An official website of the United States government

At the 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report Launch Ceremony
June 25, 2020

AMBASSADOR RICHMOND: Good afternoon, and welcome to the TIP Report rollout for 2020. My name’s John Richmond, and I have the honor of serving the team at the Trafficking in Persons Office at the Department of State. I’m pleased to join Secretary Mike Pompeo and Advisor Ivanka Trump in releasing the 20th Annual Trafficking in Persons Report in the historic Treaty Room here at the Department of State.

Today’s release marks a historic milestone in the fight to end trafficking around the world. The United States is committed to ending modern slavery. And one of the strongest indications of our commitment is the report that we are launching today, the 20th in a row. For 20 years, we have been at this work together. We remain steadfast in declaring that there is no excuse for human trafficking and that governments must take bold action in order to bring the reforms that are necessary. Today we celebrate progress and lean forward with hope into the work that remains.

To all of you who are joining us virtually, it matters greatly that you have chosen to turn your attention to the release of this report. Whether you’re a seasoned leader in the movement or just beginning your advocacy, we are grateful to have you here today.

A brief word about today’s program. We’ll begin with remarks from Secretary Pompeo and then Advisor Trump. Following these remarks, we’ll honor our ten courageous Trafficking in Persons Heroes, individuals who’ve dedicated their lives to combating human trafficking.

After the presentation of awards, we’ll hear brief remarks from one of this year’s TIP Report Heroes, Ms. Sophie Otiende. Then I’ll offer a word of closing, and you all will be able to download the 20th anniversary report to share with others.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, Ambassador Richmond. Thank you for the kind introduction. Welcome, Ivanka.

First and foremost, to all the victims and survivors watching: You’re why this work is done. It’s why we are humbled to witness your courage and resilience.

I want to thank Ambassador Richmond and his team for the outstanding work on this now two decades of Trafficking in Persons Reports. Even in spite of the challenges posed by the pandemic, it’s been excellent work.

I want to thank Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump for being here as well. She has been a major catalyst for putting the fight against human trafficking front and center in the Trump administration’s foreign policy and our domestic agenda.

I’m also pleased to welcome members of Congress – Congressman Smith is here – ambassadors, representatives from around the globe who have tuned in to show your support for what it is we’re doing here.

It’s a privilege this afternoon to honor those leading the fight against human trafficking in our 2020 TIP Report Heroes.

I want to start off with the story of a young American boy who I’ll call Ted.

When Ted was 10, his mother began dating a new man, who seemed perfect. After a few months, however, it became clear he was using Ted’s mother to get closer to Ted. He threatened Ted’s mom, drugged and abused Ted, and forced him to have sex with others for his own profit. Ted only reported this abuse after a failed suicide attempt several years later.

I share this sad tale to emphasize that human trafficking – and that includes forced labor and sex trafficking – happens all around us, even here in America. There are 25 million adults and children suffering from labor and sex trafficking worldwide. That desecration of the inherent value and immeasurable worth of human beings, each of us created in the image of God, makes human trafficking a truly wicked act.

The United States throughout our history has stood in defense of human rights like no other nation. As our Commission on Unalienable Rights will elaborate on its upcoming report, America was founded on a promise: a promise to uphold unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

And the Trump administration’s work to end human trafficking is an important part of that noble tradition.

Last year, President Trump restricted certain types of assistance to the governments of 15 countries that were ranked Tier 3 – the lowest possible designation – in the 2019 TIP Report.

In January of this year, the President hosted a White House Summit on Human Trafficking. He signed an executive order to combat human trafficking, online child exploitation here in the United States.

This administration has ensured that nearly half a billion dollars is dedicated to the global fight against both sex and labor trafficking.

Today we continue this good work.

I’d like to share just a few highlights form this report, starting with some really good news:

Twenty-two countries received upgrade this year, 13 of them from Sub-Saharan Africa.

Namibia received a Tier 1 rating – the best possible. It is the first and only African country to do so since 2012. Congratulations on that good work.

I also want to recognize Singapore – the report’s other newly ranked Tier 1 country – and Bolivia for their progress to increase convictions and identify victims, among other significant improvements.

Unfortunately, the report also calls out a group of nations whose state-sponsored pattern of forced labor have designated them in the Tier 3 category.

