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Lorraine Poer, International Justice Mission, in an exclusive interview with Mark Ulyseas
“IJM works in 18 communities throughout Africa, Latin America, and South and Southeast Asia.” Could you define what you mean by ‘communities’? And is the work that you do confined only to these 18 communities?
IJM’s teams of lawyers, social workers, community activists and other professionals work out of 18 cities throughout the developing world. In some of our offices, our work is focused within the city itself: for example, our office in Cebu is focused on rescuing children from sex trafficking within Metro Cebu; likewise for our office in Phnom Penh. In some of our offices, we focus our work on more rural areas outside of the cities in which we’re based – for example, Chennai, India is the base of our work throughout the surrounding rural areas.
In these 18 cities, our teams are directly protecting the poor from violence through partnership with local authorities. We are also at work in Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and the US to mobilize a global justice movement that will make this fight to protect the poor sustainable and, ultimately, winnable.
Who are your local partners? Are they NGOs or local authorities or both?
IJM’s model is built on partnership. We collaborate with local authorities, local NGOs and community stakeholders. In India, for example, we have multiplied our impact by providing intensive training for partner organizations on how to work with authorities to rescue and restore slaves. Until last year, IJM was working with local authorities to fight slavery in three states; now, through these partnerships, our impact has expanded to nine states. In 2013, IJM and our trained partners rescued more than 2,100 from people slavery. We are inspired by these courageous partners, and grateful for the opportunity to work alongside a truly global movement.
What is Justice System Transformation? Could you explain with some examples related to specific cases?
Justice System Transformation is IJM’s innovative model to not just rescue individual victims, but actually protect poor people from violence. The core philosophy of Justice System Transformation is that, in order to protect vulnerable people in a sustainable way, we need to not only rescue individuals from violence, but ensure that everyone can count on a criminal justice system that actually shields them from violent people.
It is claimed that India has approximately 15 million (half the world’s population of slaves) men, women and children as bonded labourers – human slaves. Is this true? And what is IJM’s track record in this country?
Slavery expert Siddharth Kara suggests that nearly 90% of the 18 to 20.5 million bonded labourers in the world are in South Asia. While there are varying estimates as to the precise number of individuals held in bonded labour in India, there is consensus that this form of modern slavery is a massive problem in India.
IJM has worked in India since 2000 to bring rescue to victims of forced labour slavery (and to children and women trafficked into the sex trade in India). When we began our work in India in 2000, many of the government officials whose job it is to enforce India’s laws against labour slavery and sex trafficking had never received training on how to combat these crimes. Many didn’t even believe slavery existed in the nation. But the tide is turning. Over the past decade, we have made substantial progress, training thousands of officials, many of whom are now initiating cases themselves. The issue of bonded labour is being covered by Indian media, and a new generation is rising up to take a stand against this scourge.
In the past 14 years, IJM has partnered with local authorities to rescue (8,603 children, women and men from forced labour slavery in India. (During this period, we also partnered with the government to rescue 788 children and women from sex trafficking.) We uncover cases of forced labour in farms, factories, brick kilns, rice mills and other industries, and help local authorities and police units conduct rescue operations—ensuring that each victim receives an official government Release Certificate, which entitles him or her to government support.
We advocate for police reports to be filed against owners, and fight in court for perpetrators to be convicted and sentenced. This is still a major challenge in India, where meaningful convictions against slave owners remain rare, despite increased government action to rescue victims.
We walk alongside released slaves for at least two years to make sure children are able to go to school and adults can begin dignifying jobs in freedom. Our innovative program begins with a Freedom Training, where participants learn the basics of life in freedom—from opening a bank account to building healthy families—and includes seminars, one-on-one meetings and community support groups. In Bangalore and Chennai, we have begun intensive System Reform projects, in which we are partnering with the local government to substantially improve the response to forced labor slavery. In our Delhi office, we are advocating for forced labour to be made a priority at the national level.
What is Justice System Transformation?
