June 29, 2022
Thank you to Mr. Sarat Dash for your introduction, and your work as Chief of Mission to IOM. My greetings to Major General Kulatunga, members of the National Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force, to my colleagues from IOM, and to my colleagues and friends in attendance today.
I am delighted to be here because today’s launch underscores the U.S. Government’s commitment to anti-trafficking efforts in Sri Lanka, a commitment built on a foundation of partnership and collaboration with Sri Lankan and international partners alike.
It is encouraging to see a room full of professionals, dedicated to a common goal of improving the lives of others. Whether you are serving in a government capacity, at an international organization, or supporting grass roots efforts in a civil society group, your efforts can help provide IMPACT – which is the goal of today’s project launch.
Our offices in Washington asked that I express appreciation to the National Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force team for their input on this project’s design. They recognize your commitment to furthering our partnership in fighting human trafficking.
I wanted to take a moment to recognize the efforts of Ms. Mayuri Perera for spearheading the coordination efforts of the National Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force. Her efforts to help rally the dozens of various offices, and organize these efforts with civil society has been instrumental to preparing for the IMPACT project’s launch.
Today’s event also takes on a special significance because we are preparing to commemorate the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, commemorated annually on July 30.
Human trafficking impacts people all over the world. In fact, there are an estimated 25 million victims worldwide at any given time. Traffickers prey on adults and children of all ages, backgrounds, and nationalities, exploiting them for their own profit. Every country in the world is affected by this crime – including the United States and Sri Lanka.
Our partners at IOM have designed a robust project to combat the scourge of human trafficking, which includes active participation by Save the Children and four other civil society organizations across 11 districts in Sri Lanka. The project will address many of the objectives we need to move anti-TIP efforts forward in this country. This project will include such things as:
- Providing CID and Immigration with Technical assistance to secure evidence, conduct screenings, and investigate crimes.
- Developing SOPs for law enforcement authorities
- Training security forces on the best global standards for victim screenings.
- A robust public information campaign linked to a counter trafficking hotline and other services.
- Training journalists to effectively identify and report on human trafficking.
- Training staff for a trafficking shelter, and providing shelter equipment.
I could list a dozen other critical activities we can look forward to this project accomplishing. In developing this project, IOM worked directly with government stakeholders – who provided no less than eight strong letters of support from various ministries. This support from government partners will be essential to the success of this project.
For several years, our Embassy has participated with a group called the Development Partners, and have met for years on a quarterly basis to work on anti-human trafficking initiatives with many of the organizations in the room today. Success is not an overnight phenomenon, and each incremental effort helps move the mountain. This year, the government’s task force even attended a few of the Development Partner meetings, and is eager to collaborate.
Our partnership on these issues is vital – and this is an area that has shown success in government partnering with non-government organizations to provide results. Not only do we reduce redundant work, but the collaboration also synergizes our efforts.
Today’s launch continues the spirit of cooperation in tackling this crime. Last week, the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons released the annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report. We commend the government for their increasing efforts to combat human trafficking this past year, which resulted in an upgrade to Tier 2 in this year’s TIP Report, after three years of Sri Lanka being on the report’s Tier 2 Watchlist.
We applaud the government’s efforts to establish a specialized unit to strengthen trafficking investigations, identify more trafficking victims, and increase coordination among government agencies. However, there is still much work to be done and we look forward to continued progress over the year ahead to ensure traffickers are held accountable for their crimes, and victim protections continue to increase, especially for these, the most vulnerable people in the population.
Each year, the TIP Report includes a list of prioritized recommendations for governments to further their anti-trafficking efforts over the next year. As we mark the launch of this new project, we are encouraged that it will support several key recommendations from the 2022 TIP report, including proactive victim identification, improving services for people who have been trafficked, and strengthening efforts to combat child sex tourism. It will also promote safe and legal migration, and help facilitate sustained government coordination in order to fully address human trafficking crimes.
These recommendations will not be easy to accomplish; however, I want to assure you that the United States stands ready to assist as we work together to address human trafficking. The work that we do – at the U.S. Embassy, in the Sri Lankan Government, and among civil society – strives to ensure that no victim is invisible, and that no trafficker can take advantage of vulnerable people or communities.e
As we move forward, it is important that we consider not only how to prosecute traffickers, protect victims, and prevent the crime from occurring in the first place – but also how to build social structures within society to protect potential victims and support survivors. This will be more important than ever as Sri Lanka undergoes its biggest economic crisis in decades.
We are hopeful that the IMPACT project will do just that – have an IMPACT – and provide hope. The United States will always support Sri Lankan efforts to strengthen government and civil society’s capacity to combat trafficking in persons in this country. With this program launch, we can carry the momentum from last year into the year ahead.
Thank you once again for joining us in this fight; we look forward to continuing our partnership to combat human trafficking in the years to come. The United States is committed to fighting it because trafficking destabilizes societies, it undermines economies, it harms workers, it enriches those who exploit them, it undercuts legitimate business, and most fundamentally, because it is so profoundly wrong.
And remember that behind all these policies and programs and activities, we are talking about real victims, real human beings. These are our sisters, our sons, our mothers, and uncles. When we help bring back their dignity, we help bring back hope.
Secretary Blinken said at this year’s TIP report ceremony that “Trafficking in persons violates the rights of all people to be free: free to do what you want, be who you want, make the life that you wish.”
Let’s all work hard to ensure every individual has these rights and freedoms.