Op-Ed on the 2013 U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report

“The First Step in Stopping Modern Slavery”

By Ambassador D. Brent Hardt

Yesterday Secretary of State John Kerry released the 2013 United States Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report reviewing the efforts of countries worldwide to combat the scourge of modern day slavery.  The theme of this year’s report — “Victim Identification: The First Step in Stopping Modern Slavery” — highlights the continuing challenge all countries face in bringing to light this shadowy crime by identifying and protecting victims, while investigating and prosecuting perpetrators.

Eradicating modern slavery remains an uphill struggle.  Based on the information governments have provided, only around 40,000 victims were identified in the last year.  However, social scientists estimate that as many as 27 million people are victims of trafficking at any given time.  This reveals that only a fraction of the millions of men, women, and children who suffer in modern slavery has been uncovered and identified by governments and is receiving the protection and support they need.

Brent Hardt
Brent Hardt

Another consequence of the failure to identify victims is that the traffickers who enslave and exploit vulnerable people are operating with impunity, beyond the reach of the law.  Modern anti-trafficking laws and structures go unused, existing as theoretical instruments of justice.

That is why this year’s U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report focuses on victim identification as a top priority in the global movement to combat trafficking in persons.  The report looks at training and techniques that can boost countries’ identification efforts.  It also highlights innovations and partnerships within and beyond government that can enhance identification efforts.  If successfully implemented, such innovations will enable more effective delivery of services to survivors of human trafficking.

People often ask why the United States prepares a Trafficking in Persons report on other countries.  The answer is that we believe that only a concerted global effort can bring this human tragedy from the shadows into the light.  Our goal is not to criticize, but to call attention to a global threat to vulnerable groups of people.  We seek to stimulate action and create partnerships around the world in the fight against modern-day slavery.  Only by understanding the scope of the threat can we take meaningful action to protect victims, prevent future abuses, and investigate and prosecute perpetrators.

Guyana and the United States have in recent years developed a more active and productive dialogue on Trafficking in Persons aimed at strengthening Guyana’s ability to identify and protect victims, prosecute offenders, and prevent future cases of TIP.   We held a workshop on TIP identification, investigation, and prosecution for government and civil society representatives.  We conducted outreach in Bartica with local law enforcement, mining, and civil society representatives to boost understanding in that region of how to combat trafficking.

We welcome the commitment of the government and people of Guyana to work in partnership to address this global threat to the dignity of children, women and men.

Nowhere was this commitment more evident than in the extraordinary work of the Guyana Women Miners Organization (GWMO) under the courageous leadership of Simona Broomes, who was recognized yesterday by Secretary of State Kerry as a 2013 TIP Hero.  Broomes established the GWMO in January 2012 to empower women miners and address the unique challenges women face working in remote areas of Guyana.  After seeing first-hand the plight of trafficking victims, she decided to take action to rescue victims, bring cases to the attention of authorities, and help ensure adequate protection.  Broomes and her GWMO colleagues have shown extraordinary bravery and leadership, most recently in rescuing four young victims in Puruni.  Thanks to her commitment, more trafficking victims are being identified and rescued from a life of slavery.  All of Guyana should be proud of what she and her Organization have been able to accomplish to protect some of the most vulnerable people in society.

This year’s report observes that Guyana is both a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor.  It notes that Guyanese and foreign women and girls are subjected to forced prostitution in Guyana, and some nationals have been trafficked abroad.  It is clear that traffickers are attracted to Guyana’s interior mining communities, where there is limited government control.

While the report concludes that Guyana does not yet fully meet the minimum international standards for the elimination of trafficking as set forth in the UN’s Palermo Protocol, it recognizes that the country is making significant efforts to do so.  While Guyana doubled the number of victims identified, the government was not able to demonstrate evidence of increasing efforts to hold trafficking offenders accountable.

The lack of punishment for trafficking offenders creates an enabling environment for continued human trafficking.  As a consequence, the Government of Guyana was placed on the Tier 2 Watch List.

To meet obligations under the UN’s Palermo Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, the United States encourages Guyana to:

— boost its efforts to hold trafficking offenders accountable by vigorously and appropriately investigating and prosecuting forced prostitution and forced labor;

— develop, in partnership with NGOs standard operating procedures to guide and encourage frontline officials to identify and protect victims of forced labor and forced prostitution;

— offer protection and assistance for victims near mining communities; and

— foster a climate of open dialogue on trafficking that encourages people to come forward to authorities with potential cases.

In the spirit of transparency and with a goal of strengthening efforts at home and in partnership with other countries, for the fourth consecutive year the TIP Report contains a tier ranking and narrative of U.S. progress in addressing human trafficking.  We hope this assessment will illustrate that the United States holds itself to the same standards it encourages in other countries and that we support a self-critical approach among all countries in their anti-trafficking efforts.

Unfortunately, no country is immune from modern slavery.  Both the United States and Guyana have victims in our midst and among our citizens abroad.   Only by joining together with the same determined spirit as Guyana’s own Simona Broomes can we hope to meet this challenge and defeat the scourge of modern day slavery.

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