Paige E. Chabora, Senior Advisor to
Assistant Secretary of State Harold Hongju Koh
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Remarks to the International Federation of Women Lawyers
Washington, DC, November 1, 2000
Thank you for that kind introduction and thank you also to the organizers of this event for inviting me to speak here tonight.
As Mary Wilburn said, I work at the State Department, which is the agency of the United States Government responsible for the nation's foreign policy and international relations. I serve as a Senior Advisor to Assistant Secretary of State Harold Hongju Koh, who heads the Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Our bureau is the office within the State Department responsible for U.S. human rights policy.
I'd like to speak tonight about women and human rights, with attention to one human rights problem -- the trafficking of persons. Trafficking is one of the most brutal forms of evil that the international human rights community faces today, but I remain optimistic that the coordinated efforts of governments, nongovernmental organizations, and individuals will help fight this scourge.
But first, let me say how honored I am to be here. This conference has brought together an impressive array of women lawyers from around the globe, who do such significant work. Frankly, it's great to see so many women lawyers in one room. One hundred and thirty years ago, a gathering like this would have been inconceivable to the men who sat on the United States Supreme Court. Let me explain what I mean. In 1872, Myra Bradwell, a woman living in the State of Illinois, wanted to be a lawyer. But the state said no, stating that only men could practice law. She challenged this rule, and appealed her case to the United States Supreme Court, the highest court in this country. The Supreme Court upheld the state's refusal to let Myra Bradwell practice law. In his concurring opinion, Justice Bradley stated that men and women belonged in separate spheres based on -- in his words -- the "law of the Creator." He further stated, and I again quote, that "the natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life." Obviously, Justice Bradley never met any of the women in this room.
It took 100 years for the Supreme Court to finally invalidate a law that discriminated arbitrarily on the basis of sex. But like all of you, women in the United States are tearing down the walls of prejudice and discrimination.
Women, and women lawyers, of course, have made tremendous progress in the United States since Myra Bradwell was told she could not practice law. In fact, there are now two female justices who sit on the same Supreme Court that decided Myra Bradwell's case. And the highest ranking lawyer in the U.S. Justice Department is a woman, Attorney General Janet Reno.
I am especially proud to have the honor of serving under Madeleine Albright, this country's first female Secretary of State. Having a woman at the helm has certainly made a difference at the State Department. Secretary Albright has brought human rights and women's rights into the mainstream of American foreign policy. When conducting diplomatic business with her counterparts around the world, she has made a point of raising women's rights at every opportunity.
But, as we like to say at the Department, Secretary Albright will be remembered not for her gender, but for her agenda. Under her strong leadership, the State Department has made human rights and women's rights a priority and has supported efforts to improve women's status worldwide. For example, the State Department and USAID support various overseas programs, including projects designed to expand the ability of women in developing countries to succeed economically, through legal reforms and access to education, credit, and health care. These efforts seek to help women bring down the barriers to political participation as voters, advocates, legislators, and leaders.
As everyone in this room is aware, multilateral efforts have also done much to address women's human rights internationally. As you will recall, in Beijing in 1995, 188 governments and many nongovernmental organizations came together and agreed upon a Platform for Action that was the single strongest statement of women's rights ever made. The challenge from that day forward has been to translate that platform into laws and policies and practices that improve the day-to-day lives of women and girls.
But while we can and should honor the progress that has been made both here in the U.S. and internationally, we must also look to the future and acknowledge how much remains to be done. As Secretary Albright said earlier this year on March 8, 2000 -- International Women's Day -- "Too many women in too many places still live surrounded by the four walls of poverty and ignorance, exploitation, and discrimination. Too many have entered the new century shackled by the physical and psychological chains of the past." Secretary Albright's statement attests to a sad truth. Women all over the world are too often second class citizens, denied the most basic elements of human rights and justice.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the trafficking of persons, particularly women and children. Each year, at least 700,000 women, children, and men are trafficked around the world. Victims are forced to work in sweatshops, as domestic servants, and as prostitutes. They receive little or no money for their work, and often are not provided with adequate food or shelter. Working conditions are poor and often dangerous. Threats and violence are often part of their daily life. Women and girls are especially vulnerable to traffickers, due in large part to their inferior status in many societies and their lack of access to educational and economic opportunities. And, worst of all, the trafficking industry is a growing problem. It is one of the world's fastest growing and most lucrative criminal enterprises. The industry generates enormous profits -- billions of dollars every year. In fact, trafficking in persons is considered the third largest source of profits for organized crime, behind only drugs and guns.
