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Ranee Khooshie Lal Panjabi

 

Dr. Ranee Khooshie Lal Panjabi, Born Free Yet Everywhere in Chains: Global Slavery in the  Twenty-first Century , 37 Denver Journal of International Law and Policy 1-28, 1-7 (Winter 2008) (192 footnotes omitted)

ABSTRACT

The chasm between illusion and reality confronts us in many realms of our world today but nowhere more starkly than in the terrible realization that our global family, striding boldly into a new millennium carrying banners proclaiming the universality of human rights, still tolerates the existence of slavery, the oldest of human crimes. It has been estimated that slavery today "chains" twenty-seven million victims in its cruel grip, a figure approximately equivalent to the population of Venezuela, or Malaysia, or Uzbekistan.

An estimated twenty-seven million people (deemed a "conservative" number) - 80 percent of them women and children - endure the terror and fear of being literally owned by others, their lives prey to violence and intimidation, their entire bleak sojourn on earth one of back-breaking labor and soul-searing humiliation. For them, whether they labor as peasants in Africa or toil as stone cutters in Asia or whether they work as sex slaves in almost every country, any notion that the fine-sounding phrases of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights could even be applicable or germane to their brutal existence on this earth is a travesty of the grim reality that usually only ends with death. Barbara Kralis, Analyst with RenewAmerica commented on the chasm between reality and the law stating that "[n]o government in the world today officially endorses slavery. Banned worldwide, slavery thrives in every nation on the face of the earth."

Most horrifying of all is the fact that this terrible crime, now universally declared illegal even though it prevails globally, holds millions of children in its grip. The United Nations estimated in 2004 that 700,000 children were forced into domestic servitude in Indonesia; 559,000 in Brazil; 264,000 in Pakistan; 200,000 in Kenya; and 250,000 in Haiti. These millions of children are deprived of healthcare, decent food, a normal family life, education, and all the rights that the United Nations has proclaimed as fundamental in a plethora of international covenants.

The enslavement of children, particularly young children, is the most heinous form of cruelty. However, one cannot overlook the fact that millions of adults, men and women are trafficked annually and forced into lives of near-bestiality to provide the profits that are the allure for so many slavers and traffickers. The State Department of the United States estimated in 2006 that approximately 600,000 to 800,000 victims are trafficked across the world every year. The State Department also estimated in 2007 that eighty percent of victims are female, with up to fifty percent being minors. The end of the Cold War and ensuing financial disaster for the former states that comprised the Soviet Union, brought slavery and international trafficking into the lives of many nationals of that region. Eastern European women have been trafficked all over the world, mainly into prostitution, and have suffered both physical abuse, exposure to diseases such as AIDS, emotional and psychological trauma, and the mental havoc caused by subjection on a daily basis to violence and degradation. Through the lens of the trafficking and slavery situation, it seems as though millions of people are on the move. Asians, Africans, Latin Americans, East Europeans, all peoples are being caught in the coils of this particularly evil manifestation of globalization. As the United Nations has explained: "No country is immune from the crime of human trafficking, either as source or destination countries." According to Barbara Kralis, forced labor exploitation exists on every continent except Antarctica.

Although the clandestine nature of the crime and the fear instilled in its victims bedevils attempts at statistical precision, there can be no doubt that the problem is both global and very large. Scholars and legislators come up with varying statistics, but it is important to focus on the massive amount of human suffering implicit in those bare numbers. The divergence in numbers should not hinder us to the urgent necessity for action. Most authorities agree that despite the divergent numbers, it seems apparent that the majority of those trafficked across the world, women and children, face conditions of brutality and bestiality that are almost beyond comprehension. In those states that denigrate the role and significance of women on the basis of tradition or historical cultural systems, women and young girls are particularly at risk. If slavery is a globalized crime that encompasses twenty-seven million people as its victims, it bears frequent repeating that the female ratio has been estimated by the United Nations at nearly eighty percent. The detrimental impact on so many millions of people uprooted from their own countries and forced into alien environments and a brutally degrading life is hard to reconcile with the progress and economic betterment globalization has produced for those lucky enough never to have been enslaved. The slavers and traffickers have utilized all the tools of globalization to accomplish their goals, including ease of communications, particularly cell phones and the internet, and the simplicity of moving money and people. Consequently, the "traffickers' web spans the whole planet."

While this crime exists and involves millions of people, it is a criminal action that is perceived as abhorrent and illegal throughout most of the civilized world. There are several international agreements, conventions, and covenants that outlaw slavery and trafficking and condemn its practice. If a flood of words alone could eradicate this hideous crime, the verbal efforts of the United Nations would have freed every man, woman and child on this planet from bondage. Unfortunately, words alone will not solve this problem. Both the United Nations and its predecessor, the League of Nations framed international agreements against trafficking. Slavery and the slave trade are specifically prohibited in Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The issue has emerged in various human rights conventions and covenants, which have been accepted and ratified by most of the nations of the world. To mention only some of these instruments, Article 6 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1981) calls for the suppression of all forms of traffic in women; Article 10 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1976) protects children from economic and social exploitation; Article 8 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1976) outlaws slavery, the slave trade, and forced labor.

