At the U.S. Department of State, the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons is responsible for bilateral and multilateral diplomacy, targeted foreign assistance, and public engagement on the issue of human trafficking. Major forms of human trafficking include: forced labor, sex trafficking, bonded labor, debt bondage, involuntary domestic servitude, forced child labor, child soldiers and child sex trafficking.
In May 2009, Ambassador Luis CdeBaca was appointed by President Obama to lead the office and coordinate U.S. government activities in the global fight against modern slavery. He serves as the senior adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on the issue. Ambassador CdeBaca is one of America’s most decorated federal prosecutors, having led investigations and prosecutions of cases involving money laundering, organized crime, alien smuggling, official misconduct, hate crimes and human trafficking.
Today, Ambassador CdeBaca tells us why strong enforcement and sentencing laws and the protection of victims are such important parts of fighting human trafficking and prosecuting criminals.
Ambassador Luis CdeBaca:
Here in the United States, in the 1996 Immigration Reform and Control Act we raised the penalties for these crimes, and we immediately started to see an impact out in the field. No longer did you have 18-month or two-year sentences as kind of the going rate for these crimes. Rather we were starting to look at 15, 20, even life sentences. There are a lot of countries in the world where that’s not the case yet, and we’re working with them. At the end of the day, this crime is the equivalent of kidnapping or extortion and needs to be sentenced as such. And so that is something that we’re working with as far as our bilateral diplomacy, but also in multilateral fora and with regional groups, whether it’s the EU or OAS, ASEAN, etc., to really place this where it is. This is a violation of one of the first principles of international law. Slavery and piracy are the two first international legal norms, and slavery is the first human rights norm that was ever articulated. That means that you’ve got to have a serious response, and suspended sentences and the one- and two-year sentences — that just doesn’t cut it.
One of the things that we’ve seen in the 15 years or so that I’ve been working on this is that there are now ways in which we can protect the victims that we didn’t have before. Simply coming in and putting the bad guy in jail isn’t going to solve the problem for that victim; they need to have counseling, they need to have job opportunities, they need to have immigration relief if they were here illegally. All of those things are necessary, but they’re also necessary in order to have a good prosecution. It’s totally interlinked. If your victim is scared, if your victim is still suffering trauma, if they haven’t had psychological counseling, if they don’t trust you, then you are not going to have a good witness. I think one of the things that we’ve figured out is that victim rights and the needs of the prosecution are actually the same thing. And a number of our international partners are coming to that realization, although it’s been slow, because in many parts of the world, the notion that one would use the criminal law to vindicate human rights norms is a new idea. Frankly, in a lot of parts in the world, human rights activists have defined themselves in opposition to the practices of the police, because the police are often committing human rights abuses, rather than saying that the police need to step up and vindicate the rights of others. And so I think that to me is the biggest thing that I’ve seen is a move away from having an announced but not enforced human rights standard over to a situation where we expect, even demand, that law enforcement and governments are going to not just prosecute people, but protect the victims. That’s the big cultural shift that we’ve seen in the last 15 years, and it’s happening in some very surprising places.
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