The Earthquake of Freedom

Luis CdeBaca
Ambassador-at-Large, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
American University, School of Public Affairs Policy Forum
Washington, DC
November 12, 2014

Good evening. It is nice to be here at American University, and an honor to have been asked to deliver the inaugural School of Public Affairs Policy Forum lecture. I would like to thank Professor Andrew Kline, the Executive in Residence at American University, for inviting me to speak with you tonight about what President Obama has called one of the great human rights causes of our time – the crime of modern-day slavery.

It is a crime that Secretary of State John Kerry has called the greatest assault on basic freedom. One that must be confronted by empowering survivors to make sure that they are not twice victimized – once by the criminal, and once by the legal system. It is a crime that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton challenged us to see as a scourge that is entrenched, but solvable.

A crime that requires us to look at our own situation domestically, as well as overseas. As Secretary Kerry has said, “If the cries of those who are enslaved around the world today were an earthquake, then the tremors would be felt in every single nation, on every continent, simultaneously.”

Just here in America, it is the cry of a girl from Iowa, wondering if anyone is looking for her or if the next person through the door of that suburban hotel is another client, another man who wants to buy sex and doesn’t care who she is or who she hoped to be. Of a Native American woman, suffering a cycle of violence that communities are only now admitting. It is the cry of the farmworkers, still exploited a generation after Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez. And in a cruel twist, it is the cry of the women and girls who are brought in to serve those same farmworkers by high-volume prostitution rings.

Whether born here or somewhere else, these are – and have always been – American voices – the earthquake that would shake us to our core, if only we do not turn away to a place of comfort.

And we have a responsibility to hear those cries not just at home, but around the world.

In the words of another one of my bosses – Congressman John Conyers – we have a responsibility to confront this crime because of a promise that Dr. King, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, termed a promissory note never cashed. The promise of freedom. A promise written in the blood of all who lived and died in antebellum slavery, and all of those who died to end it.

As Frederick Douglass said while the scars of that war were not yet healed, America has a responsibility not to let it happen again – whether to the newly freed African Americans or easily exploited immigrants who could serve as their replacements if the masters were again allowed a free hand. In other words, he cautioned that we must never take our eye off of those who would exploit, lest their cruelty emerge again in contravention of our American promise of freedom.

Now, before I get too far into the policies, programs, and successes of the last fifteen years – and especially the work of this Administration in delivering on that American promise of freedom, let me address terminology.

I know that some, both at home and abroad, are sometimes critical of this uncomfortable slavery language. As President Obama has said, we do not use this term lightly.

When the federal government’s anti-Peonage Program was changed to be called the Involuntary Servitude and Slavery Program, and when the ISS Program was recast as Trafficking in Persons, the bureaucratic labels may have shifted. New legal tools may have come online and new offices set up – in 1931 and 1948 and 2001 – but for the victims of whatever it has been called by each generation, the reality of force, fraud, and coercion continued.

It is because of that that, rather than looking at word choice or policy prescriptions or as a way to achieve normative statements, I tend to see this as an issue about people, with hopes, dreams, and horrible things that they have survived. So it is they who are my touchstone. A few years ago, a friend gave me something that he found in a box of old letters at an estate sale – it is the Bill of Sale of a man named Willoby, sold for $400 in 1819. I will never know him but we all can strive to live up to his memory, a memory that comes down to us through the years. The chattel slavery that he lived and died in wasn’t just about economic systems, or regional politics, or even about racism. It was about people.

And in its modern iteration, it is still about people. One such person who I’m honored to know, and have featured in two of the Trafficking in Persons Reports in the last few years, is Shyima Hall. Let me remind you of her story. Shyima was sold by her parents to a wealthy Egyptian couple when she was only eight years old. She moved with the couple from Egypt to California, when they brought her into the country on a temporary visa. She worked up to 20 hours a day cooking and cleaning their large Orange County home. They confiscated her passport and verbally and routinely physically assaulted her.