But trafficking is more than a multibillion dollar industry, or an immigration problem, or a health problem. As Assistant Secretary Koh has said, it is the very antithesis of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It denies the very humanity of its victims. Traffickers view their victims as objects, chattel to be bought and sold as needed. They deny their victims freedom of movement, freedom of association, and the freedom to have a childhood. Traffickers profit from poverty, arbitrary detention, slavery, rape, and cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment. In other words, trafficking is a modern form of slavery.
The trafficking problem poses a number of complex challenges to human rights advocates. First, trafficking is pervasive and occurs all over the world. It is a truly global plague, one that may appear in Denver as well as in Delhi, in London as in Lagos. It involves victims from every walk of life, every religion, every culture. The most recent edition of the annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, which is published by my bureau in the State Department, identifies over 60 countries in which trafficking takes place. That represents nearly one-third of the countries in the world.
Second, trafficking takes many different forms -- from forced prostitution to bonded labor; from the coerced work of sweatshops to the impressment of child soldiers. While there are many variations, there are always victims, forced or lured from their homes to be taken elsewhere in the country or shuttled across international borders and kept as virtual slaves. Despite the various forms trafficking may take, all trafficking victims have one thing in common -- a lack of freedom.
Third, the poverty, social inequality and lack of opportunity that are the root causes of trafficking are extremely difficult to cure. In "source countries," where trafficking originates, most victims of trafficking are girls and women under the age 25. Some are taken by force, but many fall victim because they sought a better life. Some victims are runaways; others have been sold to traffickers by families who cannot afford to take care of them or see this as the only way in which the child can contribute to the family's well-being. Some may know the risks they are taking, but feel that their own futures are so bleak it is worth the risk. In almost every situation the traffickers prey on the hopes and fears of their victims.
Fourth, it is extremely difficult for people who have been trafficked to escape their plight. Once people are under traffickers' control, typically traffickers move them to "transit countries" and make it clear that they have no choice but to accept prostitution, debt bondage, or other forms of involuntary servitude in order to pay off their debts. If their victims have identity papers, they confiscate them. Once victims of trafficking arrive in so-called "receiving countries," they are usually kept in squalid conditions in a state of virtual imprisonment. They often do not speak the language of the country where they now find themselves. They are often reluctant to reach out for help; in part because they fear being prosecuted for violating immigration laws, or laws against prostitution. In many cases, the police in their home countries were not sources of assistance, but corrupt and often part of the problem, so they fear that local police will also be unsympathetic. In many cases, sadly, they are right.
The victims' brutal daily routine includes violence, drugs, and threats about the authorities or threats of harm to the victim's family. The routine includes long hours of forced servitude -- whether in a brothel as a prostitute, at gunpoint as a child soldier, or in a sweatshop at a sewing machine. Young boys, some as young as two years old, are trafficked as camel jockeys because they are lightweight, and scream, which makes the camel go faster. If a child is injured or crippled as a result, they are turned out into the streets to beg. In cases involving prostitution and pornography, victims are forced to continue working regardless of disease or physical condition, meaning that many work despite having contracted sexually-transmitted diseases, including HIV, and others are forced to work throughout their pregnancies. Typically, the HIV crisis has only fueled the expansion of sex trafficking, with pimps seeking increasingly younger girls and boys in order to market them to customers as "clean." Health care is non-existent or provided only by fellow victims. This leaves most victims at high risk of further health complications.
Fifth, trafficking is a vicious circle. Because victims cannot escape their circumstances, children of victims become victims themselves. Many children born to trafficking victims while in captivity will themselves be trafficked through adoption rings, ensuring that this horrible cycle will continue.
