COVID-19 has only increased the risks of human trafficking and exploitation, and this vulnerability requires our urgent and concrete response.
This was at the heart of a virtual Symposium organized by U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Callista Gingrich, and her embassy in Rome, titled “Combatting Human Trafficking: Action in a Time of Crisis,” Oct. 14, 2020, during which the Ambassador decried trafficking as “a stain on all of humanity,” noting it invades borders, destroys communities, and robs millions of their human dignity.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, human traffickers continue to prey upon the most vulnerable,” Ambassador Gingrich said, noting: “Unlike other industries, human trafficking is impervious to our current health crisis. In fact, in many communities, exploitation, abuse, and modern slavery are on the rise.”
Lamenting that countless victims, especially women and children, face growing threats, she warned that as the economic fallout of this pandemic continues, additional men, women, and children are likely to become victims of forced labor and sex trafficking.
Calling for tackling together this scourge, the U.S. Ambassador praised the work of Talitha Kum and explained the concrete actions of the United States Government, including more than 100 million dollars from the U.S. Justice Department, to work toward defeating the crisis.
She said that her Embassy is honored to promote and support “the courageous work of Catholic sisters,” noting U.S. grants have funded anti-trafficking programs for women religious internationally, who “are working tirelessly” against the scourge.
“We applaud the work of Talitha Kum — a global organization, led by Sister Gabriella Bottani and comprised of over 2,000 Catholic sisters in 92 countries – all working to eradicate human trafficking,” Ambassador Gingrich underscored.
From the Vatican, Jesuit Cardinal Michael Czerny, Under-Secretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section, of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, spoke. The M&R Section is responsible for issues related to human trafficking and helping victims.
“The vast majority of people,” Cardinal Czerny lamented, “are not having their basic human needs met.” “That should mobilize us,” the close papal collaborator encouraged.
The Czech-born Canadian cardinal expressed his hope that we “might rediscover once for all that we need one another, and that in this way our human family can experience a rebirth, with all its faces, all its hands and all its voices, beyond the walls that we have erected.”
Cardinal Czerny highlighted how the Holy Father’s call to fraternity in his recent social encyclical Fratelli Tutti helps provide a compass to help individuals, institutions and governments, to work together, to effectuate change and have meaningful results.
The Ambassador to the Holy See and Sister Patricia Murray, Executive Secretary of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG), gave welcome remarks, which were followed by an address by John Cotton Richmond, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.
Ambassador Gingrich expressed appreciation for the invaluable collaboration between the United States and Holy See and underscored the “moral imperative” of the United States to work against human trafficking.
Ambassador John Cotton Richmond, also decried the severity of the crisis, but added: “There are many reasons for hope – and the efforts of religious communities provide tangible examples for our hope.”
Various religious sisters also spoke and were praised for their extraordinary efforts to help human trafficking world wide. Sister Murray told a story of a young man from Ghana, Edward, whose family worked to raise money for him to travel to Europe and have a better life there, but was later enslaved and tortured.
Later a panel brought light to various issues tied to trafficking. Those speaking were Sister Gabriella Bottani, International Coordinator of Talitha Kum Network; Olga Zhyvytsya, International Advocacy Officer of Caritas Internationalis; Kevin Hyland, OBE Senior Advisor of Santa Marta Group; Princess Okokon, Cultural Mediator Piam ONLUS Asti; and Valiant Richey, Special Representative and Coordinator for Combatting, Trafficking in Human Beings OSCE.
Richey shared the disconcerting fact that for every 2300 trafficked victims, only one trafficker is prosecuted. “We have to stop buying goods made by trafficked persons,” he said, adding that in the 20 years since the adoption of the Palermo Protocol, not a single country has defeated human trafficking.
“COVID19,” he implored, “is a time to invest in combatting human trafficking. Failure to do so will turn a health crisis into a humanitarian crisis.”
This year of 2020 marks the 20th anniversary of two significant anti-trafficking agreements. The United States’ Trafficking Victims Protection Act, signed into law on Oct. 28, 2000, established the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, the United States’ first office solely dedicated to combating all forms of human trafficking, and mandated an annual Trafficking in Persons Report, which has become a critical tool of U.S. diplomacy.
Second, the Palermo Protocol was adopted by the United Nations on Nov 15, 2000, serving as a multilateral tool to prevent, suppress, and punish human trafficking. To date, 178 countries have signed the Protocol, “making it one of the most widely adopted international accords in history.”