Editor’s note: The historic anti-slavery concert last weekend in Myanmar, also known as Burma, was made possible by a coalition of organizations, including the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). We invited USAID to reflect on what the concert meant for the modern abolition movement. Chris Milligan is USAID’s Mission Director in Burma.
What a year of historic firsts. In April, Secretary Clinton re-established USAID’s mission in Burma, our first in 24 years. In November, President Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. President to visit the country, and he and Secretary Hillary Clinton officially dedicated USAID’s mission. And this past Sunday, in Burma’s first city of Rangoon, the first major international live-event was held in over half a century.
The event was Live in Myanmar, MTV EXIT’s 31st concert to counter trafficking in persons. Held in Rangoon’s People’s Square, at the base of the country’s iconic Shwedagon Pagoda, over 50,000 people gathered to hear multi Grammy Award-winning singer songwriter Jason Mraz perform. He was joined by top artists from Burma and Thailand, including Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein and R Zarni, Chan Chan, Sai Sai, Lynn Lynn, Phyo Gyi and Chit Htu Wai, and Slot Machine. The commitment and work by these local and regional artists was particularly moving. All performed for enthusiastic fans, and all came with a common purpose: to raise awareness about human trafficking.
The United Nations estimates that at any one point there are 20 million victims of human trafficking worldwide, more than half of these victims are in the Asia Pacific region. As President Obama said, “The fight against human trafficking is one of the great human rights causes of our time.” And we know that raising awareness is key to that fight. Mixing live music and critical messages, the concert organizers and participants shared in-country contact numbers for counter-trafficking police and NGOs, excerpts from two MTV EXIT documentary videos developed in Burma, and personal stories of individual Burmese who were trafficked in Southeast Asia.
U.S. Ambassador to Burma Derek Mitchell and U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Counter Trafficking Luis CdeBaca both spoke resolutely to the crowd about the U.S. Government’s commitment to combat trafficking in persons globally, and the need for youth to be alert and be educated about trafficking. USAID has been a dedicated supporter of the MTV EXIT campaign for six years, leveraging the power of music and entertainment as invaluable tools to educate young people about human trafficking.
Most exciting was the Government of Burma’s support and involvement in this effort from start to finish. Despite the staggering size of crowd, MTV EXIT’s largest to date, the government ensured a safe event without ever losing the celebratory atmosphere of the concert or the seriousness of the issue. Government representatives spoke passionately and urgently to their youth about personal protection and community awareness, and signed a pledge to work towards the end of human slavery in this generation. Their determination and commitment gave me hope.
I know that ending human trafficking can feel daunting or at times, even impossible, but on Sunday night, looking out at the crowd, I was inspired that it is within reach. We know traffickers use technology, like cell phones, and social networking sites to ensnare victims and, yet, there we were, using MTV’s global platform, which reaches 600 million people with lifesaving messages about awareness, protection and support. As USAID Administrator Dr. Raj Shah remarked, “As we’ve seen, knowledge can lead to freedom, giving us all the power to end modern slavery.”
Learn more about USAID’s Counter-Trafficking in Persons Policy and Challenge Slavery, a Counter-Trafficking in Persons Campus Challenge that calls on university students globally to develop creative technology solutions to prevent trafficking, enable victims to escape from traffickers, and help survivors recover.
Editor’s note: FTS South Asia Director Supriya Awasthi briefed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier this month during Clinton’s trip to India. We thought you would enjoy Supriya’s reflections on her experience.
It is not easy to get an invitation to meet the U.S. Secretary of State. And for me, it was not an easy invitation to keep.
Let’s start from the beginning.
I was in a remote village when the call came. It was a Friday. I learned that Hillary Clinton would welcome my views on Indian slavery when she would visit Kolkata. The problem: Secretary Clinton would be in Kolkata on Sunday. I had less then 48 hours, and a long journey ahead.
There was no chance to get home. I had to immediately hop onto an overnight train, and there were no seats. But it was the only way to get to Kolkata in time. So, I sat in the passageway beside the lavatory for 12 hours. Fortunately, my colleague Rajneesh Yadav from our partner group MSEMVS was able to join me, and we kept one another company on the floor of the train.
Once in Kolkata, I had to dash out for respectable clothes. I arrived at the Indian Council for Cultural Relations just in time to greet Ms. Clinton’s entourage.
Her visit lasted only an hour, but it was a valuable hour. Eight organizations, including Free the Slaves, briefed Secretary Clinton. She asked if the situation was improving in India, and what she could do to create more awareness about slavery.
I let her know that the approach taken by Free the Slaves and our frontline partners is working, because it helps empower those in slavery to resist and overcome slavery through community action. That point seemed to hit home with her. After all, one of her books is titled “It Takes a Village.”
I thanked Secretary Clinton for her diplomacy with Indian officials. It has had an effect. Some state governments are implementing action plans.
Ms. Clinton left the meeting saying she would be our “cheerleader.” She went on: “Let me see how I can get you more attention.” One newspaper summed up her visit to Kolkata in four words: “Trafficking Tops Hillary Agenda.”