So -- how do we address this scourge? How do we break this cycle? Any strategy, in order to be effective, will have to target each of these problems. Under Secretary Albright's leadership, this Administration has developed a comprehensive three-pronged strategy to attack this global plague: prevent trafficking; protect its victims; and prosecute those who profit from it.
First, prevention. We can only prevent trafficking if we attack the root causes of trafficking worldwide. This means we must fight poverty and social inquality that leave populations -- such as women and girls -- vulnerable to traffickers, and we must educate potential victims so that they do not fall prey to traffickers' deceitful schemes. For example, among the many prevention initiatives launched by the United States is a USAID program which funds a consortium of NGOs in Ukraine to provide job skills, education, and mentoring for at-risk women. The U.S. supports similar information and training programs -- as well as microcredit and education initiatives -- in other countries where people are at risk of being trafficked.
Second, protection. We all must commit to helping trafficking victims around the world by freeing them from slavery, providing them with shelter, health services , and resettlement options, and by ensuring that they are not punished for what their captors have done. In many cases, victims are often prosecuted for violations of immigration or other laws, and end up serving more time in jail than do the traffickers themselves. In other cases, they are simply left to their own devices once the authorities have broken a trafficking ring. It is crucial to provide help to these people so that they do not fall prey to further victimization. That is why the U.S. is supporting a wide range of initiatives around the world that help trafficking victims return to their homes and rejoin society.
Third, a comprehensive response to trafficking requires effective prosecution of the perpetrators. We must dedicate ourselves to bringing traffickers to justice both at home and abroad by ensuring that tough laws are on the books and that prosecutors, police, and immigration officials have the skills to enforce them. Assistance programs that help legislators draft tougher laws -- and that train law enforcement officials so that they can better detect and capture traffickers and then bring them to justice -- are a start.
But more is needed. Because trafficking in persons is a transnational problem, it requires multilateral solutions and the cooperative efforts of many countries to stamp it out. That is why I am especially pleased to report that, last week, U.S. Government negotiators reached agreement with counterparts from more than 100 other countries on a United Nations Protocol that will permit a coordinated multilateral attack on those who traffic in and enslave others. The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children unites governments in a coordinated effort to stop this heinous crime. The Protocol is an addendum to the U.N. Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime. The Protocol does three things. First, it requires its adherents to criminalize trafficking, punish severely those who engage in it, and provide appropriate protection for victims. Second, it requires governments to promote public awareness campaigns to aid and protect victims of trafficking, and to provide for the safe return and repatriation of victims who have been trafficked abroad. Third, it provides a framework for countries to work together to combat transnational trafficking. We hope the U.S. Senate will quickly give advice and consent to the Trafficking Protocol so that we can join other governments in making it an effective tool in this important struggle.
While trafficking is clearly a problem of transnational scope that demands a global solution, the United States has worked hard to help formulate a response to its own trafficking problem. Last month, the U.S. Congress passed legislation that will create powerful tools to help us crack down on trafficking. The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 establishes a federal law that specifically criminalizes trafficking in persons within the United States, sets out harsh penalties for those convicted of it, and provides new protections for victims. The legislation provides the President with a wide range of options that may be taken against governments that fail to meet certain minimum standards in their efforts to eliminate trafficking. These options include suspension of non-humanitarian, non-trade-related assistance. The bill also establishes an interagency task force, to be chaired by the Secretary of State, to monitor and adapt our efforts to combat trafficking. The bill also provides immigration relief to trafficking victims who aid in the prosecution of their traffickers, and strengthens protection programs both for victims here in the United States and abroad. The Administration is deeply grateful to the Congress for its overwhelming support of this vitally important legislation.
So we have made important steps in this struggle against trafficking. But as all of you know, equally troubling problems remain. Let me mention just a few of the issues that continue to pose a serious threat to the human rights of women.
It has been said that women's rights are human rights. This is undoubtedly true, and yet human rights problems may have different ramifications for women and men. For example, women and children make up approximately 80% of the world's 30 million refugees. But, women's needs are often neglected in times of conflict and human rights abuses, and rates of maternal mortality and morbidity are extremely high among refugee women and girls.
