Remarks at the 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report Ceremony

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Dean Acheson Auditorium
Washington, DC
July 27, 2015

SECRETARY KERRY: Sarah, thank you very, very much. Thank you all for being here this morning and witnessing my first three yards on one crutch in public. (Laughter.) If my doctor sees that, I’m in serious trouble. (Applause.) Not supposed to do that till next week, but I couldn’t resist. (Laughter.)

I really can think of no better way to start this week than with such a gathering of really remarkable people, all of whom are determined to make a difference in a cause that really counts.

And I am very, very honored to be here. Particularly happy to see from Capitol Hill my friend and former colleague, Senator Amy Klobuchar and Representative Chris Smith, who has been just such a longtime champion on these issues. Both of them are two champions in this fight. Delighted to see the First Lady’s chief of staff, Tina Tchen. Thank you for being with us. And also, I want to just recognize quickly Jeff Zucker, the head of CNN. CNN has made a special cause of this. I see their accountability reports as I travel around the world, and Jeff, we’re very, very appreciative to CNN for their commitment to this cause. Thank you, all of you.

There are members of the diplomatic corps here, and that is absolutely vital to us because international cooperation is the key to our being able to have an impact and make progress, and we are.

There are leaders from civil society here, and they are, all of them, bolstering the networks that are being built around the world to try to fight back, increasingly creating sophisticated strategies, and that’s the only way we’re going to succeed in this battle. It’s a battle against money, it’s a battle against evil, and it’s quite remarkable that in the year 2015, we face a modern version of slavery, something we actually fought a civil war over here in this country. It is vital for us to be able to push back against this.

I am particularly grateful to the entire Trafficking in Persons team who stood up a few moments ago. I’m grateful to Kari Johnstone, who has been the acting director, and Sarah Sewall, who has overall supervisory responsibilities for this task. But it’s really a task that is brought together by every division, every office, every mission of the entire State Department.

This report is the product of really an entire year-long effort. These folks will leave here today and they begin on next year’s report. And it is a constant process of following up with the employees at our diplomatic posts around the world, gathering facts, information, and helping to lay it out. And this report is important because it really is one of the best means that we have as individuals to speak up for adults and children who lack any effective platform whatsoever through which they are able to speak for themselves. Because of its credibility, this report is also a source of validation and inspiration to activists on every single continent who are striving to end this scourge of modern slavery.

I want to emphasize, as I did last month when we issued a report on our human rights observations around the world, the purpose of this document is not to scold and it’s not to name and shame. It is to enlighten and to energize, and most importantly, to empower people.

And by issuing it, we want to bring to the public’s attention the full nature and scope of a $150 billion illicit trafficking industry. And it is an industry. Pick up today’s New York Times, front page story about a young Cambodian boy promised a construction job in Thailand, goes across the border, finds himself held by armed men, and ultimately is pressed into service on the seas – three years at sea, shackled by his neck to the boat so that he can’t escape and take off when they’re around other boats. If that isn’t slavery and imprisonment, I don't know what is.

We want to provide evidence and facts that will help people who are already striving to achieve reforms to alleviate suffering and to hold people accountable.

We want to provide a strong incentive for governments at every level to do all that they can to prosecute trafficking and to shield at-risk populations.

And in conveying these messages, let me acknowledge that even here in the United States, we Americans need to listen and improve. Like every nation, we have a responsibility to do better – a better job of protecting those who live within our own borders, whose passports are taken away from them, who are imprisoned for labor purposes or for sex trafficking.

This morning, we are honored to welcome, as has become our tradition, eight truly remarkable human beings – eight people who have distinguished themselves in the quest to stop trafficking. I might add that where they live, many of these people do so at great personal risk.

These men and women have journeyed from as far away as Africa, the Baltics, South America, and Europe in order to be with us today.

They are genuine heroes – courageous individuals who are helping to prevent trafficking and to assist victims, to secure the release of captives and to enhance legal protections for the vulnerable, to educate the public and to expose the – and to end the loathsome practice of child sex tourism.

My friends, thank you for being here and thank you for helping to reinforce what these heroes are doing.

And if there is a single theme that connects the diverse work of these heroes, it is the conviction that there is nothing inevitable about trafficking in human beings. It’s a choice.

That conviction is where the process of change really begins – with the realization that just because a certain abuse has taken place in the past doesn’t mean that we have to tolerate that abuse in the future or that we can afford to avert our eyes and pretend that we just don’t know what’s going on. Instead, we need to each be asking ourselves – what if that victim of trafficking were somebody we knew? What if it was a neighbor? Or still worse as a nightmare, what if it was a son or a daughter or a relative?

The more we ask these questions, the more each of us will understand that not only is this a fight that we have to attempt, not only do we have a responsibility to bring every aspect of our institutions of our government together in order to push back and to educate and to make people aware of this, but it’s a fight we absolutely have to win. It is a modern-day human rights challenge of enormous proportions.

And we always need to draw strength from the fact that momentum in human rights work is a very powerful force.

When criminals in one city are arrested for using children in the commercial sex trade, believe me, the pressure on authorities in nearby cities to make arrests builds.

When country A becomes known for its success in putting human traffickers in jail, the leaders in country B are drawn into a virtuous competition.

