Hope/Fay Lecture Series- Trafficking in Persons

Remarks by Ambassador Harry Thomas at the Hope/Fay Lecture Series; Women’s University in Africa

Theme: Human Trafficking

  • Vice Chancellor of Women’s University in Africa, Professor Hope Sadza,
  • Board members of the Women’s University in Africa,
  • Distinguished guests,
  • Students
  • Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning to you all.  I am honored to be here with you today.  As you may have read in the newspapers, I presented my credentials to President Mugabe exactly one week ago today. So this lecture at WUA happens to be one of my very first official public events before Zimbabweans as the U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe. I am humbled to be among the visionary founders of this institution whose principal goal is to bring gender parity in tertiary education and to expand the number of Zimbabwean women who have the opportunity to realize their deferred dreams of obtaining a university education.

Thank you for including me in today’s line up of speakers in the first installment of the Hope/Fay bi-annual lecture for 2016. My staff has briefed me on this lecture series and its quest to celebrate women’s milestones, and to raise issues that affect women today. I believe that this is a very fitting endeavor for a women’s institution.

The lecture theme on the $150 billion illicit industry of human trafficking is a very appropriate one, in light of this serious scourge in the global community.  According to the U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report for 2015, 55 percent of trafficked people worldwide are women and girls; 26 percent of trafficked persons are children.

The U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report is a congressionally mandated annual report that began in 2000 when the U.S. Congress passed the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act. The Act’s goals are, “To combat trafficking in persons, especially into the sex trade, slavery, and involuntary servitude, to reauthorize certain Federal programs to prevent violence against women, and for other purposes.”

Our annual TIP Report provides indicators on the successes, the challenges, the opportunities and trends in trafficking in persons, and seeks to enable governments and international and local organizations to respond appropriately in stemming this global phenomenon.  According to Secretary Kerry, “The purpose of this document is not to scold and it’s not to name and shame. It is to enlighten and to energize, and most importantly, to empower people.” The 2015 TIP Report situates human trafficking in the global market place; it provides steps that governments and businesses can take to prevent trafficking, and it demands transparency in global supply chains.

If concerted efforts are made by governments at every level and laws are strictly adhered to and enforced, the number of TIP cases will diminish. And while governments play a vitally important role in addressing human trafficking, it also important to recognize the role that civil society and individual citizens have in stemming the tide of modern day human slavery.  Indeed, these are the real heroes and heroines in the anti-trafficking effort – those courageous individuals who are working to prevent trafficking and to assist victims; to secure the release of captives, enhance the legal protections for the vulnerable, and educate the public.  It is our hope that the U.S. Department of State’s TIP Report will serve as  a source of validation and inspiration to activists in every corner of our world who are striving to end this shameful scourge of human bondage.

My hope is that today’s lecture will not only engage you but that it will also serve to educate you, to raise your awareness on this issue and to inspire you to seek out your role in the anti-human trafficking effort, as Zimbabwe is not immune from this global scourge. Zimbabwe is a source, transit and destination country for women, men and children who are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Women and girls from Zimbabwean towns bordering South Africa, Mozambique, and Zambia are subjected to forced labor, including domestic servitude and the sex trafficking brothels that cater to long-distance truck drivers on both sides of these borders.

Zimbabweans are not only trafficked to countries within the southern Africa region; in 2014, twenty-two Zimbabwean women were trafficked to Saudi Arabia to work as housemaids; dishearteningly, the woman charged with the fraudulent recruitment of these women was acquitted. This case and others that were reported in 2015 TIP Report on Zimbabwe demonstrate that there is still more work to be done to prevent human trafficking – through awareness programs, programs that support the victims of trafficking, and in greater government efforts to prosecute offenders, as outlined in Zimbabwe’s Trafficking in Persons Act of June 2014.

In light of this reality, it is very apt that Women’s University in Africa has invited Ms. Rindai Chekerwa (CHE-KER-WA), a young Zimbabwean woman who lives in South Africa and who is working for the anti-trafficking organization, InHuman Trade. I am looking forward to learning more about her work to support the victims of this trade and to fight for the end to this trade.

The recently ended month of February is the time that Americans set aside to commemorate African American History Month. Also called Black History Month, each year during this time we actively acknowledge this part of America’s history and we recognize the contributions of African Americans in building our nation.  This acknowledgement must begin with the recognition of the inhumane traffic in human chattel that brought African slaves to the New World in chains, and the impact of decades of servitude in shaping the American national psyche.  Thankfully, the story of America’s traffic in persons ended with the liberation of the descendants of those enslaved Africans, who would go on to make profound contributions to my country in nearly every field of endeavor.

This is why we in the United States are passionate about bringing to an end the modern day slave trade and in doing all that we can to liberate the men, women and children held captive by contemporary slave traders.  In the 21st century, there should be no room at all under God’s sky for the trafficking in human beings; each and every one of us must commit to do everything that we can to end this illicit practice.  The United States Government stands ready to engage and assist the Government of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwean people in this effort.

Thank you