Women in virtually every society continue to face discrimination in many forms. For example, laws continue to relegate women to second class status -- by curtailing their freedom of movement, preventing them from inheriting property, limiting their ability to divorce, restricting their access to education, and barring them from the workplace. But when women gain influence in society, the discriminatory laws begin to change.
For this reason, democracy is essential to the realization of women's human rights. Women must have the right to vote and to have a voice in the decisions that affect their lives. Nations must do their utmost to encourage women's full participation in every aspect of national life. As Secretary Albright has stated, we should continue to work so that from the "smallest village to the largest city, the voices of women are heard at the ballot box and in legislatures, in classrooms and boardrooms, to help counsel peace and build prosperity," and to ensure that human rights are protected.
This is why the Administration has continued to call on the U.S. Senate to Ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Senate ratification of CEDAW is central to maintaining our position and would strengthen our global efforts to advance the status of women.
Violence against women is another intractable problem. Both private actors and public officials commit the violence. As Human Rights Watch has reported, "women are beaten in their homes by intimate partners; raped and otherwise sexually assaulted during times of internal conflict; sexually assaulted by law enforcement personnel while in their custody; raped in refugee camps by other refugees, local police, or the military; and targeted for sexual violence based on their low social status." To add to the injury, judicial systems fail to investigate and condemn the acts of domestic and sexual violence -- this entrenches women's second class status.
Another major challenge is how to stop traditional practices that target women. One of the worst of these is the practice of honor killing, where family members take it upon themselves to kill their wives, daughters, sisters, or cousins because they suspect them of bringing shame upon the family. It is hard to think of a practice with a more inappropriate name, as there is no honor in honor killing. Rather, there is only shame in the fact that many of these incidents escape prosecution. So long as this tragic practice persists, women and girls will not enjoy the full array of human rights to which they are entitled.
It is clear that we still have plenty of work to do. Protecting women's human rights must remain a central goal of human rights advocacy. How can we do this? How do we get our message through to the places where these practices persist?
The answer, I think, lies with all of us tonight. It's you, and people like you, with interests and contacts throughout the world. In every country there are institutions and organizations, private citizens, businesses, media, and government officials who are being drawn together by the common set of values that we know as universal human rights.
All of us who work in human rights -- in places like the State Department or through organizations like the International Federation of Women Lawyers -- need to recognize the power that lies in these networks. Within these networks, we can find a new way of doing human rights work for the 21st century. Thanks to the Internet, satellite, phones, and faxes, we all have the tools now to reach out to almost every place on the planet. We can unite around issues with unprecedented speed and bring unprecedented international pressure to bear on government policies.
As Robert Kennedy said in South Africa some 25 years before apartheid ended: "Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, these ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."
It seems to me that the International Federation of Women Lawyers embodies Robert Kennedy's remarks. Individually, you are each centers of energy and daring. Together, you are links in a large and growing transnational network of shared interests. I applaud your efforts and accomplishments, and am inspired by your resolve.
In closing, as Secretary Albright has stated, "the women's movement has endured because of the underlying power of its basic premise, which is that every individual counts. This basic idea of valuing each human person fairly is what has united our movement across the boundaries of geography, status, culture, and time. It is what gives us faith that the day will come when every girl, everywhere, will be able to look ahead with confidence that her life will be valued, her individuality respected, her rights protected and her future determined solely by her own ability and character."
I couldn't agree more with the Secretary's comments. And I think that Myra Bradwell -- the woman who was told back in 1872 that only men could practice law -- would be heartened if she could be here tonight, to see the miracle of this room -- full of women lawyers from around the world. And I think she would be especially pleased to see that all these women are using their special status as lawyers to fulfill the highest aspirations of the law -- to promote and protect human rights. One hundred and thirty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court thought women were too timid and delicate to be lawyers. How wrong they were. Imagine where we will be in one hundred and thirty years from now.
Thank you for having me this evening. I wish you all the best.
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