Here’s what this looks like in practice. In Cebu, Philippines, our Justice System Transformation program is focused on combating sex trafficking. So, we are partnering with local authorities every day to uncover cases of sex trafficking, rescue victims, bring the criminals who have hurt them to justice and bring restoration to survivors through long-term aftercare. Every case we take on provides opportunities for hands-on mentoring and training with our justice system partners, which strengthens the system long-term. But each case also provides an opportunity to learn about how the justice system works – – we discover the problems, infirmities, weaknesses, corruption or obstruction that poor people face. We’re able to use this unique set of knowledge to come alongside government partners and develop strategies to actually fix these problems long-term. So, in Cebu this has led us to support the government in developing a specialized anti-trafficking police force, advocate for fast-tracked courts for trafficking cases, create safe spaces where trafficking victims can give their testimony to police officers after rescue and more. And, these systemic changes, along with actually putting the criminals behind bars, are making a difference. After four years of partnership with local authorities in Cebu, outside auditors found a stunning 79% decrease in the availability of children for commercial sex.
Have you come across instances of corrupt local officials and police, and a legal system that is non-functional? And if so, how do you deal with this situation?
Everywhere we work, the justice system isn’t functioning as it should to shield vulnerable people from violence. We address the brokenness of the system through our Justice System Transformation model. First, we support justice system authorities on individual cases, providing hands-on mentoring and training. (We call this process Collaborative Casework.) We also work on System Reform projects with government partners, working together to fix the brokenness in the system long-term.
Is there a pattern that has emerged across communities wherein the poor have been targeted for exploitation by similar methods?
Yes, in many areas of our work, we do see common patterns of abuse. It is common, for example, to traffic a woman or child into sexual exploitation with the false offer of a good job. Likewise, it’s common to entrap a family in forced labour with the offer of a small loan, which the recipient agrees to pay back through labour – -but the loan is a trap, and is specifically designed to be impossible to repay.
The most consistent pattern we see, however, is that violent people choose to abuse and exploit their vulnerable neighbours when they believe they won’t face any consequences. This is why we believe it’s so critical for justice systems to work effectively to protect then poor – – because when laws are enforced, the violence stops.
Theft of property is widespread in Third World Countries where the poor lack basic civil and human rights. How does IJM work in assisting the dispossessed reclaim their stolen land ? Could you share a case study?
IJM stands up for vulnerable people – especially widows and orphans –who have had their homes stolen from them in Uganda and Zambia. We restore widows and orphans to their homes and defend them against ongoing threats of violence, as well as provide urgent medical care and counseling, ensure that children can go to school and, where needed, help women begin income-generating projects. We help send the clear message that laws against property grabbing will be enforced, by partnering with local authorities to bring criminal cases against perpetrators, particularly where violence, intimidation or fraud have been used We’re also working to strengthen justice systems by providing training and hands-on mentoring to police and local leaders on the effective enforcement of property grabbing laws
MUKONO, UGANDA – It was the dead of night when a bully intent on stealing Susan’s small patch of land arrived on her property. The man began to violently demolish her small brick home. As mortar and dust rained down on her terrified grandchildren, he made his threat clear: “Let me kill this lousy woman.” Susan and her grandchildren fled. She begged the police to do something—to get her home back, to stop the man who had threatened to kill her. They did not. For vulnerable widows and orphans across Africa, the violent crime of property grabbing is both common, and a matter of life and death. Without their property, many have no source of income for food or medical care.
And, like Susan, some are even threatened with murder.
IJM’s Ugandan legal team mounted a top-rate legal case for Susan and her grandchildren—securing their safety and their home. Today, Susan and her grandchildren have returned to their land, rebuilt their home and received compensation for the terror inflicted on them. Susan is not only able to grow her crops again, but is now managing a small new chicken business that IJM aftercare staff helped her start.
Sexual assaults on destitute women and children appear to be the rule rather than the exception. In spite of stringent laws the assaults continue and in some countries have become endemic. Has IJM been successful in sensitising local authorities and in particular the police into being proactive towards protecting the poor people’s rights? To what extent has IJM been involved?
Yes – as we work with local partners here we are seeing great progress. For example, in Guatemala, where we take on cases of children who have been sexually assaulted, we helped develop nationwide standards for handling child sexual assault cases, and last year the Supreme Court and Attorney General implemented the standards nationwide. These policies, created in partnership with government and private stakeholders, will ensure child victims and witnesses are treated fairly and sensitively in court.
The prevailing mind set appears to be that the poor are disposable…non-people, sub-human. How does IJM work towards changing this mind set without treading on the cultural aspects of a particular society?