After four years of enslavement, a neighbor filed an anonymous complaint with the state child welfare agency, leading to her being removed from the home. The only English she knew were the words “hi,” “stepsister” (which she was supposed to say to ward off inquiries about who she was), and “dolphin” (which she’d learned on a trip to SeaWorld where she was supposed to be taking care of her masters’ children, but for a few short minutes she had a chance to be a kid herself).

It is about people. About Andrew Kline, who I have thanked for inviting me tonight, but who we all should thank for taking on Shyima’s case when he was a prosecutor. For bringing her captors to justice and, with the case agents, supporting her T-visa application so she could stay in America.

Shyima has been sworn in as a United States citizen, has been going to college, and recently released a memoir, “Hidden Girl,” which tells her incredible story. She dreams of becoming a police officer or immigration agent to help other victims of trafficking. And, just so you can get a sense of her spirit, she doesn’t just dedicate her book to those who helped her in her journey to freedom; she also dedicates it to the traffickers, telling them to be warned – I’m coming for you.

I have been blessed to meet such brave people, at home and around the world, since I came to Washington in the 1990s to join the Civil Rights Division, I was lucky to work with survivors and activists who are still on the cutting edge of this fight.

And there were those of us in government from back then who sought a change out of frustration with the tools we had. People like Tom Perez, Leon Rodriguez, Anne Milgram, Steve Dettelbach, Steve Warnath, Wendy Patten, Patty First, Melanne Verveer, Maria Echaveste, Hillary Clinton, and so many others. They too are still in the fight, whether in the Cabinet, as U.S. Attorneys, state Attorneys General; as head of Citizenship and Immigration Services, leaders in think tanks and NGOs and advocacy shops, as Ambassadors and Ambassador-designate.

They not only inspire me just as much as they did back then, but also demonstrate what the folks up at Northeastern Law School posited a few years ago: the number one predictor of whether someone would work on a trafficking case is whether they have already done one. Because once you look into this abyss, once you help these survivors, this becomes a cause that you come back to again and again.

So what do we know, after this re-birth of abolitionism? We know that human trafficking is a global problem. It is a U.S. problem. It is a problem that affects our entire society – the history we have lived and the economies we have built. We have made great accomplishments to combat trafficking in persons around the world and in our own home towns, but we have so much more to do. And we need your help to do it.

Our knowledge of human trafficking as a crime, our understanding of its pervasiveness throughout every region and country of the world, and the many forms this crime takes, have all grown tremendously since Republicans and Democrats came together to draft the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in the late 1990s. From the energy of the Clinton Administration’s Worker Exploitation Task Force and Interagency Council on Women, it was for the incoming Bush Administration to execute the TVPA’s promise into a reality, and thus grew the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Office. In those years, we saw Nancy Ely-Raphel setting up the office; John Miller bringing passion and focus; Mark Lagon recognizing the importance of labor trafficking and good old-fashioned diplomacy.

In the years that I have been Ambassador, we have continued that focus on all forms of trafficking. We have tapped consumer demand and corporate interest, and have advanced with the United Nations’ “Palermo Protocol” to a point where universal ratification no longer seems like a pipe dream.

And as we grow our understanding of trafficking across U.S. foreign policy, looking at how to incorporate it into affirmative efforts like development goals and government procurement standards, we have seen how it often develops, like a fifth horseman of the apocalypse, in the wake of the worst natural disasters and political collapses.

When the people of the Middle East rose up to challenge autocratic power structures in the Arab Awakening, one of the first interagency bodies the Tunisians created in their new government was one to fight trafficking in persons – they explained to me that they had tried to study trafficking, and had worked on it in secret, because the dictator had ordered them to conceal its extent from the Americans. Now Tunisia has added a second committee to address this crime and we applaud their progress.

While Americans remember Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi’s demise, few know that the Libyan revolution marked the beginning of a new life for an Ethiopian maid found horribly burned in the Qadhafi compound by a CNN crew who was in the palace for the now-too-common ritual of filming the excesses of dictatorship.

