Good morning. I am pleased to welcome everyone to the West Africa Regional Training Center and to this course on Adjudicating Trafficking in Persons Cases. This training is made possible through the U.S.-Ghana Child Protection Compact and the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement.
Last week I, along with Alex Billings from IOM, Rustum Nyquist from our political section at the embassy, and Whitney Stewart from our Trafficking in Persons Office at the State Department in Washington, spent three days in the Volta region. The Volta region in Ghana is the nexus of trafficking in this country. So many children are trafficked to the lake. And during our visit there, we met with some of the children, parents, relatives and people working to combat trafficking. Their stories are powerful, they are heart wrenching, and that is why we are here today. It’s not just about studying and applying the law, it’s about human beings, and I think if we look at these trafficking cases as cases about real people who are suffering, it will make us more focused.
Let me just mention one example that has been in the press lately and that I heard a lot about during the trip. The Ghana Police Service and an NGO launched an anti-trafficking operation in April, and now this case has gotten attention from members of parliament. One MP spoke about it two weeks ago, and I understand that on Monday of this week another MP gave a very different version of the same rescue operation in parliament. But, what I want you to know and what I think is important and relevant is that these 30 children who were rescued in this operation had been seriously abused. Contrary to reports in the press, they were not with their parents, and most of them did not even speak Ewe, the language of the parents — or the alleged parents. Further, the inspector general of police had been briefed in great detail on the case and he told me that most of these 30 children had evidence of broken bones and bruises.
This is why we are here today. I will read you parts of my prepared speech, but I want to personalize this. I want you to understand that I feel very strongly about this, and I hope that you will listen to these children’s stories when they appear court, listen to the victims who have gone to the Middle East and been forced into prostitution, and convict these people of the crimes they are committing. That’s why we are here. Now, let me say just a few other things about trafficking.
I am sure many of you are familiar with the statistics surrounding this crime. Worldwide, human trafficking is a $150 billion industry that cultivates and sells human beings to meet domestic and international market demand. No country is immune. In the United States, thousands of people are trafficked each year for use as commercial sex workers, factory laborers, crop pickers, manicurists, and more. We are deeply committed to stopping human trade in our country and globally.
Here in Ghana there are more than 100,000 men, women, and children suffering in modern-day slavery. These victims are men and women who go to the Middle East expecting decent work, only to find themselves alone, trapped, and exploited by foreign masters. They are girls from northern villages, and increasingly from Nigeria, who are lured to Accra with promises of a better life — only to have their hopes shattered in the brothels of Old Fadama. These victims are boys and girls sold into slavery on Lake Volta for as little as the price of a bottle of schnapps. The victims of human trafficking are often some of the most marginalized members of society. Their vulnerability is what makes them attractive targets for traffickers in the first place.
As judges, you are the select few who have been entrusted with administering justice on behalf of all Ghanaians, including trafficking victims. With every trafficking case you hear, you give meaning to Article 16 of Ghana’s constitution, which unequivocally prohibits slavery, servitude, and forced labor. When trafficking victims are too afraid, or too poor, to travel to multiple court hearings to testify, their traffickers win again. Therefore, I urge you to use every means at your disposal to ease the logistical and psychological burdens of trafficking trials for victims — to prevent delays, and to deliver justice, even as you ensure respect for the rights of the accused. Human traffickers — those who profit from human suffering — need to be held to account.
As you may know, in the Department of State’s 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report, Ghana was ranked as a Tier 2 Watch List country for the second year in a row. This means the government of Ghana did not meet the minimum standards for preventing trafficking in persons and failed to provide evidence of increasing efforts to do so. If Ghana does not demonstrate increased effort to combat trafficking in the years to come, it risks dropping to Tier 3. Under U.S. law, a Tier 3 ranking triggers restrictions on our bilateral assistance programs. This is something neither you nor I wish to see happen. At the same time, I do not want that to be the reason Ghana steps up its efforts against trafficking. Please do not combat trafficking because I ask you to, combat it because it is the right thing to do. I implore you to bring traffickers to justice because what they are doing violates your laws.
Over the next two days, you will do a deep dive into what it takes to adjudicate human trafficking cases. We have assembled a team of experts who will lead discussions about the legal and practical aspects of managing these trials, and reaching a fair verdict. Jane Anderson from AEquitas is a former federal prosecutor who has extensive experience prosecuting human trafficking cases. Alex Billings from the International Organization for Migration is overseeing much of our work through the Child Protection Compact. He has facilitated trainings like this for prosecutors and police officers. He is well versed in the procedures, and the obstacles, involved in trying crimes of trafficking in persons. Most of all, you have one other. I strongly encourage you to use this time to have a frank conversation about the challenges you face as judges, and to share strategies for managing dockets and reducing delays.
Socrates said that four things improve a great judge:
- to hear courteously;
- to answer wisely;
- to consider soberly; and
- to decide impartially.
I would humbly add a fifth thing to Socrates’s list, which is: to manage efficiently.
Thank you again for your time in participating in this training, and all of your work on this very important issue. I look forward to hearing of your upcoming successes in overseeing human trafficking cases in Ghana.