Among them are China, where the Chinese Communist Party and its state-owned enterprises often force citizens to work in horrendous conditions on Belt and Road projects.

Then there’s Cuba. Up to 50,000 Cuban doctors have been forced by the Castro regime into human trafficking situations in more than 60 countries around the globe. They are the regime’s number one source of income.

And in Central Asia, some governments have a long-standing history of compelling people to work in the cotton industry and other sectors.

Uzbekistan’s significant efforts to address this are setting a new standard for others in the region.

We take government-sponsored trafficking very seriously. It’s a perversion of any government’s reason for existence: to protect rights, not crush them. The United States will not stand by as any government with a policy or pattern of human trafficking subjects its own citizens to this kind of oppression.

We will work tirelessly in the United States to free those who are still enslaved.

We will help restore the lives of those who have been freed.

And we will punish their tormentors.

And now it’s my honor to have – joining us for the fourth year in a row to honor some of those doing this heroic work – is a truly passionate advocate for the vulnerable, Advisor to the President Ms. Ivanka Trump. Ivanka, thank you for being here.

MS TRUMP: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Your leadership at the State Department has significantly, significantly advanced the fight against human trafficking in all of its grotesque and evil forms. We thank you for your great work.

And we are also incredibly grateful to Ambassador Richmond for being here with us today. Your commitment is unwavering, and we feel fortunate to have you serving in the role in which you are.

The U.S. Government is – efforts across the board to stop to this heinous crime is done in partnership of course with Congress, and it’s great today to have Representative Chris Smith join us, one of the earliest advocates in Congress to really combat this horrendous evil. So thank you for being here today.

This year marks a milestone in our fight against trafficking in persons.

Twenty years ago, the landmark Trafficking Victim Protection Act was signed into law, establishing the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons within the U.S. Department of State.

This past January, the White House convened a historic summit, as Secretary Pompeo mentioned, on human trafficking, honoring this 20th anniversary.

During the summit, we heard from incredible survivors, including Jessica Hamlet, who I met just this past spring in Atlanta, Georgia at Wellspring Living.

Jessica shared her horrendous experience of being trafficked for sex domestically beginning at the age of 12 after suffering a childhood of abuse, ultimately losing custody of her own children, and facing serious challenges with drug abuse and addiction. Despite all this, Jessica has recently completed an apprenticeship at Delta Airlines, regained custody of her beautiful daughter, which the President and I were so fortunate to meet at the summit, and now works full time in the city of Atlanta. Her resilience, just like that of Ted’s, is truly inspiring.

During the summit, President Trump also signed an executive order on combating human trafficking and online child exploitation in the United States. This is critically important, especially now, in a time when so many of our country and the world’s children are learning digitally.

This administration is focused on driving forward the directives put forth in the executive order through an all-of-government approach.

Most recently, we welcomed the first-ever White House advisor solely focused on human trafficking issues, as established in the President’s executive order.

We are thrilled that the State Department’s own Heather Fischer joins us today – thank you, Heather, for being here – and will be a great addition to the team at the White House. Thank you, Heather.

This year, we also celebrate the State Department’s 20th Annual Trafficking in Persons Report.

As Secretary Pompeo mentioned, this report serves as a key diplomatic tool for the U.S. to engage foreign governments through its country-specific recommendations to end trafficking in persons.

Each year since 2004, the TIP Report has recognized extraordinary heroes who have devoted their lives to the fight against human trafficking.

The TIP Report Heroes are from around the world and recognized by the U.S. Department of State for their tireless efforts to pursue justice for victims, prosecute traffickers, and educate the public about human trafficking trends in their countries and abroad. They have faced resistance, opposition, and often threats to their own lives. These are truly, truly brave individuals.

Since the inception of the TIP Report Heroes, the State Department has honored 146 incredible men and women from 75 countries.

These individuals include leaders from the NGO community, government officials, survivors of human trafficking, lawmakers, doctors, religious leaders, civilians, and even more who have committed themselves to ending modern-day slavery.

This year, we’re honored to acknowledge the work of ten heroes from nine countries, including prosecutors, social workers and victim service providers, advocates, nonprofit leaders, and a law enforcement officer, amongst others.

Although we wish we could celebrate these incredible champions in D.C. as we typically do during the release of the TIP Report, we’re excited to be able to recognize the TIP Report Heroes in a virtual capacity.

