2014’s Lesson: Take Action. Lives Depend on It.

Painted hand for WordPressDecember has been a terrible month for human rights—from the U.S. Senate’s report confirming the use of torture, to the slaughter of Pakastani school children, to two grand jury decisions not to indict police officers for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Overall, 2014 has been an extremely troubling year. Some human rights abuses garnered a lot of attention; many did not, taking place under the radar of the media and public conversation. Let’s consider a few examples, and let them serve as a call to action.

  1. Boko Haram militants kidnapped 276 girls from a school in Chibok, Nigeria one night in mid-April. This travesty garnered wide media attention and support from around the world, with celebrities carrying “Bring Back Our Girls” placards and rallies demanding the girls’ return. Unfortunately, 219 girls are reported to remain in captivity. Boko Haram continued its reign of terror, and is responsible for other atrocities throughout Somalia and Nigeria during 2014, including kidnappings, mass recruitment of child soldiers, and bombings of churches and public squares. Just this month news reports surfaced that Boko Haram kidnapped at least 185 women and children and killed 32 people in northeast Nigeria.
  2. Central American refugees―mostly children (and many by themselves)―are seeking asylum, after journeying across one of the world’s most dangerous migrant routes to escape horrific violence in their home countries. The crisis was brought to light and much of the nation was shocked when, in June, images of children being held by US authorities surfaced, showing children crowded in makeshift prisons, and crammed into rooms and sleeping on concrete floors. Instead of treating them as refugees and in accordance with internationally-recognized human rights standards, the U.S. has treated these children as national security threats, warehousing them in razor-wired prisons, detaining them in horrendous conditions, and subjecting them to expedited proceedings to deport them at warp speed and back to the life-threatening dangers they fled.
  3. The terrorist organization ISIL has committed gruesome acts of violence that have alarmed the world community, including murdering political opposition members in mass, enslaving and brutalizing women and girls, and forcing young boys into its ranks. An August attack by ISIL in the Sinjar region caused thousands of Shiites and Yazidis to flee; in October, ISIL abducted 5,000-7,000 Yazidi women and children and sold them into slavery, reported the UN.
  4. Grand jury decisions not to indict police officers for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner highlighted racial profiling, police brutality, and failures of the justice system throughout the country, including a police officer shooting 12-year-old Tamir Rice to death in Cleveland, Ohio.
  5. The Ethiopian government attacked a student protest in the nation’s Oromia region in April, killing as many as 47 students, as some reports indicate. The Ethiopian government has persecuted and targeted the Oromo people for years, subjecting Oromo to abduction, mass incarceration, and extreme levels of torture, including electric shock and repeated rapes.
  6. Nearly 200,000 people have been killed and millions more took flight because of violence in Syria―the world’s largest refugee crisis resulting from a civil war that has raged in the region following popular uprising during the Arab Spring in 2011. To date, UNHCR estimates that more than 2.5 million refugees have fled the disaster, surpassing the refugee crises in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, and Central America.
  7. Countries took huge steps backward for rights of LGBTI communities, enacting draconian laws which punish homosexuality with prison terms, torture, and death. Members of LGBTI communities in some countries are hunted down by vigilantes and are beaten or killed. In 2014, Uganda enacted one of the most notorious laws—its “Kill the Gays” law—punishing homosexuality with life in prison. The Ugandan Constitutional Court struck down law. Unfortunately, because the court ruled on procedural grounds rather than on the merits, the court’s decision does not bar parliament from adopting an identical law in the future. And homosexuality remains a criminal act in Uganda, as it was before the new law was signed.
  8. The U.S.’s use of drone strikes are a significant setback to international law, setting new precedents for use of force by nations around the world. As of November 2014, attempts to kill 41 people resulted in snuffing out the lives of an estimated 1,147 individuals, reports The Guardian. The U.S. has, to date, used drones to execute without trial some 4,700 people— including civilians and children—in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, all countries against whom the U.S. has not declared war, the organization Reprieve reports.
