers prey on the hopes and dreams of those seeking a better life. And our goal should be to put those hopes and dreams back within reach, whether it’s getting a good job to send money home to support a family, trying to get an education for oneself or one’s children, or simply pursuing new opportunities that might lead to a better life. We need to ensure that all survivors have that opportunity to move past what they endured and to make the most of their potential.
I’m very pleased that every year we have the chance to honor people who have made such a contribution in this modern struggle against modern slavery. And I’m also pleased that this is a high priority for President Obama and the Obama Administration. It’s something that is not just political and not just a policy, but very personal and very deep. You might have seen over the weekend a long story about Mrs. Obama’s roots going back to the time of our own period of slavery and the family that nurtured her, which has roots in the fields and the houses of a time when Americans owned slaves.
So as we recommit ourselves to end modern slavery, we should take a moment to reflect on how far we have come, here in our country and around the world, but how much farther we still have to go to find a way to free those 27 million victims and to ensure that there are no longer any victims in the future.
Thank you all very much. (Applause.)
AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: We are joined today by 10 amazing individuals representative of thousands of more amazing individuals who work so hard to do their part in this fight. And I’d ask that the TIP heroes from this side of the stage come over and join us starting with –
SECRETARY CLINTON: Stand over here?
AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: I think we’re going to do it right over here. Starting with Marcelo Colombo. Marcelo Colombo from Argentina, in recognition of his profound influence on efforts to investigate and prosecute human trafficking cases and take a bold stance against corruption and official complicity. Marcelo Colombo. (Applause.)
In recognition of her extraordinary commitment to uncovering human trafficking cases, her innovative strategy to raise public awareness in spite of limited resources, and a proactive approach to providing protection services to victims in Aruba, Jeannette Richardson-Baars (Applause.)
In recognition of her ambitious efforts to strengthen legislative and criminal justice responses to trafficking in Southeast Asia and her substantial contribution to identify the core elements of a comprehensive anti-trafficking model from Australia, Anne Gallagher. (Applause.)
In recognition of his amazing courage to escape slavery and his remarkable activism to end human trafficking, raising awareness of labor exploitation in the fishing industry of Southeast Asia, Vannak Anan Prum. (Applause.)
In recognition of his unwavering efforts in the face of threats and acts of violence against him and his family to provide aid to trafficking victims in the Republic of the Congo, Raimi Vincent Paraiso. (Applause.)
In recognition of his dedication to victim protection and support and his tireless work to enlist new partners in anti-trafficking efforts in Greece, Phil Hyldgaard. (Applause.)
For her compassion and courage in bringing attention to the suffering of the human trafficking victims in the Sinai and her groundbreaking projects that identify these abuses, Sister Azezet Habtezghi Kidane. (Applause.)
For her ongoing and exemplary leadership to increase engagement and strengthen commitments to fight trafficking in the OSCE region, Judge Maria Grazia Giammarinaro. (Applause.)
In recognition of her courageous advocacy on behalf of vulnerable people and her pioneering work to outlaw slavery once and for all in Mauritania, a country in which she was the first woman lawyer, Fatimata M’Baye. (Applause.)
The founder of International Justice Mission, an internationally recognized human rights organization, for his work to preserve rule of law around the globe, Gary Haugen. (Applause.)
UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: If I could ask Vincent to please come to the podium and speak on behalf of the TIP heroes, please. (Applause.)
MR. PARAISO: Bonjour. (Via interpreter) Madam Secretary, honorable under secretaries, honorable ambassadors, heads of diplomatic missions, distinguished guests. On behalf of my organization, Alto-Afrique Enfants, and of all the heroes here that I have the honor to represent, I would like to thank the United States Government for honoring us with this award at this unforgettable moment.
The phenomenon of human trafficking has reached alarming proportions around the world. My country, the Republic of Congo, and many others represented at this meeting are unfortunately not spared from this crime. Therefore, the international community cannot remain silent against this evil and must continue to respond relentlessly. I would also like to thank the U.S. embassies in our respective countries for their advocacy and dialogue with host country governments in the fight against this phenomenon.
In my career as a medical doctor, the numerous traumatic injuries I have seen inflicted and cured on child victims of trafficking led me to stand as a pillar of support for hundreds of children. These child victims of trafficking have been identified, rescued, protected, and sometimes supported by our organization in the Republic of the Congo. This work has led to several kidnapping and assassination attempts against me by potential traffickers. But it has also filled me with joy and happiness when, for instance, I heard a Senegalese teenager who I rescued tell me, “You are my father.”
I have the honor to represent Alto-Afrique Enfants, and we will continue the fight against traffickers with passion. As for its commitments to the fight and trafficking and forced labor, Alto will continue to work jointly with the government, UNICEF, and other international and national organizations. This is a problem that must be resolved through a joint effort. Human trafficking is a human rights violation.
An approach grounded in human rights in the prevention of and the fight against trafficking has several requirements in both law and practice. Most of all, victims’ rights must be fully respected and they must be clearly identified. Finally, these victims are entitled to justice, reparations, and should be treated with close attention, as they are vulnerable. Perseverance and collaboration will lead us to success, meaning the eradication of this phenomenon.
Madam Secretary, distinguished guests, ladies, and gentlemen, I would like to conclude by stating that I hope we can work together to build a better future for all children of the world. Thank you. (Applause.)
UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: Merci beaucoup, Vincent. C’est magnifique. C’est tres magnifique. (Laughter.) Your words are inspiring and your leadership in this struggle is also inspiring. You and all the TIP heroes are once again reminding us that the individual actions of each human being has tremendous impact and that we are all responsible for playing a role in eradicating this horrible crime that continues to persist in our societies.
I want to thank you all for joining this event today. The commitment, the passion, the responsibility that all of you take on and that is represented in this room, once again reminds us that we are not only moving in the right direction, but that we are going to make this goal be within our reach. So thank you very much for being here with us today. Thank you, Madam Secretary. (Applause.)