To each of this year’s heroes, we thank you. Your lives are testaments to the fact that one person has the power to bring hope to survivors around the world and ensure traffickers are held accountable.

Without further ado, I’d like to turn it over to Ambassador Richmond to announce this year’s TIP Report Heroes. Thank you, Ambassador.

AMBASSADOR RICHMOND: Thank you, Mr. Secretary, Advisor Trump. I’m grateful to both of you for your leadership on this issue.

It’s now my pleasure to join the Secretary and Advisor Trump as we recognize this year’s Trafficking in Persons Report Heroes.

The first, Karma Rigzin. In recognition of her extraordinary leadership in pioneering Bhutan’s victim-centered specialized national police unit on women and children that led to the first-ever criminal human trafficking case, and her pivotal role in significantly increasing anti-trafficking efforts across all departments of the government.

Ary Varela and Natalino Correia. In recognition of their outstanding leadership in combating forced labor and their tremendous diligence throughout an investigation of Cabo Verde’s first successful forced labor prosecution, despite extraordinary challenges and personal threats.

Reda Shoukr, of Egypt. In recognition of her exceptional efforts to empower human trafficking survivors and embody a survivor-informed approach in her programs and services and her unparalleled commitment to fighting to ensure victims of trafficking are not wrongfully charged.

Patricia Ho, in Hong Kong. In recognition of her dynamic leadership in defending the rights of human trafficking victims and marginalized groups by challenging government policies and laws and her relentless work to promote the better treatment of victims through elevation of survivor voices and a trauma-informed approach.

Nina Balabayeva. In recognition of her enormous achievement to build the country’s first human trafficking shelter that set the standard across the region, and her impressive ability to navigate bureaucracy and to build networks and strengthen communities to combat trafficking in persons.

Sophie Otiende. In recognition of her leadership role in the development of victim assistance infrastructure, resources, and practices in Kenya to ensure human trafficking survivors receive the best possible care and her unwavering efforts to raise awareness of human trafficking in local communities.

Lasma Stabiņa. In recognition of her critical role as the driving force behind Latvia’s improved anti-trafficking response and leadership in many international projects, as well as her impressive ability to expand the country’s partnerships and build networks to prevent human trafficking in Latvia.

Maxwell Matewere. In recognition of his tireless commitment to improving Malawi’s anti-trafficking response through his advocacy efforts and by leveraging relationships with government agencies and his selfless acts in serving as a reliable ally of anti-trafficking victims and their family.

Alistratova[1], of Moldova. In recognition of her unwavering commitment to advancing women’s rights and assisting victims of human trafficking and her relentless resolve to achieve positive outcomes for survivors in an exceptionally challenging environment that carries constant personal risk.

It’s now my great honor to direct your attention to Ms. Sophie Otiende. Survivor leadership in the anti-trafficking movement is a priority of the United States Government. As a survivor leader, Ms. Otiende’s selection to be a Hero and this year’s speaker reflects that priority.

Ms. Otiende is a champion for survivors of human trafficking. She has assisted more than 400 victims of human trafficking, and her leadership over the past 10 years has been integral to the development of Kenya’s victim assistance infrastructure.

We’re honored to have the opportunity to hear from Ms. Otiende, as she speaks on behalf of this year’s TIP Report Heroes.

MS OTIENDE: First, I would like to thank Secretary of State Mr. Pompeo and the staff at the U.S. Department of State for this recognition. I would also like to commend my fellow 2020 TIP Report Heroes. Looking at the body of work that we’ve done as a group – from prosecuting human trafficking cases to advocating for stronger victim protections or raising public consciousness of the crime – is a reminder that we all have the ability to change the world in our own small but powerful ways.

It took me 15 years from when I experienced trafficking personally to when I could properly define and name the crime. Human trafficking is a relatively new term for something very old. Exploitation has been with humanity since there was a humanity. Whether we call it slavery, servitude, debt bondage, or trafficking matters little to its victims. However, I know being able to name the crime is empowering, and for someone like me, it gave me the language and tools to not only complete my healing process but to also begin to fight for other survivors like me who are in need of help.