  9. An Egyptian court sentenced 529 people to death in a mass trial in March. The next month, a court sentenced another 680 to death in a proceeding that lasted only a few minutes. These mass executions, issued by a military government than came to power in a July 2013 coup, represent some of the largest ordered executions in the last century. Activists who supported efforts to oust former President Hosni Mubarak continue to be rounded up and targeted by the military, aiming to crush political opposition and to roll back achievements made during the Arab Spring. And in November, an Egyptian court dismissed conspiracy to kill charges against Mubarak, and he was cleared of corruption charges; he will likely be freed in a few months.
  10. Women and girls have suffered immeasurably where they should be safest, in their homes. Women aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, motor accidents, war and malaria, according to the World Bank. On average, at least one in three women is beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused by an intimate partner in the course of her lifetime. One high profile domestic violence incident this year involved NFL player Ray Rice beating his then-fiance into unconsciousness and flattening her to the floor of an elevator. As a result of the attack, Rice was suspended for two games. When TMZ posted the video of the attack for the world to see, the NFL suspended Rice indefinitely and the Baltimore Ravens pressured his victim to apologize. Ultimately, the NFL reversed its decision to suspend Rice indefinitely in late November.
  11. Harmful cultural practices violate women. Many governments “address” human rights violations—even the most cringe-worthy, stomach-churning―against women and girls by punishing the victims. Or—as in the case of women from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala seeking refuge in other countries—governments turn their heads to the violence, empowering the perpetrators and further victimizing and subjugating the women. These abuses include acid attacks, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, honor killings, bride burning, and gang rapes. Consider the death of Farzana Iqbal, 25, in May in Pakistan; her family stoned her to death outside a courthouse in Pakistan because she sought to marry without consent from her family a man she loved. Consider Hanna Lalango, 16, who died a month after she entered a public mini-bus in Ethiopia and was gang-raped by strangers for five days―a case similar to one in India two years ago, but one that did not garner the same level of attention and outrage. As an added note, Lalango’s father said he would not have made the case public if his daughter had lived because the shame would have shadowed her for the rest of her life.
  12. The U.S. Senate “torture report” released on December 9 graphically details the CIA’s use of abuse, including keeping a prisoner awake for 180 hours with his hands shackled over his head, threatening to sexually assault and cut the throat of a detainee’s mother, penetrating a detainee’s anus for “rectal feeding,” and tying a prisoner to a floor until he froze to death.
  13. Taliban militants stormed a school in Peshwar, Pakistan and killed more than 130 students in a terrorist attack on December 16 to retaliate against the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Malala Yousafzai, the young girl who caught the world’s attention for being shot for going to school. Responding to the Peshwar slaughter, Malala stated, “I, along with millions of others around the world, mourn these children, my brothers and sisters—but we will never be defeated.”
  14. Forty-three students traveling to a protest in Mexico were rounded up and “disappeared” in September. The mayor of Iguala, Mexico in concert with local gangs ordered the capture and murder of these students, reports indicate. Federal police may also have complicity in the crime. The act has garnered widespread attention in Mexico, with people questioning the legitimacy of federal and state Mexican authorities, who for years has been corrupted by the influence of narco-traffickers and gangs.
  15. More than 2,000 Gazans were killed when Israel launched a military operation in the Gaza strip in July to stop rocket attacks that followed an Israeli crackdown on Hamas in retaliation for the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers. The disproportionate level of force used by the Israeli military resulted in large number of civilian deaths. Of the 2,192 Gazans killed, about 1523 civilians (including 519 children), 66 Israeli soldiers, five Israeli civilians (including a child), and one Thai civilian were killed, reports indicate. At the end of the conflict, 110,000 people were internally displaced and 108,000 were made homeless, according to Amnesty International.

What can we do in the face of these human rights violations and the countless others that go unnoticed? Pay attention. Look behind the headlines. Make our voices heard by public officials, leaders, and the world community. Volunteer for projects that address the issues most important to us. Support organizations such as The Advocates for Human Rights which take on the larger systemic issues that allow human rights abuses to continue. We are not helpless. In 2015, we can, by working together, move closer to our vision of a world in which all people live with dignity, freedom, justice, equality, and peace . . . because every person matters.

