Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Political Will & The Fight Against Human Trafficking

The political will to combat trafficking and sexual exploitation could not be more different in Nicaragua and Costa Rica. As you may be aware, the US Department of State released its 2009 Trafficking in Persons Report where it demoted Nicaragua to the Tier 2 Watch List, a warning of sorts that Nicaragua is not doing enough to combat this problem. Costa Rica, on the other hand, remained ranked at Tier 2.

While I admit that I have not met the leader of the Nicaraguan National Coalition Against Trafficking in Persons in the Ministry of Government, I feel that I have a adequate perception of him through my various meetings with international organizations, local NGOs, and US state department affiliates. And to be frank, it was pretty clear that it would not be worth my time (...should I not have said that?).

There is a clear lack of government leadership in Nicaragua to prevent trafficking and assist victims, which is absolutely essential for any national effort to eliminate this 'modern day slavery'. There are no clear objectives for the Coalition, there is no action being taken by the government to address trafficking, and the NGOs and international organizations are left picking up the pieces and doing their best to work with (and around) the governments' inadequacies. ('s a good article on this in El Nuevo Diario if you don't just want to take my word for it...)

On the other hand, while Costa Rica is by no means a perfect example of 'best practices' in the area of trafficking prevention and assistance they are light-years ahead of many other countries in the region. This is no doubt a result of substantial government efforts to prevent and combat trafficking in coordination with local, national, and international NGOs.

I met on Monday morning with the Costa Rican Viceminister of Internal Affairs and Police, Ana Durán, who also heads the National Coalition against Illegal Migration and Trafficking in Persons. She has a strong record of leadership and commitment to this issue, as evidenced by the high regard for her of local NGOs that work in this issue. It was clear from our conversation that her team is working hard to 'institutionalize' the improvements they have made, so that future administrations can easily continue the work that they are doing.

Training and education/awareness are essential tasks of the coalition (among others...). And it is clear that Lic. Durán takes the education and training of police and immigration forces seriously. She mentioned that one factor that may make the Costa Rican Coalition more effective other coalitions in the region is the orientation of the police within the same ministry as the anti-trafficking leadership. This means that there is one less beaurocratic/political hurdle in getting the police to take trafficking seriously. In Costa Rica, for example, all officers must be trained in best practices to investigate possible cases of trafficking and sexual exploitation in order to pass through the police academy. Nonetheless, she concedes that the police have a way to go and hopes one day of a police force specialized in trafficking cases.

There are so many other examples of the strengths and weaknesses of the two government approaches to trafficking. For example, Nicaragua still only recognizes trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation in their Penal Code. Therefore, those trafficked into domestic servitude or children and men trafficked into forced labor are not protected under Nicaragua law. It was only in February 2009 that Costa Rica revised the Penal code to include pubnishment for labor trafficking, as well. However, there is still little protection or assistance for men who are identified as victims of human trafficking. Until 2005 they didn't even consider internal trafficking a crime!

While Nicaragua relies exclusively on NGOs to provide victim assitance and to lead prevention efforts, Costa Rica also relies heavily on the provision of serivces by local and international NGOs. The difficulty is in the provision of funding for these services which waxes and wanes. Currently, I would expect funding for trafficking to be flowing pretty freely. However, who is to tell when the international interest in this issue will decline? In fact, the NGOs that seemed to be most effective and growing were the ones receiving funding from the US State Department G/TIP office -- go figure!

These past three weeks have given me an incredible education on the politics and governance around trafficking issues. The strategies needed are complex and require extreme cooperation and collaboration between the civil and government sectors.

I am thankful that our current administration takes this topic so seriously. Especially as we hear more and more about trafficking and sexual exploitation taking place in cities all across the US. Hopefully we have an eye to the problem at home, as well as abroad.

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