And when the practice of using forced labor to catch fish, to process meat, to sew clothing, to assemble toys is exposed, then authorities will have a good reason to look at other industries – and consumers will then have cause to question the origins of the global supply chains of what they have chosen to buy and what is placed before them in stores or online.

I don’t have to tell this audience that traffickers are both ruthless and relentless. They know how to exploit the hopes of those desperate to escape poverty or to find shelter from disaster or from strife. Traffickers prey upon the most vulnerable. They target the weak, the despairing, the isolated. And they make false promises and transport their victims across borders to labor without passports or phones in places where the language is unknown and where there are no means of escape. If the victims rebel or become ill, the traffickers often use violence to ensure that their profits continue and their crimes are concealed.

That is why this TIP Report needs to be read as a call to action.

Governments need to strengthen and enforce the laws that they have on the books, and prosecutors must take pride in turning today’s traffickers into tomorrow’s prisoners.

The private sector also needs to be a part of this effort by blowing the whistle on companies that use labor that is under age, under paid, and under coercion.

Investigative journalists can continue to assist by shining the spotlight – as The New York Times, Reuters, AP, and The Guardian, CNN and others recently have – on abuses in the seafood and other industries.

Advocacy groups, faith groups, faith leaders, educators, and researchers should continue to intensify the pressure for bold action so that together we will win more battles in a fight that will surely last for some time to come.

And throughout, we have to be true to the principle that although money may be used for many things, we must never, ever allow a price tag to be attached to the heart and soul and freedom of a fellow human being.

A few years ago – I guess actually, if the truth be told, 40 years ago – when I was a prosecutor in Boston, I launched one of our country’s very first “violence against women” divisions in the district attorney’s office. We were determined at that time that people should not be victimized twice – once by the crime and then again by the system. We even prosecuted a man for raping a woman who was a prostitute – a case that no one thought we could win, but we did, because “no” means “no”; “against will” means “against will”; and in those situations, force is never acceptable.

Today, as Secretary of State, I look around and I am deeply inspired by the efforts that are being made in America and countries on every continent to push back against the bullies and the exploiters.

I’m inspired by the leadership that we have seen from our commander-in-chief, from Congress, from civil society, from the religious community, and from our many overseas partners.

I welcome President Obama’s nomination of Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Coppedge to serve as the next director of the TIP office with the rank of ambassador-at-large.

And I am inspired each day by the efforts of our own diplomats and staff, and especially the dedicated and tireless Kari Johnstone and her team over here who I ask now – I ask her, Kari, if you’d come up here and join me so that we can honor – individually and collectively – the anti-trafficking heroes that we have among us this morning.

First, I ask Ms. Betty Pedraza Lozano from Colombia to stand. I don’t know if we have anybody to translate. I am not absolutely fluent in Spanish, and she only speaks Spanish. But today, we recognize your steadfast efforts to restore the rights of adults and children who have been victimized by human trafficking, your commitment to help survivors, and your relentless advocacy for victim care. Ms. Pedraza, congratulations and thank you so much for what you have done. Thank you. (Applause.) Muchas gracias.

From Latvia, Ms. Gita Miruskina. And we recognize – Gita, we recognize your relentless campaign to enhance the legal understanding of human trafficking in Latvia and throughout the European Union. Your dedication to assisting victims and your excellence in providing legal services to the survivors of modern slavery are extraordinary. Thank you very, very much. Thank you so much. (Applause.)

All the way from Madagascar, Ms. Norotiana Ramboarivelo Jeannoda, and she has achieved remarkable accomplishments in launching the National Union of Social Workers to promote human rights, your staunch advocacy for improvements in your country’s anti-trafficking laws, and your extraordinary efforts to support and protect victims. Thank you so much. We appreciate it. (Applause.)

Next, Ms. Catherine Groenendijk-Nabukwasi from South Sudan. We recognize your hard work in caring for and protecting children who are vulnerable to trafficking, your steadfast commitment to the right of every girl and boy to an education, and your persistent engagement to increase justice for survivors of modern slavery. Congratulations and thank you very, very much. (Applause.)

Mr. Moses Binoga is here from Uganda. Mr. Binoga, we thank you for your leadership role in your country’s anti-human trafficking taskforce, your sustained efforts to increase public awareness of trafficking, and your unwavering support for the victims. Thank you so much and congratulations. (Applause.)

Now, from the United Kingdom, Ms. Parosha Chandran. We recognize she’s a barrister and we recognize your landmark initiative to develop and advance the rule of law on trafficking in the United Kingdom and abroad, your support for victims and your unparalleled achievement in providing legal services to those who have endured and survived modern slavery. Thank you so much and congratulations. (Applause.)

And closer to home, from the United States, Mr. Tony Maddox. Mr. Maddox, we congratulate you for your sustained campaign to raise public awareness and understanding of human trafficking on a global scale, your advocacy on behalf of victims, and your dedication to ensuring that survivors and their stories are heard. Congratulations to you and well done. (Applause.)

And finally, from Iraq, Ms. Ameena Hasan. Ms. Hasan, we honor you for your courageous efforts on behalf of the Yezidi religious minority in northern Iraq, for insisting that the world give heed to the horrors that they face, and for your firm commitment to helping the victims and saving lives. We congratulate you and invite you to say a few words about your work and about the situation that now exists in Iraq. Ms. Hasan. Thank you. (Applause.)