By: The Advocates for Human Rights’ Deepinder Mayell, Robin Phillips, Jennifer Prestholdt, and Susan Banovetz

Donate now. Because every person matters.

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Immigration Officers Illegally Deporting People

Immigration Officers Illegally Deporting People

Stock Photo woman behind fenceMaria de la Paz, a U.S. citizen, was deported when the immigration agent who interviewed her assumed she was not born in the United States because she couldn’t speak to him in English. Eventually, the U.S. government recognized her citizenship and issued her a passport, but only after her attorney filed a habeas petition on her behalf.

Then there is Nydia R., a transgender woman from Mexico. Despite having been granted asylum by the United States, she was twice unlawfully deported to danger. “I didn’t know the immigration agents could have helped me,” Nydia said, recalling her treatment at the U.S. border after being raped and attacked by gangs. “They had known all the reasons I was trying to come back to the U.S. and even knowing them, they sent me back.” Deported to Mexico, Nydia was kidnapped and trafficked into the sex trade.

These are just two people’s stories which are revealed in a comprehensive study by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of expedited deportations ordered by federal immigration agents instead of judges. The ACLA found numerous incidents of people with rights or strong claims to be in the United States who were deported without the chance to be heard.

The Advocates for Human Rights highlighted concerns about the increasing reliance upon summary deportation procedures in its most recent submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council, which will examine the U.S human rights record at its upcoming Universal Periodic Review in May 2015:

The Advocates also raised this concern in its 2014 report, Moving from Exclusion to Belonging: Immigrant Rights in Minnesota Today. The Advocates identified these summary proceedings and other streamlined deportation efforts that have created conditions for constitutional violations with no effective remedy.

The ACLU’s investigative report titled “American Exile: Rapid Deportations That Bypass the Courtroom” is based on more than 130 cases of individuals who were deported, sometimes in a matter of hours, without the most basic due process protections — including a hearing before a judge and the chance to defend their claims. These deportations are ordered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), including officers of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a DHS agency embroiled in controversy that has been widely criticized for lacking oversight and accountability.

“Under the current system, thousands of people are subject to the whim and mercy of immigration officers who are acting as prosecutor, judge and deporter,” said Sarah Mehta, researcher with the ACLU’s Human Rights Program and author of the report. “These officers are not equipped with the legal knowledge and expertise to decide who has rights or valid claims to enter and live in the United States.”

There are more than 40,000 CBP officers authorized to issue these deportation orders with no lawyers or evidence required and no independent review as mandated by human rights law.

“If fairness and justice matter, our government has to allow people with claims and rights to be in the United States a real opportunity to defend those rights,” said Mehta. “Our government has separated families and deported people to their death when we failed to give them the most basic opportunity to be heard and to defend themselves. We must do better — both for those facing deportation and the families left behind.”

According to the report findings, in 2013 the United States conducted 438,421 deportations. In more than 363,279 of those deportations — over 83 percent — there was no hearing or review by a judge before the person was removed. These deportation orders come with the same significant penalties as deportation orders issued by a judge after a full hearing. An immigration officer can order someone deported and banned from the United States anywhere from five years to a lifetime. If an officer makes a mistake and deports some with a right or valid claim to remain in the United States there is virtually no way for that person to rescind the deportation order.

Prior to 1996, the vast majority of people facing deportations from this country had immigration court hearings. Now most do not, opening the way for errors or outright abuse.

In addition to information from interviews with deportees, their families, lawyers and community advocates, “American Exile” includes recommendations to the federal government that are even more important in light of President Obama’s recent executive action announcement, which included both deferrals of deportations and new DHS-wide prosecutorial discretion guidance. For example, there are recommendations to immigration enforcement agencies on screening for individuals who qualify for relief and to ensure that people unlawfully deported have the chance to fix those errors.

Last Friday, a report by the U.N. Committee Against Torture expressed concerns over “the expansion of expedited removal procedures, which do not adequately take into account the special circumstances of asylum seekers and other persons in need of international protection.”

