A Continued Call for Action: The 20th Annual Trafficking in Persons Report

Ambassador Erin Elizabeth McKee

Anniversaries are occasions for reflection, and 2020 is a historic year for the United States and Vanuatu for many reasons. It is the 40th anniversary of Vanuatu’s independence. It marks the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, when American and Allied might deflected war from Vanuatu’s shores. It is the 30thanniversary year of the launch of the Peace Corps’ program in Vanuatu. And also this year, the Department of State and U.S. Embassies all around the world celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP Report), which will—for the first time—include a country narrative for Vanuatu.

When the United States Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) in 2000, one of its requirements was the creation of a report that would represent the U.S. government’s dedication to fight human trafficking on a global scale and serve to increase the number of governments actively prosecuting traffickers, protecting victims, and preventing human trafficking crimes.

From its inception, at a time when many governments denied the existence of human trafficking in all its forms, the TIP Report has become the standard-bearer for the principles enshrined in the TVPA and the 2000 UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol. Over the last 20 years, the TIP Report has successfully reinforced global anti-trafficking norms and ideals. It has drawn attention to trends and emerging issues, highlighted promising practices, and tracked the progression of important developments, such as the passage of comprehensive anti-trafficking laws and improvements in victim identification efforts.

On June 25, U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo released the 2020 TIP Report. The Report documents the government efforts of 188 countries and territories, including the United States, to combat human trafficking. Though the methodology, content, and design of the TIP Report have evolved, reflecting the broader anti-trafficking movement’s progress in understanding the crime, the messages at the heart of each edition have been steadfast: there is no excuse for human trafficking, and governments must take bold action to end it.

The need for a global response has never been greater. The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to cause a shift in the means and methods traffickers use to exploit their victims, both foreign and domestic, reinforcing the urgency with which all governments must make increasing efforts to stop this heinous crime.

In Vanuatu, a recent case involving more than 100 foreign victims subjected to forced labor and domestic servitude highlights the extent to which human trafficking affects all countries and how traffickers rob their victims of freedom and human dignity. I applaud the Government of Vanuatu—faced with this crime on a previously unimaginable scale—for its efforts to investigate and prosecute the alleged traffickers to the fullest extent of the law and for having the vision to include reference to human trafficking in its National Security Strategy. Just as traffickers continue to prey on their victims, we, too, must continue the fight to ensure that they cannot commit their crimes with impunity.

Over the last two decades, the U.S. Department of State, along with host governments, NGOs, multilateral organizations, survivors, faith communities, and other advocates have been unrelenting our fight against human trafficking. As we steel ourselves for the battle ahead and the work yet to be done, we are committed to working with the Vanuatu to support and increase our shared efforts in pursuit of a world free from human trafficking.

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