They knew about trafficking because of their innovative reporting of their Freedom Project. We worked to get her to safety and medical care in Malta. The dictator’s son, Hanibal Qadhafi, and his wife, had narrowly escaped prosecution for beating a maid in Geneva a few years before. The burns from where they punished this woman with boiling water were stark evidence that they had once again abused with impunity when armed with all of the power that corruption brings.

When a massive earthquake struck Haiti, among the dire need for health services, sanitation and other forms of disaster relief, the plight of enslaved children came to the world’s attention.

Many had been held in domestic servitude before the earthquake. And after the earthquake, in the resulting displacement, many ended up forced into prostitution, begging, or street crime by violent criminal gangs.

Following Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and other disasters like it, we have seen the breakdown of social and government structures that leave populations vulnerable to trafficking. Some natural disasters are followed by increased reports of suspected cases. But given the commitment of the Government of the Philippines and their Interagency Council Against Trafficking, we also saw officials working to confront the traffickers, even as they started to rebuild.

When Boko Haram made world news after they abducted 200 Nigerian girls from a boarding school this past spring, questions of human trafficking abounded in Congress and around the world, as the global community looked for solutions to free “our girls.”

And today, as ISIL continues to spread its terror throughout parts of Iraq and Syria, we have also learned of its deplorable enslavement, sale, forced marriage, and abuse of Yezidi and other religious minority women and girls.

With each challenge we face, we are confirming that crisis breeds vulnerability and victimization. But we are also learning how to better respond to human trafficking – in cooperation with partners on the ground – in these disasters and political crises. In all of these cases, people needed help, secure transportation, and a safe place to begin their recovery.

We have also learned that survivors do not have the luxury to wait until the crisis is over before receiving desperately needed services. For them, the prospect of post-conflict, or the cessation of combat operations, can be months or years after their personal liberation, whether it was with the help of a government or an NGO, or through their bravery in going out a window or making a surreptitious phone call.

Most importantly, we have learned that to prevent that predictable rise in human trafficking, we need to stop being surprised that it exists. That it is not an aberration, but is predictable and far too common. So that demands planning, and early and sustained action to reduce vulnerabilities.

It is not all crisis, though. The Report also shows improvements in how some governments approach this crime and protect its victims. It shows the emergence of a realization that adults and children exploited in the commercial sex industry should no longer be considered criminals to be scorned – a conceptual leap that is leading to a shared commitment in the U.S. to safe harbor, expungement, and treatment.

It shows labor trafficking victims being identified in almost every sector: agriculture, fishing, extractives, construction, hospitality, education, nursing, domestic work, and textiles – a recognition that tells us that we can’t look at our tomatoes, our clothes, our cell phones the same way anymore. It tells us that the modern standards of the TVPA and Palermo Protocol are coming online, in new and sometimes surprising ways.

It has now been almost 15 years since the passage of the TVPA and the adoption of the Palermo Protocol. These legal instruments guide our response to modern slavery by mandating that trafficking must be confronted by working for more and better prosecutions, increased victim protection, and ultimately, prevention of this heinous crime. In other words, the “3P Paradigm.”

The “3Ps” stand for the proposition that it is not enough to catch the bad guys, if we do not also care for the survivors and work to ensure that no one else is victimized. It is not enough to run a modern underground railroad, caring for the survivors anonymously and in the shadows, if law enforcement cannot also put the traffickers out of business. And it is not enough to merely raise awareness of human trafficking as another “issue of the month,” if that awareness is not harnessed to link those who need help, with those who seek to help them.

The Palermo Protocol now boasts 163 states parties. New laws have been passed around the world. Thousands of victims have been helped, and we have seen thousands of arrests and prosecutions. While there are millions more victims who have gone un-helped, that is a start. Those individual successes would never have been brought about without the legal and policy achievements of the last decade, what has been called the “decade of development.” During that time, my Office and our partners in foreign governments and civil society, worked to build the legal and policy frameworks to combat trafficking across the 3Ps.