The committee’s “concluding observations” also expressed concerns over CBP personnel failing to identify and refer many of the individuals placed in expedited removal for an asylum-screening interview and recommended to the United States to “review the use of expedited removal procedures, and guarantee access to counsel.”

Read the full report, executive summary, and more.
Access Spanish-language versions.

This blog post is based on a news release received by the American Civil Liberties Union. Attorney Michele Garnett McKenzie, The Advocates for Human Rights’ director of Advocacy, contributed to the post.

 

 

Outstanding Human Rights Defenders Being Honored at Awards Dinner, June 25

Five people are being honored at The Advocates for Human Rights’ 2014 Human Rights Award Dinner, being held Wednesday, June 25 at the Hilton Minneapolis.  These individuals are integral components in The Advocates’ mission of advancing human rights here at home and around the world.

Marilyn Carlson Nelson will receive The Advocates’ 2014 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award.  Chimgee Haltarhuu will be honored with the organization’s Special Recognition Award, and Mark Petty, Julie Shelton, and Laura Tripiciano will each receive The Advocates’ Volunteer Award.

Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award  > Marilyn Carlson Nelson

mcn sqbrdNamed as one of the “World’s 100 Most Powerful Women” by Forbes, Marilyn Carlson Nelson, the former CEO and chairman of Carlson, is a fierce human rights defender. Under her leadership, Carlson―which includes such brands as Radisson Hotels, Country Inns & Suites, and Carlson Wagonlit―became the first major U.S.-based travel company to commit to training its hotel employees to watch for and report child sex abuse when she signed the travel industry’s International Code of Conduct to end sexual exploitation and trafficking of children. Her passion for human rights also invigorated efforts to defeat the Minnesota marriage amendment that was before the state’s voters in 2012. The op-ed she wrote for the Star Tribune went viral and encouraged other Minnesota business leaders to voice their support for LGBTI rights.

Carlson Nelson’s book How We Lead Matters: Reflections on a Life of Leadership is a best seller. The book, a collection of anecdotes originally intended just for her family, will be available for purchase at the Human Rights Award Dinner;  15% of the book’s sales that evening will be donated to The Advocates, courtesy of Magers & Quinn Booksellers.

Chimgee HaltarhuuSpecial Recognition Award  >  Chimgee Haltarhuu

Chimgee Haltarhuu, a Mongolian immigrant living in Saint Paul, Minnesota, teaches and performs at Circus Juventas. She founded a circus group in 2010, Mission Manduhai, which travels to the far reach of Mongolia to put on free performances for nomadic herders to raise awareness about the problem of domestic violence. A survivor of domestic violence, Haltarhuu has helped The Advocates with its domestic violence work in Mongolia.

Volunteer Awards  >  Mark Petty, Julie Shelton, Laura Tripiciano

Mark PettyMark Petty, an attorney editor at Thomson Reuters, is an exceptional volunteer translator for The Advocates. He has donated more than 100 hours of Spanish and French translation work for the organization since 2012. “Mark is often one of the first people to respond to our requests for translators, and his turn-around time is unparalleled,” says Sarah Brenes, staff attorney for The Advocates’ Refugee and Immigrant Program.

Julie SheltonJulie Shelton, an attorney with Faegre Baker Daniels in Chicago, has been an incredible volunteer with The Advocates’ Africa projects. Shelton has served as the team leader for a pro bono needs assessment in Cameroon, worked on a report on LGBTI rights in Cameroon, and wrote draft bills for post-conflict Somali law reform. “Julie has consistently gone above and beyond the call of duty,” says Jennifer Prestholdt, The Advocates’ deputy director and director of its International Justice Program.

LauraLaura Tripiciano, starting as an intern in law school, has volunteered for The Advocates for 17 years. Today, she is a private immigration attorney who represents asylum seekers. She has a particular devotion to Ethiopia, where her adopted son was born. Responding to The Advocates posting of a list of new cases in 2013, Tripiciano offered to take on all of the Ethiopian clients.  “Laura’s interest in serving our clients is genuine, her kindness is unsurpassed, and her dedicated advocacy is unquestionable,” says Sarah Brenes, staff attorney with The Advocates’ Refugee and Immigrant Program.