Most relevant of these agreements is the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. This international agreement supplemented the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, which was adopted by the General Assembly in 2000 and entered into force in 2003. The Protocol is the first "global legally binding instrument with an agreed definition on trafficking in persons." Having articulated the first internationally accepted definition of trafficking, the Protocorequired that countries criminalize trafficking in human beings. The Protocol provided for the protection of victims and cooperation among States. The question that springs to mind is, why, in the face of so much globally expressed abhorrence for this crime, the existence of so many international prohibitions on its practice, and the daily evidence of the suffering it causes around the world, is this allowed to persist? Why are the eloquent words not supplemented with firm action to eradicate this terrible evil? What will it ultimately take for the world to realize that twenty-seven million men, women, and children cannot simply be ignored as so many disposable people?

According to writer E. Benjamin Skinner, "Annually, traffickers now take more slaves into the United States than seventeenth century slave traders transported to pre-independence America." That the United States of America views the continuation of this crime as a serious matter is proven by the bipartisan attention that has been paid to articulating concern about it. Democratic President Bill Clinton signed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000. This legislation was reauthorized in 2003 and in 2005. In 2003, Republican President George W. Bush expressed his nation's concern about this global crime when he addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations and informed its members that annually nearly a million human beings are bought, sold, and forced across the borders of the world. President Bush commented in his inaugural address in 2005 that "[n]o one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave."

Assuming the international responsibility befitting its superpower status, the United States instituted in this legislation a process for ranking countries and preparing annual reports according to the performance of nations in combating human trafficking. Tier One countries are deemed to have complied with the minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act; Tier 2 countries demonstrated, on the basis of U.S. investigation, inadequate compliance but significant efforts in that direction. By contrast, Tier 3 countries are determined to be in a state of non-compliance and lack significant efforts to achieve the standard. Tier 3 countries would, after a period, be subject to sanctions by the United States. David Batstone, reflecting the views of abolitionists and human rights advocates, critiqued the implementation of this promising plan alleging that "geopolitical politics" influenced the report for the year 2002. Batstone found Tier 3 countries are often on hostile terms with the United States, while friendly countries with terrible trafficking records were listed in the top two tiers.

Unlike the nineteenth century when slavery was a legitimized, even accepted, institution in so many parts of the world, today it is internationally outlawed, globally condemned, and yet it persists. Worse, there are more slaves today than ever in the past, although because of the global population explosion they represent a smaller percentage of the total. According to Batstone, "more slaves are in bondage today than were bartered in four centuries of the transatlantic slave trade." The persistence of slavery despite its global condemnation and illegal status begs the question as to why this hideous form of discrimination cannot be removed when there are ample international instruments and national, state, and provincial laws in many nations that forbid its practice and threaten serious penalties for slavers and traffickers. This article seeks to understand some of the reasons why even though there are such good intentions to eradicate the evil, the problem continues to plague the world. The problem of slavery has caught the attention of governments, political leaders, abolitionists, community activists, journalists, and academics. There is no shortage of excellent suggestions for its speedy eradication. Yet it persists, and in the process twenty-seven million people pay the price for the world's apparent inability to come to grips with this practice.

Because it is illegal, slavery now lurks in hidden corners of the world's economy and spreads its tentacles in secretive areas where people are forced to labor for bare subsistence with little or no possibility of escape. This is the clandestine economy that partially provides us in North America with cheap goods and enables us to indulge in an orgy of consumerism. In the words of Antonio M. Costa, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, "[t]he blood, sweat and tears of trafficking victims are on the hands of consumers all over the world." Because free slave labor is highly profitable for those who are not averse to exploiting their fellow human beings, slavery has spread internationally. The United Nations has estimated the total market value of human trafficking at $32 billion, with $10 billion being made on the sale of individuals and the rest being profits on the victims' labor. The globalized market system brings the products made by slaves into homes all over the world, with a financial return from slavery ranging by one estimate, as high as 800 percent. The United States Government's Department of Health estimated in 2004 that trafficking was the "fastest growing criminal industry in the world," second only to drug dealing in terms of its money-making potential. The irony is that globalization and the expansion of the free market system were supposed to usher in a world of better economic conditions in poor countries, a higher standard of living, and increased economic opportunity. That has occurred to some extent. However, the dark side of globalization has been the demand for very cheap goods that can only profitably be made by slave labor. As consumers, all of us bear a responsibility to consider whether or not our purchasing power is being used to provide economic betterment or to further the crime of slavery. Globalization will, in this century, be about individual responsibility for actions taken internationally. While the prospect is daunting, the possibilities for having a salutary impact are challenging and should enthuse, not discourage, those who wish to see the world finally rid itself of this evil practice that has prevailed for thousands of years. The cost in terms of human deprivation, sacrifice and waste alone justify that we now pay attention to the ideas for eradication and commit our energy to this cause. To return to Rousseau, if all of us are really born free, then sixty years after the enactment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and nearly two and half centuries after Rousseau penned those famous words that inspired a revolution in France, it would appear to be timely to bring concrete reality to the ideal that individual freedom is a universal right and has to be universally applicable whether a person is born in the United States of America or in any other part of the world. (Continued)

 
 

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Thanks to Derrick Bell and his pioneer work: 
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