As Secretary Clinton suggested a few years ago, the second decade will hopefully be looked back on as a “decade of delivery,” where the promise of these legal frameworks is realized through rigorous implementation and robust results. To date, the mandates and protections of the UN Protocol, and the cutting-edge anti-trafficking laws have only resulted in the identification of a mere fraction of the estimated victims. The International Labor Organization (ILO) has estimated that approximately 21 million people are toiling in bondage around the world, representing a profit to the abusers of $150 billion. Others have higher numbers, up to around 30 million people enslaved.

No matter the actual number, in a world with millions of people still held in bondage, success stories in the tens of thousands account for an unforgivably low percentage. As Secretary Kerry has challenged, we can all do better.

In the last five years, to that end – to deliver on the promise of freedom – the Obama Administration has strengthened its anti-trafficking efforts across the federal government. Federal agencies have come together to train new audiences on human trafficking, harness procurement officers and CEOs to look at human trafficking in supply chains, engage professors and law enforcement to enhance data collection, and link medical professionals and victim advocates to improve victim identification and protection – all in the service of freedom. We do that through some unfortunately-acronymed entities: the cabinet-level President’s Interagency Task Force to fight trafficking (PITF), and the subcabinet-level Senior Policy Operating Group (SPOG), which meets quarterly and maintains a number of committees and working groups.

In his historic speech at the Clinton Global Initiative in 2012, President Obama challenged not just the nation and the world. He also gave the PITF and SPOG the task of carrying out his commitment to confront the traffickers, recognize the plight of victims, and ensure slavery-free supply chains in federal procurement and other sectors. The interagency followed his lead and built upon it – with the development and release of a federal strategic action plan on victims services in the United States, a convening of law enforcement and technology companies to brainstorm ways to share information more effectively, and increased transparency by the practice of live-streaming the annual meetings of the PITF chaired by Secretary Kerry at the White House.

Striving to meet the challenge of “nothing about them without them” – a mantra that reminds us that trafficking policy must grow and develop from the voice of the people most affected, the victims – we were joined by a group of survivors at the White House to advise us on policy formation and implementation. The FBI’s uniform crime reporting statistics came online, and the Department of Health and Human Services expanded its anti-trafficking programs to address vulnerabilities in foster, homeless, and LGBT youth. We’ve held listening sessions with Native American communities and continued partnerships with rural legal aid, immigrant rights groups, and organized labor.

Each day, we strive to improve our strategy and enhance our partnerships in order to fulfill not only the mandates of the TVPA, but also the challenge of the President and Secretary Kerry to do more, to do better. Because the alternative is to turn away from the cries of the victim. To turn our back on the promise of freedom.

Confronting this heinous practice isn’t comfortable, and perhaps it shouldn’t be. But we have one of the best tools for doing that, in the annual Trafficking in Persons Report that Secretary Kerry has termed the “gold standard in assessing how well governments – including our own – are meeting that responsibility.” It not only provides an annual snapshot of the problem, but also, through its rankings and sanctions regime and norm-setting, it has come to hold governments accountable for policies and practices that either create or further endanger populations vulnerable to trafficking. This year, we looked at 188 countries and territories.

At the State Department, we separate the world into regions for purposes of policy and bureaucracy. In 2001 – the first year the Report was released – most of the six regions had fewer than eight countries that had criminalized trafficking in persons. Now, approximately 70% of states have enacted modern human trafficking laws. Similarly, the Palermo Protocol was adopted in 2000 and a year later, only two countries had ratified it. But now, almost 85% of countries have acceded to the Palermo Protocol.

The TIP Report has been recognized for contributing to the development of our understanding of human trafficking; it has helped improve the response of governments to trafficking within their borders and region and has changed the discussion on the forms of exploitation embodied by the term “trafficking in persons.” The Report’s tier ranking system, accompanied by the transparency of the detailed country narratives and the inclusion of concrete recommendations, has motivated governments to develop activities and structures to fight this serious crime. The Report has come a long way.

One study showed that a government’s likelihood of passing a law prohibiting trafficking nearly doubled after the State Department downgraded the country to a lower rank. Another study recognized the TIP Report as “the most influential and the most trusted indicator of states’ performance vis-à-vis human trafficking.”

