Vatican Conference Seeks to Combat Human Trafficking

Almost lost in the Vatican Gardens, with St. Peter’s Basilica looming on one side and the Apostolic Palace on the other, the Casina Pio IV may be easily overlooked. This small retreat provides a snapshot into the baroque lifestyle of the Popes in the 16th-century. It was here, amidst the works of Barocci and Zuccari, that Catholics and Anglicans, diplomats and NGO representatives, academics and journalists all gathered in the Great Hall of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (housed in the Casino) to discuss current anti-trafficking measures throughout the world today.

On July 29th, the Global Freedom Network, the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See, and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences co-hosted a Digital Video Conference with Luis CdeBaca, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. The primary focus of the Conference was to discuss the U.S. State Department’s 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report, released just over a month ago. The conference provided a forum for members of the international community to not only hear about the intricacies of the report and further developments and responses since its release, but also to ask questions from their own perspectives and the work that they are engaged in throughout the world.


After opening remarks by Antonia Stampalija, CEO of the Global Freedom Network, and an opening prayer by Archbishop Sir David Moxon, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Representative to the Holy See, Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Social Sciences as well as the Inaugural Board Chair of the Global Freedom Network, offered remarks. Bishop Sanchez spoke of the new approaches being taken to recognize and fight modern slavery, citing just how widespread trafficking has become: “Over $150 billion is profited through human trafficking pursuits. Eighty percent of this sum comes from prostitution... the average annual amount of money produced by each prostitute each year for organized crime is $50,000.” Bishop Sanchez cited the Vatican-II document "Gaudiem et Spes," which states, “…slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, and disgraceful working conditions where people are treated as instruments of gain rather than free and responsible persons,” are “infamies” which “poison human society, debase their perpetrators” and constitute “a Supreme dishonor to the Creator.”

Bishop Sanchez also made note of the international effort that is already underway, welcoming and praising the efforts of Pope Francis, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, stating “We must be grateful [to them]… for identifying one of the most important social tragedies of our times and having enough courage to… spot human trafficking, engage our communities, and commit to take action.”

Ambassador Ken Hackett, U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, shared similar remarks. “It (trafficking) is an issue,” stated Hackett, “that transcends cultures, nationalities, societies and economic and political structures.” Hackett also commented on the international representation present at the conference, stating, “All of you gathered here is a representation of the international concern about this issue, and it is heartening.”

Ambassador CdeBaca then offered his remarks and led a discussion period, in which he emphasized the proper treatment of victims as survivors and courageous individuals, immigration reform and its place in combatting trafficking, the necessity of willing and capable political structures, and the pursuit of a consistent effort to ensure that U.S. government procurements, and all markets, are free from slave-produced items, noting the need for cooperation with the business community at large. He also noted that the three main areas, or the ‘3 P’s’ paradigm, that the State Department is trying to promote are prevention, protection and prosecution. CdeBaca said, “We recognize that one cannot simply protect the victims… if one doesn’t do anything to change the underlying cultural assumptions that help create and foster slavery… one can’t prevent trafficking or protect its victims without holding traffickers responsible.”

CdeBaca’s main focus fell on the strength and abilities of the survivors, stating, “What we have found in working with trafficking victims is they are not the most vulnerable. They might be vulnerable because of circumstance.… But they are not weak. They are often the strongest ones. They are often the ones willing to travel for a new and better life.” He did not focus on them as statistics or numbers, but rather with a great sense of humanity and compassion. The ambassador also commented on the role that the church and religious organizations play in combatting human trafficking, sharing stories of missionaries and religious who have helped save trafficking victims. “Often unnoticed people are not unnoticed,” said CdeBaca, “typically the faith community is noticing them. And we as governments have to step up and recognize them as well.”

When questioned about immigration reform and the effect that it would have on fighting trafficking, CdeBaca said that we would certainly see improvements within the first year, by bringing “people out of the shadows,” and allowing them to become comfortable with law enforcement. However, referencing what he referred to as “a monopoly on information,” CdeBaca stated that after a year we would begin again to see an increase in trafficking, as traffickers still remain a necessity for migrants to enter into other countries. Migrants, not possessing the information or knowledge on how to travel into foreign countries must rely on individuals whom they do not know and who may choose to exploit them. “Only by breaking the monopoly of information that the traffickers have can we hope to bring about an end to trafficking.”

Another major point that CdeBaca focused on was the willingness of political and economic communities to bring an end to trafficking. Calling Pope Francis' aim to end trafficking by 2020  “ambitious,” CdeBaca noted the great cooperation that would be necessary to accomplish such a goal. “Getting governments to spend against Human Trafficking in simply a matter of political will,” stated CdeBaca. An important step was taken by the U.S. Government when President Obama signed Executive Order 13627, which seeks to effectively remove slave-produced products from being procured by the U.S. Government and places heavy compliances on participating contractors and subcontractors. CdeBaca then discussed the responsibilities held by the businesses that may employ or buy from slave-labor markets, stating, “Without the support of the business community, slavery-dependent supply chains will be impossible to break.” There was an clear emphasis throughout CdeBaca’s talk about the various societal factors that need to come together in order to effectively end human trafficking, and he was right: it is ambitious, but it doesn’t mean that we should stop fighting.

The timing of the conference proved fortuitous as July 30 marked the first ever UN-sanctioned Day against Trafficking in Persons. In their #igivehope campaign, (which may be found here), the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime has launched a campaign to raise awareness of the effects of human trafficking on certain communities, particularly children and women, who comprise a majority of victims worldwide.

The conference was a positive sign that so many members of the international community, particularly the United States and the Vatican, are well versed on the issues of human trafficking. More people are currently in slavery, estimated at 29 million, than all of the enslaved individuals of the past combined. It is an issue that affects every market, every government, every society; it leaves no one innocent. As Pope Francis has noted, “Human trafficking is an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ. It is a crime against humanity.” Trafficking is one of the darkest stains on the soul of mankind, but this conference, and it attendees, are a reminder that a little light can cast out a great darkness, mending the body of Christ to become one.

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