Please join in honoring these individuals at The Advocates’  Human Rights Awards Dinner on June 252014 at the Hilton Minneapolis. For more information and registration, click here.

Raising My Voice to #BringBackOurGirls

 

Jennifer Prestholdt's son at the Mother's Day march to #BringBackOurGirls
Jennifer Prestholdt’s son at the Mother’s Day march to #BringBackOurGirls

On Mother’s Day, I spoke at a local march and rally to show support for the nearly 300 school girls abducted a month ago in Nigeria. Here’s what I said:

Bring Back Our Girls Twin Cities March
May 11, 2014

“Thanks to organizers and to all of you for being here.

“I’m here as a lawyer and deputy director of The Advocates for Human Rights, a non-profit based in Minneapolis that works on human rights issues around the world.

“But I’m also here as a mother. My kids Simon and Eliza are here today as well to stand in honor of the nearly 300 girls abducted simply because they were pursuing their human right to education. I think that’s pretty much the best Mother’s Day gift they could give me.

“There are a lot of things that we don’t know about the situation in Nigeria. We don’t know where the girls are or what is happening to them. We don’t even know the exact number abducted and we only know a few of their names. We can only imagine the agony their families are going through.

“But the tragedy of the nearly 300 girls in Chibok shines a spotlight on the systemic human rights abuses against faced by women and girls worldwide.

“And there are many things we do know about violations of the rights of girls and women:

  • “We know that girls around the world lack equal access to basic education (in the NE region of Nigeria where these girls lived, girl enrollment is the lowest in the country –  only 22%). In part, they were targeted because they were seeking an education that would change their lives.
  • “Educating girls, we know, is one of the strongest ways to improve gender equality. It is also one the best ways to reduce poverty and promote economic growth and development
  • “We know that girls and women are not valued equally as boys and men in many parts of the world. The Nigerian government’s lack of action both before and after certainly makes it seem that these girls were not deemed worthy of protection.
  • “We know that when these girls are found and hopefully rescued, they will need support in the form of psychosocial and health care. Women’s access to health care is woefully limited.
  • “We know that 1 in 3 girls under age 18 are still being forced into marriage too early. By some estimates, that’s about 14 million girls a year. Too many girls still endure harmful traditional cultural practices such as FGM.
  • “We know that girls and women suffer the most in times of conflict. What these girls have experienced is likely a war crime. Trafficking remains a huge problem around the world and in our own community.
  • “We know that 1 in 3 of the world’s women experience violence, including domestic violence (The Advocates for Human Rights works on domestic violence legal reform around the world);

“And we know that these are all things that have to change.

“We need to do more to push our governments to make this change a priority. We can’t stop with just these 276 girls.

#BringBackOurGirls' Mother's Day march, held in Minneapolis, Minnesota
#BringBackOurGirls’ Mother’s Day march, held in Minneapolis, Minnesota

“Now these are human rights abuses that may seem intractable. It may seem like you are powerless to make a difference. But you can:

  • “Continue to educate yourself about girls and women’s rights. Here in the Twin Cities, there are many opportunities. Through The Advocates for Human Rights alone, you can attend the free St. Paul Public Library Women’s Rights Film series, learn more about the issues on www.StopVAW.org, or participate in our Human Rights Book Club.
  • “Support the NGOs that work on issues you care about. No amount is too small – a little money really does go a long way in this area.
  • “Write to our members of Congress and the President to encourage support for women’s rights as a critical part of our US foreign policy.
  • “For those of you with young people in your lives, teach them about the world around them so that they will grow up to continue the fight to ensure that every child, wherever he or she lives in the world, has the chance to live in safety and dignity and to achieve their greatest human potential.

“For those of you doubting whether sharing this story on social media really makes a difference, I’d like to share a message I got on my blog from a woman named Winnie in Nigeria:

“‘we here in nigeria are so angry and feel very helpless, the government and opposition leaders have politicized this, while our daughters are still in captivity. the government officials do not want to listen to ‘ordinary’ people. and word  has it that the Nigerian press have been ordered to kill the story (as the have killed other stories in the past).  pls this is a passionate plea to the international community to keep this story alive until our girls are returned home safely.’

