How Genocide is Similar to Human Trafficking

April 14, 2015 Caleb Benadum Opinion 
Forced Labor, Child Labor

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When the tanks rolled into Phnom Penh in April, 1975, people were grouped together and marched out of the city. They didn’t know what was coming. Neither did the first Jews that boarded a train traveling to Auschwitz; who threw letters out the windows. We can never imagine the terror of a Tutsi hearing a death warrant issued for their race over the radio. Or the carnage of a mortar shell falling on the bread line in Sarajevo.

Never again! Nunca mas! This famous anti-genocide rallying cry has defined twentieth century civilization, and its failures, more than any other. It was first popularized after the holocaust, and echoed by the Argentinians in the wake of the 1980s disappearances. We said it in our lecture halls. We said it in our parliaments, our congresses. We said it from podiums and from lecterns. And yet it did happen again. And again. April is Genocide Awareness Month. April is a month we dedicate to remember the victims, the perpetrators and the collateral damage of genocide.

So what in the world does genocide have to do with human trafficking? Genocide is a term invented to deal with the mass extermination or migration of a specific people group or ethnicity. By its definition, it covers violence done to vulnerable populations. As do issues like violence against minorities, the exploitation of conflict refugees, the mass migration of people away from conflict zones, and the targeting of vulnerable populations for various types of exploitation. The UN estimates that there are some 43 million refugees in the world as a result of conflict or persecution. Modern-day slavery is a form of exploitation, and one that invariably targets people from lower socioeconomic castes, tribal groups, minorities, refugees, and anyone else who is put in a vulnerable and desperate situation as a result of where they are born, who they are or what they believe. With that in mind, we want to take the month of April and dedicate it to the TIP Report Heroes that are working in conflict zones, or with victims of conflict or genocide.

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Conflict Refugees and Human Trafficking

The vast numbers of refugees in the world, and the even larger population of internally displaced populations, provides an illustration for how much of the world exists in limbo. Significant numbers of people in Syria have been fleeing brutal conditions and internal conflict for over five years. The number of official refugees, those with limited protections under international law, is close to 4 million. The majority have fled in the past two years. Where do they go? Where do they stay? Then there are situations like the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The country has been war torn for over a decade, with a scarce few years free from actual armed rebellion. While the numbers do not add up to Syrian-scale migration, there are still a significant number, almost 400,000, refugees living outside of the country.

Migration patterns run from least developed countries to developed countries. There is a refugee pathway downwards in Africa, towards South Africa, but the rabid unemployment there is a discouragement to immigration for other Africans. Other pathways run up through Greece into Europe, or through North Africa into Spain. Philip Hyldgaard sees the former, as 800,000 undocumented migrants enter Greece per year and spread throughout the Schengen Zone. David Brown, during his time in North Africa, saw the latter. A classic human trafficking scheme is the marketing of immigration documents, or providing illegal transport to a country then alleging a significant debt. These are classic schemes because immigrants, especially those without proper documentation, are vulnerable.

Child Soldiers and the Legacy of Genocide

Gilbert Munda, of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, works with a very specific type of conflict victim: the child soldier. In the DRC, thousands of children have been ‘recruited’ by armed forces over the last several decades. Since 2004, Gilbert Munda’s organization, CAJED, has cared for over 7000 children. While most of the children have been male, they have cared for approximately 200 females as well. Most females who return from being with armed groups were used as so-called ‘wives’; a chilling form of sexual slavery and the sexual exploitation of a child.

CAJED provides a transit point for boys who have been child soldiers. Many of them have been forced to sacrifice their humanity on the altar of some other man’s crusade; forced to do terrible things that have left them scarred and brutalized. CAJED works to help these children to recover that humanity, to heal and to be reunited with their families. Unlike other forms of trafficking, complicity of the family is not as common. Many of the children were first kidnapped by an armed group of men, then turned into the soldiers they became. Witnesses to extreme brutality, these children have a difficult time healing from their trauma and regaining a sense of normalcy. Gilbert works tirelessly to see that they have that opportunity.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is not the only country where the recruitment of child soldiers has taken place. Angelina Atyam’s daughter was kidnapped from her school in Lira, Uganda in 1996. She was 14 years old. 139 girls were taken from the school, but over 100 were returned within the next couple days, thanks to the efforts of a nun who followed the cadre of men for several kilometers begging for the return of the girls. Angelina Atyam founded the Concerned Parents Association, and worked tirelessly to bring international attention to the kidnappings of children that were happening in Uganda. At the time, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and their now-famous warlord, Joseph Kony, were behind many of the kidnappings.

In 2004, she received a phone call. She finally received the news she for which she had been waiting almost 8 years: her daughter was free. Charlotte Atyam was in her early 20s when she escaped from the LRA, and she had born several children while in the LRA camp. She returned home, and went back to school. It took almost eight years, but Angelina Atyam did eventually succeed in having her daughter returned to her. The LRA has been less active in Uganda since peace talks occurred from 2006 to 2008, but is still active in many of the surrounding countries, such as South Sudan and the DRC.

A more direct connection to the specific crime of genocide is found in the story of IJM founder Gary Haugen. He began his human rights career by serving with the UN in Rwanda in 1994. Arriving in-country directly after the end of the genocide, he helped to investigate the crimes committed and gather evidence against the perpetrators. He helped to develop and direct the investigations across Rwanda. While there, he witnessed the incredible aftermath of a large-scale crime against humanity: mass graves, mutilated bodies and a society racked by brutality. Gary Haugen found in this an inspiration to work on some of the gravest human rights issues of his day. One of them, as he began to discover in the late 1990s, was violence against the poor around the world. Reacting to this, he founded International Justice Mission (IJM).

Shortly after founding the organization, the issue of human trafficking began to come to the forefront. IJM played a large part in bringing the world’s attention to modern-day slavery, discovering places where children were being sexually exploited and working to combat the trade in people wherever it could be found. Today, IJM has 18 field offices that combat a variety of different types of human trafficking such as bonded labor, child labor, sex trafficking, and domestic servitude.

“Something really terrible happened in the world”

When describing the Rwandan Genocide at the 2013 Passion Conference, Gary Haugen said this:

“Many years ago… something really terrible happened in the world and your parents and your grandparents did nothing to stop it. I know this because I didn’t do anything to stop it either. But afterwards I was sent over to help clean up the mess. …About a million people were murdered in about ten weeks’ time.”

Genocide is similar to human trafficking in one more way: the world community cannot stand by and let it happen. We must stop it. We must end it.

This article was originally posted at the TIP Report Global Heroes Network.


Topics: Forced Labor, Child Labor

About the Author



Caleb Benadum

Caleb Benadum is the Program Manager for the Trafficking in Persons Report Global Heroes Network, an upcoming web-based project planned for January 2015. He graduated from Capital University with a degree in Philosophy, and the University of Cincinnati Law School with a Juris Doctor degree. Having spent much of his life overseas, he is committed to modern-day abolitionism and the promotion of human rights around the world.