By including the minimum standards that we apply, and the basis for the rankings, trends and best practices, and shining the light on the United States, we have tried to bring a new level of transparency and understanding. We have called countries out for both inadvertently clumsy or willfully offensive policies such as brothel raids, inflexible guest worker programs, state-sanctioned forced labor, and exclusionary immigration policies. We’ve condemned discrimination against female migrants, minority communities, the LGBT community, and those in the sex industry.

The results are clear: in the years since the first TIP Report was published, over one hundred countries have passed modern anti-trafficking laws. Countries have established specialized law enforcement units, set up trafficking victim assistance mechanisms, and launched public awareness campaigns. Human trafficking has moved from a fringe issue to one regularly raised by the highest officials and leaders throughout the world. Not just when the United States comes calling, but in regional fora and countries’ domestic policies, responding to home-grown political interest and pressure. The TIP Report, structured by its clear tier rankings and minimum standards, has been a leading motivator for this unprecedented growth in understanding of, and action against, human trafficking.

Diplomacy is not just reporting, or bilateral and multilateral conversations, however. For the TIP Report to be more than just an exercise in finger-pointing, it must be followed on quickly with solutions. So over the last years the TIP Office sharpened its foreign assistance efforts. Efficiency is important, especially considering that our foreign assistance funding each year is maintained at only about $20 million dollars – what Senator Al Franken once noted conservatively to be less than 70 cents per estimated victim.

In addition to our flagship grants, we have also introduced an improved and streamlined Training and Technical Assistance (T&TA) funding mechanism, and increased the funding for T&TA to $3 million (an increase of 50%). These improvements have allowed us to respond more quickly and effectively to requests for short-term and targeted assistance from governments and U.S. embassies around the world through our T & TA providers. Those programs are directly linked to the TIP Report recommendations, particularized needs, and bilateral political opportunities.

Most recently, we’ve helped Maldives, Papua New Guinea, and Seychelles pass their first TIP laws. We’ve gotten Botswana, Morocco, Namibia, and Tunisia to draft legislation and have supported the first successful convictions in The Bahamas, Liberia, and Maldives.

Our programs are vast in scope and they are applied in every region of the world. We are proud of the important impact we have with our available funding. For example, our innovative programs provide legal counsel for victims by establishing the first clinical legal training program in a Mexican law school. They link the TIP Report Heroes named each year by the Department into a support network.

Our programs support enhanced anti-TIP responses in the wake of disasters and provide emergency victim services. They are encouraging development of anti-trafficking NGOs and victim/witness regimes, much like the program that Secretary Kerry pioneered for the United States as a young prosecutor in Middlesex County. They are engaging research to understand the core drivers of forced labor in regional supply chains.

And those are just a few of the hundreds of programs we have implemented in partnership with organizations around the world. Just a few of the programs through which we have fostered collaboration with governments seeking to build or strengthen their models of prevention, protection, and prosecution.

So how do we take this forward? Our challenge in the coming years is to not only to streamline the interagency, to continue innovative programming, to conduct rigorous reporting and diplomacy. It is also frankly to work toward an anti-trafficking world in which the U.S. report is not the only game in town. Where best practices come from developing countries as well as the global North. Where migration doesn’t mean waiving one’s basic rights. Where prostitution or farm work or housework or construction are not treated as acquiescence to abuse. Where survivors are as empowered as governmental officials.

Indeed, looking ahead, I see the role of survivors as essential in developing every aspect of our anti-trafficking policy and response.

For my part, I can tell you of some of the survivors who have made an impact on me.

The man who dove over a fellow sweatshop worker to protect her with his own body, only to suffer permanent nerve damage in his arm and jaw as the thugs swarmed around him, beating him with clubs...

The interpreter who had to read to her fellow workers a list of troublemakers slated for punishment – a list that included herself. And was then brave enough to smuggle out a note and throw it to a Good Samaritan in the hope that it would get to someone who cared…

The woman who ran up to a police officer in a Dollar Store to point out her pimp and beg: “arrest me; it’s the only way I’ll get away from him”…

The women in a high-volume brothel who took extra clients to keep the young girls from having to be with up to thirty men a day…

And the farmworkers who not only were brave enough to give evidence against their traffickers, but have gone on to create an entire system of labor rights monitoring in the tomato fields of south Florida…

I see this fight through these survivors and so many more. And through the people who are driven by their example.