Jennifer Prestholdt speaking at the Mother’s Day March to #BringBackOurGirls

“Here in the Twin Cities and all around the world, we are working to keep this story alive until our girls are returned home safely.

“And after our girls come home, I hope we can keep working together for a future where all girls around the world can go to school in safety and grow up to reach their full human potential.”

By: Jennifer Prestholdt is the deputy director of The Advocates for Human Rights and the director of the organization’s International Justice Program. She has a B.A. in political science from Yale and a M.A.L.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, where she studied international human rights law and international refugee policy. She graduated cum laude from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1996.

Ms. Prestholdt has worked on refugee and asylum issues for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva, Switzerland. She has also interned for the Reebok Human Rights Program and the United Nations Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination Against and Protection of Minorities. Prior to becoming Deputy Director of The Advocates for Human Rights, she practiced asylum law for five years as the director of the Refugee and Immigrant Program. As The Advocates’ deputy director, she assists in fundraising for and directing organizational operations. Ms. Prestholdt also supervises the development and administration of International Justice programming. She has also taught International Human Rights Law as an adjunct faculty member at the University of St. Thomas School of Law.

 

Rise for Our Sisters in Nigeria

Photo: Twitter.WomenGirlsLead
Photo: Twitter.WomenGirlsLead

On the night of April 14, dozens of armed men showed up at the dormitory of the Government Girls Secondary school in Chibok in northeastern Nigeria.  Dressed in Nigerian military uniforms, they told the girls that they were there to take them to safety and herded the girls into trucks and onto motorcycles.  At first, the girls believed them. But when the men started shooting their guns into the air and shouting, “Allahu Akbar,”  they realized that the men were militants from Boko Haram and that they were in serious danger.

As many as 276 school girls (officials now say the number is higher than the 234 initially thought) between the ages of 12 and 17 were kidnapped, disappearing into the night without a trace. Two weeks later, their parents still have no idea where they are. Last week, village elders from Chibok told reporters that they had received information that the abducted girls were taken across the borders to Chad and Cameroon and sold as brides to Islamist militants for 2,000 naira (about $12).

Stand and rise for justice for these girls, and call for global solidarity for Nigeria.

1. Sign the Petition
http://www.change.org/petitions/over-200-girls-are-missing-in-nigeria-so-why-doesn-t-anybody-care-234girls

2. #BRINGBACKOURGIRLS
Use social media to spread the word about the situation in Nigeria. Put massive pressure on the government, security forces, and the neighboring governments to spur them to action. Use the hash tag, #BRINGBACKOURGIRLS.

3. Get More Information
Read The Advocates for Human Rights post, “Nightmare for Nigeria’s School Girls,” at:
https://theadvocatespost.org/2014/04/30/nightmare-for-nigerias-school-girls/

 

Minnesota Anti-Trafficking Model Inspires Federal Legislation

Sex Trafficked Woman

Minnesota passed the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Youth Act in 2011, laying the groundwork for a victim-centered response to sexually exploited children and those at risk of sexual exploitation. The Advocates for Human Rights knew when we drafted the Safe Harbor Act that it marked a sea change in how sexually exploited youth are treated in Minnesota by identifying these kids as victims of crimes, rather than criminal perpetrators.

What we didn’t imagine was how quickly real change would happen.

We now rightly (albeit not often enough) question the assumptions that permit prostitution to exist: that prostitution is a consensual transaction between willing participants and that men have a right to have sex. These assumptions were put so succinctly by Michael Smirconish in his 2011 syndicated column pushing for the legalization of prostitution (or what he calls “fleeting, consensual physical companionship”) when he asked “what’s the difference between passing a cosmo down the bar and handing over a Ben Franklin when the aim is to get someone in the sack?” “Aren’t the Quasimodos among us entitled to a little happiness?” he goes on to ask.

