The work of International Justice Mission and the Vatican's Joint Declaration Against Modern Slavery
Orthodox, Anglican, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist leaders at the Vatican’s Casino Pio IV, to sign a joint declaration of religious leaders against modern slavery. The historic event, which coincided with the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery,
was sponsored by the Global Freedom Network together with the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. At the meeting, Pope Francis was joined by major religious leaders, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby; Jewish Rabbis Abraham Skorka and David Rosen; and several Muslim leaders, including the Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi al-Modarresi.
In his address at Tuesday’s gatherering, the Pope said that: "The physical, economic, sexual and psychological exploitation of men and women, boys and girls, currently enslaves tens of millions of people in inhumanity and humiliation….
This crime ‘against humanity’," he said, "claims its victims through prostitution, human trafficking, forced labor, slave labor, organ trafficking, drug use, and child labor…. and the worst thing is that this situation is regrettably growing worse every day."
Individuals who fight modern slavery around the globe were invited to participate in Tuesday’s event. Among them was Gary Haugen, President and CEO of International Justice Mission. Haugen is a former prosecutor at the US Department of Justice. In 1994, he served as the Director of the Genocide Investigation in Rwanda. Thereafter he left the Department of Justice to found IJM, which protects and rescues the poor and vulnerable from the brutality of slavery, forced labor, and human trafficking.
Following the signing of the Joint Declaration, Aleteia’s Rome correspondent sat down with Gary Haugen to discuss IJM’s purpose, their undercover work to eradicate human trafficking, and the importance of Tuesday’s Joint Declaration.
You’ve come to the Vatican as the President and CEO of International Justice Mission. Tell us about IJM, and what you consider to be the significane of the signing of a Common Declaration against human slavery by Pope Francis and representatives of the major world religions.
International Justice Mission is an international organization that protects the poor from violence. We do that by rescuing victims, by bringing the criminals to justice, by restoring the survivors to strength and resilience, and then we also work with local law enforcement to actually effectively protect the poor from violence.
We have about 20 offices around the world, and about 700 full-time staff. The staff are local, indigenous lawyers, criminal investigators, social workers, and we take on cases of violence against common poor people. So we provide direct service in those cases. What we end up doing is trying to rescue them out of that abuse and then make sure that the criminals are brought to justice. In the process, we walk thousands of these cases through the criminal justice system to make sure that justice is done. Then we work to provide aftercare to restore victims.
The largest category of work that we do is human trafficking, because that is the massive category of violence against poor people. Human trafficking specifically targets poor people. Trafficking and slavery is completely against the law, so who can you abuse in that way and get away with it? Poor people. So in IJM’s work of protecting the poor from violence we’ve ended up working with thousands and thousands of cases of modern slavery, and we’ve been doing this for 18 years.
How massive of a problem is human trafficking?
This is the thing that was so important about today’s event. It hopefully will raise to the world’s consciousness that there is a massive problem of slavery in the world today. There are actually more people in slavery today than in any other time in human history. It’s estimated that there are about 35 million people held in slavery in the world today. The Global Slavery Index just came out last month, which is the annual authoritative estimate on slavery, and their estimate is 35 million. That’s more people than were extracted from Africa during 400 years of the transatlantic slave trade. So it’s true that a smaller proportion of people are in slavery than ever, so that’s good news. A smaller portion of the world’s economy operates on slavery, that’s good news. But in absolute numbers there are more people in slavery today than any other time.