U.S.: combatting human trafficking is a moral obligation

2013-07-10 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis' visit to Lampedusa threw the spotlight on the dramatic plight of migrants, many of whom end up kidnapped by human traffickers. The U.S. State Department recently released its annual report on the state of human trafficking around the world - a scourge that by some estimates has enslaved upwards of 27 million people. Charge’d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See, Mario Mesquita shared some of the report’s findings with Tracey McClure:

Listen to the extended interview:

The report examines 188 countries and rates them in a Tier system according to how effectively they combat trafficking in persons and respond to the needs of victims. “It’s the world’s most comprehensive resource of governmental anti-trafficking efforts,” says Mesquita. “And it raises awareness, it forces people to look at this issue seriously because modern day slavery, trafficking in persons and the effort against it, has to be, must remain a foreign policy priority and that’s one thing the United States is committed to.”

This year’s report focuses on victim identification. “This is one of the biggest problems: gauging trafficking in persons worldwide now,” says Mesquita.

“We estimate through this report, through contacts with governmental authorities, approximately 40,000 identified victims of trafficking in the world in the last year. However some social scientists will put the number closer to 20 million people worldwide. So one of the biggest problems we have actually is the identification of victims to get that number right. To figure out how big of a problem it is. What we do know, what we do think is, that trafficking in persons, modern day slavery, is a serious problem; it’s a serious foreign policy issue and governments have to continue to focus on the issue and solutions to this growing problem.”

“Human trafficking undermines rule of law and creates instability. It tears families and communities apart; it damages the environment. It corrupts global supply chains and labor markets…it is a broad based problem and we need to continue to raise awareness in all communities, in all countries…it’s a problem in all countries.”

Mesquita cites U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s comments on human trafficking: “no government addresses it sufficiently, including the United States. And indeed with this report, we actually rate ourselves. But the point he makes is: there’s always work to be done on the issue and raising awareness is one of those factors.”

The United States, Mesquita says, is rated as Tier 1: “not because we say we are perfect and there is no problem, but because we have implemented certain international standards to combat human trafficking. And that’s how we look at other countries: have countries implemented these international standards?”

When asked to enumerate some of the success stories in the fight against human trafficking, Mesquite notes, “There are thirty countries ranked in Tier 1 – fully compliant, fully utilizing international standards to combat trafficking. So there are a number of countries that have significant programs to aid trafficking victims, to identify those victims, to prosecute traffickers.”

He also points to recent efforts by the government of Cyprus. “They added a forensic psychologist to their anti- trafficking police unit. So they have the capacity to do sensitive interviews that involve the identifying and investigating of trafficking victims. Usually victims are so scared that they don’t know who to trust, even the helping hand that’s given to them by police authorities - they’re nervous about (that). So that program has helped to identify victims and give them aid. Latvia for example, doubled the funding for victim services in the last three years, and of course has seen as a result, more than double the number of victims identified and more importantly, victims helped.”

Mesquita says the Holy See shares similar concerns about trafficking in human persons.

“It’s absolutely something that we know the Holy See cares about and shares our concerns about. And indeed it’s been an important issue for Pope Francis. Pope Francis has emphasized the need to act against human trafficking on multiple occasions and obviously we welcome his strong voice in the international call to action.”

“In a number of countries, religious organizations have played an important, critical role - and especially I would like to say in the aid of trafficking victims. The United States Embassy to the Holy See for example, has had a partnership over the years with the Talitha Kum network, a group of women religious who identify and aid women who’ve been trafficked primarily. So there are a number of organizations that have played important roles, that are an important voice. And one of the missions of our embassy to the Holy See is to continue to foster those partnerships and build strong, effective partnerships and ensure cooperation into the future.”

Cooperation is especially needed on the governmental level to succeed in ending human slavery Mesquita says, “because again if we’re talking about cross border problems, then you need to have cooperation between governments to stop it. If traffickers are in one country, the victims end up in another, you have to have that level of international cooperation to prosecute the traffickers and aid the victims to return to their home countries.”

Countries need to continue to dialogue, he says, to further prevention, the identification of victims, aid to victims, and the prosecution of traffickers. But mostly, world leaders should work together to end what is clearly an ethical scourge on societies.

“We all do have a moral obligation to stop this problem and having that clearly enunciated by world leaders is integral.”