American Bar Association Honors Heroes of the Trafficking in Persons Report
On June 26, the American Bar Association (ABA) honored six leaders who are at the forefront of the international fight against human trafficking. In recognition of their efforts to combat trafficking, raise international awareness, and build resources for survivors, the U.S. State Department recognized these activists as “Heroes of the Trafficking in Persons Report.” The diverse group of honorees, hailing from Thailand, Hungary, Taiwan, Morocco, Argentina and Cameroon, were also presented with official awards during a ceremony on June 27 to celebrate the release of the 2017 TIP Report.
The ABA event gave these leaders the opportunity to share their experiences with representatives from a variety of anti-trafficking organizations. Fielding questions from Vivian Huelgo, Chief Counsel of the ABA Center for Human Rights, the panelists were able to speak frankly on both their triumphs and setbacks in the fight against human trafficking, as well as the unique challenges facing vulnerable populations in their home countries.
Although each honoree brought a distinct perspective to the panel, one unifying theme that emerged was the extraordinary strength and courage of human trafficking survivors. Honoree Alika Kinan was the first survivor of human trafficking to win a civil case against traffickers in Argentina. In defiance of threats against herself and her loved ones, Kinan provided testimony that solidified her lawsuit against the leaders of a large trafficking ring. Now, Kinan works as an advocate for fellow survivors, and has served as an advisor to the Argentinian government in its campaign to bring other trafficking rings to justice.
Other honorees touched on the need for holistic approaches to combat human trafficking. Honoree Sister Vanaja Jasphine noted that women and children in Cameroon often become involved in human trafficking as a result of their vulnerable social status. She argued that anti-human trafficking legislation is only effective if it also targets the underlying socioeconomic factors that contribute to the crime’s existence. Fellow Honoree Viktoria Sebhelyi echoed this sentiment, adding that individuals involved in human trafficking often fail to recognize that they are being victimized. In order to increase the number of successful human trafficking prosecutions, Sebhelyi argued that governments and NGOs need to work to raise awareness of the many forms of human trafficking and encourage those in need to seek help.
Honorees Judge Amina Oufroukhi and Allison Lee provided insightful commentary on the process of providing legal resources to human trafficking survivors. As the head of a special unit within the Morrocan Justice Department, Judge Oufroukhi spearheaded her government’s response to combatting human trafficking in the courts. Additionally, Oufroukhi oversaw the development of an extensive network of social workers and advocates that provides critical support to survivors of human trafficking.
Honoree Allison Lee founded the first labor union for foreign fishery workers in Taiwan. In order to raise awareness of the poor working conditions facing these workers, Lee launched a massive data collection campaign. By cataloging the broker fees, housing deductions and other severe penalties imposed on fishery workers, Lee hopes to build support for substantial labor law reform. Both Oufroukhi and Lee stressed the importance of a collaborative and open approach to creating sustainable and significant legal reforms.
Finally, honoree Boom Mosby of Taiwan explained how her organization is working to bring anti-trafficking activism to the digital age. Utilizing her background in computer technology, Mosby helped shape Taiwan’s online fight against human trafficking, creating comprehensive training materials for Taiwan’s law enforcement officers. Thanks to Mosby’s efforts, Taiwanese police now have extensive protocols for evidence collection, intelligence gathering, and interdiction of human trafficking conducted through online portals.
The ABA event provided a platform for these Heroes of the TIP to share their stories with fellow activists and anti-trafficking professionals. The Amara Legal Center joins this community in celebrating the achievements and honoring the stories of these remarkable individuals.
Erik Zornes is a second year student at the University of Virginia School of Law and an intern at the Amara Legal Center. He plans to pursue a career in public service.