I left the meeting exhausted, but excited and inspired.
Editor’s Note: This Sunday, March 25, marks the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and Transatlantic Slave Trade. We thought it would be a good opportunity to invite Sarah Mendelson to guest blog about an important new anti-trafficking initiative at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). She is USAID’s deputy assistant administrator at the Bureau of Democracy, Conflict & Humanitarian Assistance.
Last week, the White House hosted the annual Presidential Inter-Agency Task Force (PITF) on counter-trafficking in persons (C-TIP). This high-level meeting, chaired by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is an opportunity for leadership throughout the Administration to reaffirm our commitment to combatting trafficking in persons, outline steps taken, and those to come.
This was my second time attending the PITF, and this year I was especially proud when USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah announced the Agency’s new policy on Counter-Trafficking in Persons (C-TIP), delivering on a promise he made to Secretary Clinton a year ago.
This policy draws on the best practices from the last decade and input from experts around the world. It places a premium on learning and evaluation so we can make sure we’re pursuing the most effective approaches; focuses on innovation and technology, using the same tools traffickers use to, in this case, raise awareness of the dangers of TIP, provide trainings, and support victims; and champions the need to create exciting and effective partnerships because no one person, organization, or agency can tackle this issue alone.
Perhaps most critical, it elevates the Agency’s focus on C-TIP in conflict and post-conflict contexts. As someone who has worked in this arena for over a decade, research shows that TIP is significantly higher in and around conflict and crisis-affected regions—whether during war, peacekeeping operations, stabilization efforts, or following a natural disaster.
Widespread sex trafficking of women and girls in conflict and post-conflict settings is an unfortunate and prevalent reality. There is also an increased danger for children, separated from parents and caretakers during conflict or crisis, to be forced into child labor. The good news is that countries recovering from crisis or conflict often have greater political space for tackling challenges and instituting change. USAID will target this particularly acute period of need and moment of opportunity with specialized and enhanced interventions.
USAID is serious about these issues. Last December, the Agency worked with the White House, Department of State, Department of Defense, and civil society groups at home and abroad to launch the first U.S. National Action Plan (NAP) on Women, Peace, and Security. The United States now joins 34 countries around the world with plans in place. This is only the beginning. USAID is hard at work on an implementation plan, and we look forward to collaborating and elevating our efforts to combat TIP.
In addition to our external efforts, USAID is also walking the walk internally. This C-TIP policy builds on our 2011 Counter-Trafficking Code of Conduct that advances the highest ethical standards of our personnel, contractors, and grantees. USAID will provide staff trainings on C-TIP and actively recruit more champions, building an Agency-wide network of C-TIP experts. We will also educate contractors and grantees on how to recognize and respond to TIP, prohibitions on trafficking and the procurement of commercial sex, and the available disciplinary measures for documented violations. The Agency reserves the right to terminate grants and contracts if contractors, grantees, or sub-recipients engage in prohibited conduct.
Finally, during last week’s PITF, Administrator Shah also announced the launch of a campus challenge to combat trafficking in persons, an exciting partnership to engage new, innovative ideas on prevention and protection. Stay tuned for more details on this collaborative effort, which we hope will be a real opportunity to not only raise awareness about trafficking in persons on U.S. college and university campuses, but work with them to combat it.
USAID has made tremendous progress in the past year on C-TIP and I’m already looking forward to next year’s PITF, where we can share how we’ve turned our policy into action, announce concrete deliverables, and make new commitments to combating this horrific crime. We hope all our partners inside and outside the government will hold us accountable.
There’s been plenty of news coverage since Monday’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report from the U.S. State Department. The report ranks 184 countries on how well they’re combating trafficking and slavery.
Other stories, however, have raised questions about the TIP report’s findings. On CNN, anchor Jim Clancy asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton if the TIP process has become “politicized.” (See video of this below). In Time magazine, author Ben Skinner writes that anti-slavery activists are “quietly furious” that several U.S. allies received unwarranted favorable treatment in this year’s TIP rankings.
Read the full 2011 TIP report, and watch Secretary Clinton’s speech unveiling the report, here.
Prompted by its recent findings confirming the existence of multiple forms of modern slavery in mining areas of eastern Congo, FTS is actively pressuring the US Government to appoint a Special Envoy to the Great Lakes region. Stimulating this move is FTS’ conviction that the current administration is in dire need of stronger direction to spearhead an effective response to the complex conflict and associated atrocities afflicting the DRC.
PROBLEMS WITH CURRENT SYSTEM
A key criticism leveled at the U.S. government relates to the dispersed nature of its present approach to the Great Lakes region, with responsibility divided among a labyrinth of offices within the State Department, National Security Council, Department of Defense, USAID, as well as the various US embassies in central Africa. As David Sullivan at Enough Project points out,
“even within the Africa bureau, the basket of issues that could and should be coordinated by a single, empowered envoy are instead spread out among three different deputy assistant secretaries, each with their own additional workloads related to their respective regions.”
Consequently, while many in the U.S. government are willing and eager to address the crisis in Congo, efforts have remained piecemeal.