When I read that column I wanted to scream. Or cry. Prostitution isn’t sex between consenting adults. It is the exploitation of women and children for the profit of the pimp and the pleasure of the john.

But we are making progress. The language of human trafficking has had a powerful impact. In just few short years, Minnesotans have fundamentally changed how we think about prostitution.

Today we no longer hear juvenile prosecutors ask “how will we get her to testify if we can’t threaten her with juvenile delinquency prostitution charges?” Instead, as last week’s Star Tribune feature on the issue of sex trafficking illustrated, police and county attorneys tout the benefits of treating prostituted children as crime victims in securing convictions against human traffickers.

In 2011 objections to including 16 and 17 year olds in Safe Harbors’ protection against prosecution, largely out of fear that the girls who “voluntarily” engage in prostitution could escape punishment, were deeply entrenched 2011. Those objections had essentially evaporated by the 2013 legislative session.

The victim-centered response whose outline was mandated in the 2011 legislation is under construction as we speak with the hiring of the State’s first Safe Harbor director at the Minnesota Department of Health.

And soon we may have federal legislation that requires states to adopt Safe Harbor models if they wish to continue receiving certain federal funding. Earlier this month, Senator Amy Klobuchar and Representative Erik Paulsen each introduced bi-partisan legislation that encourages Safe Harbor nationwide. Both bills are known as the Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act and were introduced as S. 1733 and H.R. 3610.

When introducing their legislation, both Senator Klobuchar and Representative Paulsen said the Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act is modeled after Minnesota’s “safe harbor” laws which help ensure minors who are sold for sex aren’t prosecuted as defendants, but rather are treated as victims.

We have a long way to go in the fight against human trafficking. First and foremost, we need to recognize that pimp-controlled prostitution is by its nature coercive, violent and in every way lives up to the definition of human trafficking.

But thanks to Minnesota’s vision, we are on the right path.

Read the story of how Minnesota’s Safe Harbor law came into being at Safe Harbor: Fulfilling Minnesota’s Promise to Protect Sexually Exploited Youth.

By: Michele Garnett McKenzie, director of advocacy for The Advocates for Human Rights

Modern-Day Slavery: Human Trafficking

(Photo credit: Maggie Boyd)
(Photo credit: Maggie Boyd)

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Human trafficking, including sex trafficking, is modern-day slavery, and now is the perfect time to address, speak out, and change attitudes and legislation surrounding human trafficking.

The dialogue around sex trafficking is radically changing.

In 2011 The Advocates led the effort to gain passage in the Minnesota legislature of the landmark “Safe Harbor Act,” landmark legislation that redefined sexually-exploited girls under 16 as victims in need of support, rather than as delinquents needing punishment. The bill did not include girls who were 16 and 17, but they became part of later efforts.

Follow-up legislation, Safe Harbor 2013, was enacted last May, extending Safe Harbor provisions to ALL sexually exploited youth in Minnesota under age 18. Additionally the new provisions secured funding for a statewide director of child sex trafficking prevention; new regional positions to connect sexually-exploited youth with shelter, support and services; training law enforcement, prosecutors and others who encounter sexually exploited youth; as well as Safe Harbor housing and shelter.

“The conversation in 2013 was so different than in 2011,” said The Advocates’ advocacy director, Michele Garnett McKenzie, in a feature article in the January edition of the Minnesota Women’s Press. “In 2011, people were still trying to wrap their head around the idea of the girl as victim, not delinquent.” Thinking about girls as victims is becoming more common.

In November bi-partisan legislation was introduced at the federal level. The Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act, inspired by Minnesota’s Safe Harbor law, encourages states to protect minors from prosecution and treat them as victims of sex trafficking.

Another approach: holding buyers accountable. Last year’s bipartisan End Human Trafficking Act would recognize under federal law that people who “obtain, patronize, or solicit” prostituted children are guilty of the crime of human trafficking.

What’s next? Watch for our blog in honor of National Human Trafficking Awareness Day (January 11th), which will further discuss the newly introduced “federal Safe Harbors legislation,” the Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act.

By: Ashley Monk, The Advocates’ development and communications assistant