This award is in recognition of the work that I have done with Awareness Against Human Trafficking, which is an organization in Kenya that focuses exclusively on human trafficking. The work that grassroots organizations do to eradicate human trafficking should not be underestimated. It is in grassroots organizations that we see passion, innovation, and people like my colleagues at HAART, who go above and beyond to ensure that survivors of trafficking receive the best care.

My first major case with HAART was assisting a group of Kenyan women who were stranded in Libya during the civil war after having been subjected to human trafficking there, with most of them being held in domestic servitude. It was a steep learning curve, but we were able to bring most of them back home with the support of different organizations. One of those women, whom I had not spoken to since 2015, recently contacted me. She had successfully set up a small business, had a full-time job, and was providing for herself and her family. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, she lost her job and her business, so HAART is now providing support for her. Just as she had done after leaving her trafficking situation, she has personified resilience and is well on her way to rebuilding her business and her family.

Her story proves that it is possible to recover and restore what was lost, and, in many cases, it doesn’t take a lot. Her example also underlines that we need to be proactive and vigilant to protect and assist those at risk of human trafficking as well as survivors, who are particularly affected by this pandemic. The 2020 TIP Report Heroes recognized today have also personally witnessed numerous examples where a little help went a long way in protecting survivors of trafficking.

We all have a responsibility to advocate for a more equal world that doesn’t allow slavery of any kind to exist. This includes actions like supporting local grassroot organizations that are often underfunded but play a key role in serving trafficking survivors, as well as ensuring that the products we buy are not produced with forced labor or other forms of exploitation.

On this day, I am especially grateful for the many heroes, like my grandmother Roselida Opot, whose activism lives on through me, my family, and friends who provided support on my journey. As Maya Angelou said, I come as one, but I stand as 10,000. The work that we have done so far is a result of teamwork, partnerships, and support. On behalf of each person being honored as a TIP Hero today, we call upon everyone to dream and work for a world free of human trafficking.

AMBASSADOR RICHMOND: Thank you. To Ms. Otiende and to all of our TIP Report Heroes, we honor you.

We have accomplished so much in the last 20 years. When you think about it, 20 years ago, we did not have the Trafficking Victims Protection Act that created the Trafficking in Persons Office at the State Department. And it mandated that stopping traffickers and caring for victims should be prioritized in the United States’ foreign policy. The passage of the TVPA at the end of the year 2000 established the annual Trafficking in Persons Report, which has become a critical tool of diplomacy in action.

Twenty years ago, we did not have a United Nations protocol against trafficking in persons. In the few weeks after the United States passed the TVPA, the UN protocol against trafficking in persons was adopted and 80 countries signed on right away. In the last 20 years, that number has more than doubled and now 177 countries have joined as parties to the protocol. And this protocol now stands as one of the most widely adopted international legal instruments.

Since 2000, we’ve had 154 countries pass comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation. Our engagement on this has made a difference. This report and the United States have made a positive difference.

I also want to thank the team at the Trafficking in Persons Office. The office is comprised of deeply devoted individuals who are working with governments and NGOs around the world toward our common cause of freedom. I wish they could all be here in the room today to be celebrated for their professionalism and their unending zeal.

Secretary Pompeo has made it clear that we are one team, and the department’s talent matters. It’s an honor to serve alongside the TIP Office team, as they work to improve the delivery systems of justice and protection that make the promises of laws and protocols a reality for the people they were intended to protect.

I also want to recognize the team’s family members, who support and encourage and sometimes endure our difficult work. We do not do this work alone, and we’re grateful to them.

The production of this report is always a heavy lift, but this year the team has produced a fantastic report under circumstances that were difficult to have been foreseen. Even amid stay-at-home orders and so many parts of the globe shut down, our team at the State Department pressed on to produce this report.

And the department put this report out on time without any delays in the midst of a global pandemic, and that itself serves to show the priority this administration and the Secretary has placed on this issue.

The call of the 20th anniversary is clear. We must commit ourselves to our goal of freedom. What traffickers are doing is an affront to the dignity of every human life, and we can stop traffickers, protect victims, and work to prevent this crime.

And our work generates the tangible hope that victims need, as we try and care for them.

Thank you for joining us today. Please download the 2020 TIP Report and use it as a tool in your advocacy towards our common mission. And please know that I and our colleagues at the Trafficking in Persons Office are available to you. We want to be a resource and we want to learn from your experiences. So please reach out, connect, because we know we’re all in this together. Thank you.