As-salamu alaykum. Good morning.
There is a wonderfully forgiving phrase used frequently in Southern Africa when there are far too many distinguished guests to properly recognize: All protocols observed.
It is a pleasure to be here with colleagues from the Bangladesh United Nations Network on Migration. Thank you for the kind invitation.
I give a lot of thought to what my first official public event should be as a new U.S. ambassador. It should amplify, in my view, one of my top priorities during my assignment. In Botswana, it was a public testing for HIV as U.S. support for that nation’s HIV/AIDS epidemic was one of our embassy’s top priorities. In Bangladesh it was the official launch of the National Plan of Action to fight human trafficking in December 2018.
Working with all of you to fighting human trafficking remains one of the U.S. Embassy’s top priorities. My sense of urgency is magnified by the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. We know human traffickers prey upon the most vulnerable and look for opportunities to exploit them. Instability and lack of access to critical services caused by the pandemic mean the number of people vulnerable to exploitation by traffickers is rapidly growing.
Human trafficking is denying nearly 25 million people their fundamental right to freedom, forcing them to live enslaved and toil for their exploiter’s profit. This is a global threat necessitating a global response.
So it is great to see such a broad section of important actors in the fight against human trafficking represented here today. This crime requires strong collaboration from government, civil society, activists, and international organizations.
Our fight must involve training law enforcement officials, bringing TIP cases to court, building strong community networks, protecting survivors, and enhancing cooperation between countries to investigate trafficking networks.
I have had the privilege to see many of you action. I have seen our unstoppable combined power when we work together. Because together there is almost nothing we can not accomplish in battling human trafficking. We are proving it.
I met with prosecutors and judges just yesterday at a U.S. funded course on investigating and prosecuting traffickers through the seven newly established anti-human trafficking tribunals which is a huge step forward.
USAID/Bangladesh has funded the six-and-a-half-year work of our partner, Winrock International, transforming lives once threatened or blighted by modern slavery. Through six shelter homes in different districts of Bangladesh and three safe spaces in the Rohingya host community, USAID/Bangladesh is providing safe accommodation, counseling, legal aid, health and livelihood support. Over the past six years, USAID has supported more than 2,800 trafficking survivors and trained more than 1,400 criminal justice actors to prosecute trafficking cases more effectively.
There are so many other ways we are working together. And I hope the collaborative discussion today will lead to new proposals and idea to combat human trafficking.
The 2020 State Department Trafficking in Persons Report showed an upgrade in Bangladesh’s ranking from Tier 2 Watch List to Tier 2.
I congratulate Bangladesh – especially so many of you who fought tirelessly to pursue accountability for traffickers and freedom for victims. You are this country’s heroes in the fight against global human trafficking. I want to recognize former Foreign Secretary Haque for his fearless advocacy. This could not have been accomplished without his personal dedication to the fight.
A luta continua. The struggle continues. As my friend Ambassador John Richmond, Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, and I wrote in our June 26 op-ed in The Daily Star, we have four recommendations, humbly offered, for further actions for the Government of Bangladesh to take in the months ahead. Because I know Shahidul and all of us want Bangladesh to be Tier One, to be a model and example in this fight, to the region and to the world.
Our first recommendation is to take all actions necessary to employ the seven anti-human trafficking tribunals to reduce bottlenecks prosecuting trafficking cases. Victims cannot wait another day for justice.
The second is to enhance victim care for all trafficking survivors – male and female, young and old. Many civil society organizations have taken the lead on this effort. We would like to see the government work even more closely with these partners in caring for victims and ensuring survivors receive the support necessary to begin the healing process.
The third is to protect Bangladeshis who seek to work abroad. We need to ensure the pathway from Bangladesh to destination country is free from unscrupulous agencies and traffickers who lay traps for workers with inflated recruiting costs. All of us can work together to make sure workers are fully informed and prepared before they depart the country. If workers are caught up in traffickers’ schemes, we need effective government safeguards to protect them and bring them home.
The fourth is to take immediate measures to thoroughly investigate reports of sex trafficking in formal and informal brothels. No one should be forced to engage in commercial sex because they were born in a brothel.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of both the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act as well as the United Nation’s adoption of the Palermo Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. We commend Bangladesh for joining over 150 State Parties to meet the Protocol’s objectives.
To me the call of this dual 20th anniversary is clear. And it is “Every human being,” as Martin Luther King said, “is an heir to the legacy of dignity and worth.”
Human trafficking, modern slavery, has no place in our world. Anywhere. Anymore.
The United States reaffirms our commitment to partnering with all of you to fight human trafficking.
On a personal note, as someone who was a law enforcement official for 24 years and investigated and put handcuffs on human traffickers, I know how difficult and complex this issue can be. How sophisticated, far reaching, and dangerous trafficking networks are as we have all seen in tragic recent events involving Bangladeshi trafficking victims. I want to tell you to keep up the good fight. You have my respect, admiration, and gratitude for the very difficult job you do so very well. The citizens of Bangladesh you so bravely protect and serve are in your debt. We all are.