In our work, we see that a primary reason that people rape, exploit, enslave and abuse the poorest is because they believe they’ll get away with it. We demonstrate to the community that poor people have great value by showing that the law will be enforced on their behalf – and that those who abuse the poor will face consequences for their crimes. What we’ve seen through our work is that even a small number of successful convictions of criminals for raping, trafficking, enslaving or otherwise violently abusing the poor can have a very strong deterrent impact.
Combating human trafficking is the mantra of most governments as it leads to illegal immigration and the sordid offshoots of sexual exploitation/ work slaves and rise in crime. What is IJM’s track record in fighting this scourge?
IJM partners with local government authorities in India, Cambodia and the Philippines to combat sex trafficking, and with local government authorities in India to combat forced labor slavery. We are seeing the reality that when the laws are enforced and would-be perpetrators have a credible reason to believe that they will be held accountable for trafficking poor people – the violence stops.
Last year, 2,266 children, women and men were freed from forced labour slavery by IJM and our trained field partners in India, and 239 children and women were rescued from sex trafficking in India, Cambodia and the Philippines.
Could you give us a synopsis of the book – The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence authored by Gary A. Haugen (Founder of IJM) and Victor Boutros? What do the authors hope to achieve with it?
In more than 15 years of work, IJM staff have uncovered a plague of everyday violence – rape and other gender-based violence, forced labour slavery, violent land theft, police abuse and more – that is devastating the poorest communities in the developing world. Why are the poor so uniquely vulnerable? Because they live in a state of utter lawlessness. Basic criminal justice systems, from police to courts, are too dysfunctional, corroded and corrupt to protect the poor from violence – and the criminals know it. Like a plague of locusts, this predatory violence lays waste to individual lives and to the world’s efforts to overcome poverty. If we do not decisively address this plague, the poorest will not be able to thrive and achieve their dreams – ever. Nothing we do to help the poor can be sustainable until we address the violence.
The factors that have allowed this plague to undermine a half-century of progress in the human rights movement are both surprisingly straightforward and utterly devastating, from the ugly historical reality that inherited colonial justice systems were never meant to protect the poor in the first place, to the overlooked consequences of the “workaround” systems the wealthy have developed, to the fact that the world has made virtually no investment in securing effective criminal justice for the poor amidst trillions spent on aid.
But the violence can stop. History proves it is possible: Every reasonably functioning public justice system in the world today was, at one time in history, utterly dysfunctional, corrupt and abusive. They had to be transformed to provide reasonable protection for their weakest citizens. And ground breaking work underway today is providing a powerful source of hope: A variety of projects being carried out around the world by IJM and other NGOs are demonstrating that it is possible to transform broken public justice systems in the developing world so they effectively protect the poor from violence.
Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros wrote The Locust Effect as a tool to help transform the way the world talks about and responds to severe poverty in the world. We want to awaken the world to a revolutionary truth: If we are serious about combating poverty and securing basic rights for the poor, we must end the plague of everyday violence that has engulfed their communities – and this is impossible to do without effective criminal justice systems.
How can readers help IJM in stopping the violence and protecting the poor?
Victims of violence need every advocate – please join this global justice movement. You can visit IJM.org to find a pathway to involvement suited to your passion, from fundraising, to advocating with your government representatives to prying. (Visit http://www.ijm.org/get-involved)
One simple step you can take today is to add your name to our petition to the United Nations advocating for the issue of violence to be included in the post-2015 Millennium Development Goals agenda. You can sign here: http://www.thelocusteffect.com/petition
International Justice Mission is a global organization that protects the poor from violence throughout the developing world.
IJM partners with local authorities to rescue victims of violence, bring criminals to justice, restore survivors, and strengthen justice systems.
In nearly 20 communities throughout Africa, Latin America, South Asia and Southeast Asia, IJM combats slavery, sex trafficking, sexual violence, police brutality, property grabbing and other forms of violence. IJM lawyers, investigators, social workers, community activists and other professionals have collaborated with local law enforcement to rescue thousands of victims of violence, and work to protect millions more by strengthening their justice systems.
Highlighted as one of 10 non-profits “making a difference” by U.S. News and World Report, IJM’s effective model has been recognized by leaders around the globe, as well as featured by Forbes, Foreign Affairs, The Guardian, The New York Times, The Times of India, National Public Radio and CNN, among many other outlets.
Lorraine Poer has serves as International Justice Mission’s director of communications and editorial. She works with IJM teams around the world to share the story of IJM’s work. She has served on the IJM team since 2007.