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.
If you’ve ever wondered how pervasive slavery is in the modern world, you should check out today’s Trafficking in Persons Report from the U.S. State Department. It chronicles the scope of slavery country by country around the globe—literally from A to Z, Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.
“The TIP report is a vivid reminder that slavery is happening almost everywhere, including the United States,” says FTS co-founder Kevin Bales. “It will take a global movement, and global leaders, to end it.”
The theme of this year’s report: “The Promise of Freedom,” commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation in the United States. The report was presented by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“The end of legal slavery in the United States and in other countries around the world has not, unfortunately, meant the end of slavery,” Clinton said. “Today it is estimated as many as 27 million people around the world are victims of modern slavery.”
Clinton noted how far the world has come since the days when slavery was legal, but noted how far we have to go. She did not shy away from using the “S” word during her remarks at the State Department in Washington.
“Labeling this for what it is, slavery, has brought it to another dimension.” she said. “There is no mistaking what it means, what it does.”
The State Department’s top anti-trafficking official says the report shows there’s been progress.
“As long as the Trafficking in Persons Report is needed,” said Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, “we will find in its pages account after account of traffickers peddling false hope. But that’s not all that we find in the pages of this report. Because every year that passes those false hopes are overtaken more and more by real hope. The real hope that the modern abolitionist movement provides.”
The TIP Report not only identifies the extent of slavery in 186 countries and territories, it rates the efforts of individual nations to confront this human rights abuse. This year 30 countries have been doing a better job and received better ratings, according to State Department analysts. They said 15 countries have slipped in their efforts and were downgraded.
“An important contribution of the TIP Report is its balance,” Bales notes. “It shines a light on the problem of forced labor slavery as well as sex trafficking. It’s vital to fight modern slavery in all its forms, because everyone in slavery today deserves to live in freedom.”
A report does not end slavery, but the TIP Report is viewed by activists as an important tool.
“Excuse the pun here, but the TIP report is the tip of an iceberg,” Bales says. No single report, or national government, can end global slavery on its own. But the TIP Report serves as call to action for our president and Congress, as well as for other world leaders, to continue to mobilize resources and political willpower to make the eradication of slavery a worldwide priority.”
Earlier this month, it was reported that Delta Air Lines became the first U.S. airline to sign on to the Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism (The Code), pledging to train employees to identify and report potential instances of human trafficking—and also educate travelers about modern-day slavery through their in-flight magazine and website.
At a conference on modern-day slavery in the Vatican last week, U.S. Congressman Chris Smith (R–NJ) made note of Delta Air Lines’ groundbreaking efforts. Smith has long been a supporter of anti-slavery efforts. Last July, he took part in a Capitol Hill briefing on how airlines can work to help stop human trafficking, in which he said, “It has come to my attention that U.S. airlines are being exploited as trafficking routes into the United States. Women and children are being transported to lives of slavery in broad daylight, shrouded only by the lack of awareness or inaction of these around them.” Read Smith’s full letter here (PDF)
Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, head of the U.S. State Department’s human trafficking office was also in attendance at last week’s Vatican conference. He reaffirmed the importance of businesses—such as major airlines—incorporating human trafficking awareness and prevention techniques into their staff training programs. The Ambassador said, “It will take private-sector corporations collaborating with countries across regions to … figure out where trafficking exists and how to fight it.”
UN-affiliated NGO Airline Ambassadors International (AAI)—in collaboration with anti-slavery group Innocents at Risk—has also taken action to bring airlines into the anti-slavery movement. They created a training program to educate airline professionals to spot signs of human trafficking. AAI President Nancy Rivard says that airline workers are in a unique position to monitor and thwart trafficking as it happens.”Flight attendants and pilots can play a key role as eyes and ears for international security efforts,” she says. she has called for all U.S. airlines to incorporate human trafficking prevention into their staff safety training, and to make the human trafficking hotline available to passengers.
Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, who heads the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Human Trafficking has been called America’s “Human Trafficking Czar.” As a federal prosecutor, CdeBaca was lead council in what was the biggest human trafficking case on U.S. soil. His work has contributed to the liberation of hundreds of people.
In past weeks, CdeBaca has indicated an area of particular concern to the anti-slavery movement: the re-victimization slavery survivors by the criminal justice system.
Ambassador CdeBaca recently testified at a hearing on modern day slavery at the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where he said the future challenges of his office will be to get law enforcement to recognize human trafficking victims as victims—rather than “merely illegal immigrants or criminals.”
CdeBaca’s statements on this issue were picked up yesterday by the Associated Press, who ran a brief story titled “US: Trafficking victims subject to detention”
In our work, Free the Slaves has seen this happen. One of our 2010 Freedom Award winners, Tina Frundt, was trafficked into sex slavery when she was just 14 years old. When the police came knocking, they didn’t treat her as a victim. They arrested her for prostitution.
Read Tina Frundt’s testimony to Congress, urging the passage of the Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Deterrence and Victims Support Act (H.R. 5575)
“In examining [modern day slavery], we not only see the incredible human rights abuses inflicted on these individuals but also realize that European and American consumers would likely have no idea that what they were eating was tainted by slave labor. Similarly, women in prostitution are all too often dismissed as unworthy of sympathy. If foreign nationals, they are jailed and deported. If citizens, in many countries they are punished while their clients walk freely. Rather than asking if they might be victims of a crime, society turns its gaze away.”
—Luis CdeBaca, Anti-Human Trafficking Ambassador of the U.S. State Department, during a speech today at the University of Luxembourg, titled “The Global Fight Against Human Trafficking: Ten Years After Palermo”