Nongovernmental Groups Key in Battle Against Human Trafficking

By Eric Green
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington - Many nations are working “hand-in-hand” with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to combat global trafficking in persons, says Mark Lagon, the State Department’s new director of anti-trafficking issues.

Speaking June 13, Lagon said governments that are partners with NGOs have shown concrete gains in the global human trafficking fight, as documented in the State Department’s new report on the issue.  Lagon praised NGOs as the “eyes and ears” for monitoring trafficking abuses worldwide.

Lagon briefed representatives from about 90 NGOs on the State Department’s report, released June 12.  He said Bolivia, Brazil, Indonesia, Israel, Jamaica, Peru and Taiwan are “striking examples” of countries committed to the “rule of law” and “pluralism” that are working with NGOs, rather “than leaving the work” of trafficking victim assistance to NGOs.  (See related article.)

The seven nations’ cooperation with NGOs is reflected in an improved anti-trafficking effort in 2006 as compared to 2005.  The department’s report advanced those countries from a Tier 2 “watch list” that signifies a failure to address trafficking problems to a higher Tier 2 category for a “significant” commitment against trafficking, said Lagon, whose formal title is director of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Human Trafficking in Persons.

NGOs at the briefing included the Washington-based Free the Slaves, which has produced three documentaries concerning labor trafficking in the United States and India.  U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide are arranging screenings for foreign audiences of those documentaries, along with several other films that vividly display the evils of trafficking in persons, which has been termed the modern-day equivalent of slavery. (See related article.)

Also represented at the briefing was the Ricky Martin Foundation.  The State Department named Martin, who founded the NGO, as one of its "heroes acting to end modern-day slavery" in its 2005 Trafficking in Persons report.  The department said the famous singer was “lending a powerful voice to vulnerable children who are unable to speak for themselves" and "reaching tens of millions of people around the world."  (See related article.)

Another group at the briefing was the Polaris Project, whose success in fighting human trafficking demonstrates the effective partnerships that can be built between NGOs and government.  (See related article.)

Lagon told the NGOs that the department’s 2007 report is dedicated to Ko Maung, who along with 30 other Burmese, died at sea pursuing a dream of earning enough money to return to Burma and build a house for his children.  Lagon said Ko Maung died from hard labor and starvation after being forced to remain at sea for years while being denied pay.

The 2007 report reiterated Lagon’s praise for the groups worldwide who heard Ko Maung’s “voice of agony” and are working against those who “rely on this despicable trade in ‘disposable’ humans.”

For additional information, see 2007 Trafficking in Persons Report.

More information on U.S. policies to combat human trafficking is available on the State Department Web site.