The psychologist who started working on trafficking with a group of deaf Mexican trinket peddlers, standing in the White House receiving a Presidential Medal, having selflessly led this struggle for years…

The pro bono project lawyer who fights for domestic servants, convincing courts to hold diplomats accountable and pressing us to work toward a standard of conduct for diplomats around the world…

The journalist who tracked down a crime so monstrous that it victimized children in Haiti, plantation workers in Indonesia, and fishermen off of New Zealand…

The criminologist who has brought us a greater understanding of sex buyers and how we can understand the demand they create…

The businessman who was not content to meet the manpower needs of corporations and governments, but realized that business needed to work together in coalition to advance anti-slavery ethical principles…

The academics – on all sides of this issue – who press us all to act with rigor…

The TIP Office staff who spend so much time away from their families, circling the globe investigating abuse and engaging governments and NGOs alike – like traveling salesmen who are selling freedom…

The lawyers who work to give legal aid to rural workers, who give sanctuary to families and rights to immigrants…

The anthropologist who, rather than simply repeating old assumptions or narratives, went out and interviewed survivors to see whether the promises of the TVPA were being delivered upon throughout their long-term recovery...

It is about survivors. These are not people who are weak, or powerless, or lack an understanding of what is right or wrong. They are people who need us to listen to them, and join them in charting a path to freedom.

Survivors have already succeeded in demonstrating how effective a pragmatic and collaborative approach can be in combating trafficking around the world. They have helped us improve our methods of identifying victims and ensuring that we do not re-traumatize them. They have taught us to focus on delivering the full array of services needed to move beyond their victimization.

Survivors have forced the anti-trafficking movement to shake free of its ideological positions. Some came to the anti-trafficking fight from other issues. Prostitution. Immigrants Rights. Organized Labor. Human Rights. Organized Crime. Trade. Civil Rights. Sometimes with hardened views and on different sides.

And frankly, at times the anti-trafficking movement got a reputation of not being worth dealing with because it was not willing to stop fighting amongst itself or lashing out against those who were perceived as ideological rivals. But survivors, and what they need, have shown the emptiness of that acrimony. Their needs, and their insights, can lead us to that decade of delivery.

Perhaps most of all, survivors have taught us that more needs to be done and that we all must do our part. That we must be worthy of their bravery. That we must heed Secretary Kerry’s challenge to do more. To listen to the cries of the enslaved, to respond to the tremors that shake the world.

And they have taught us that we must do what is right.

Yesterday, John Doar passed away. Many people may not recognize the name, but he was the lead U.S. civil rights prosecutor in the 1960s. I’ve been blessed to meet him at reunions and be inspired by his example. The Justice Department’s civil rights efforts have at times focused more on involuntary servitude and slavery, at other times police brutality, and at other times on racial violence. Always, however, seeking to vindicate those who have been intimidated in the free exercise of their constitutional rights.

Today’s New York Times tells the story of John Doar walking into the no-man’s land between Black protesters and White police in Jackson, at the height of what is known as Mississippi Burning. As bricks and bottles rained down around him, he stood like something out of an old Western movie. He shouted “My name is John Doar. D-O-A-R. I’m from the Justice Department, and anybody here knows what I stand for is right.” The bill clubs were lowered, the bricks were dropped. And the race riot never happened.

I will forever be inspired and guided in my fight for Civil Rights not just by a Presidential Medal of Freedom winner like John Doar, but by the countless everyday heroes, known and unknown, who have also stood defiantly for human dignity here and around the world. I can only hope to meet their example, and to be some fraction of the lawyer John Doar was.

But without being presumptuous, in his honor, I am proud to say tonight: my name is Lou de Baca. I’m from the State Department. From the Trafficking Office. And anybody here knows what we stand for is right.

Thank you.