Today, President Obama spoke at the Clinton Global Initiative about the injustice of human trafficking—also known as “modern slavery.” Combatting human trafficking is an issue of national security, human dignity, and women’s rights. The President made clear today that he stands with those individuals, congregations, NGOs, businesses, and nations working to eradicate this evil, and that he will stand up to those that support it.
The President talked about that commitment in context of America’s long struggle against slavery:
As a nation, we’ve long rejected such cruelty. Just a few days ago, we marked the 150th anniversary of a document that I have hanging in the Oval Office—the Emancipation Proclamation. With the advance of Union forces, it brought a new day: that “all persons held as slaves” would be “thenceforward, and forever free.” We wrote that promise into our Constitution. We spent decades struggling to make it real. We joined with other nations, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, so that “slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.”
President Obama believes it is this generation’s job to continue that fight. Under President Obama, the United States is providing global leadership in this effort: offering incentives to nations that combat trafficking within their borders, and calling them out when they do not—imposing sanctions when necessary. He also acknowledged the “bitter truth” that human trafficking takes place in this country as well, and discussed his administration’s efforts to end trafficking here at home:
As President, I directed my Administration to step up our efforts. And we have. For the first time, at Hillary’s direction, our annual trafficking report now includes the United States, because we can’t ask other nations to do what we are not doing ourselves. We’ve expanded our interagency task force to include more federal partners, including the FBI. The Intelligence Community is devoting more resources to identifying trafficking networks. We’ve strengthened protections, so foreign-born workers know their rights.
And most of all, we’re going after the traffickers. New anti-trafficking teams are dismantling their networks. And last year, we charged a record number of these predators with human trafficking. We’re putting them where they belong—behind bars.
In addition to sharing what we’ve already accomplished, President Obama made new commitments to aid in this fight moving forward. He pledged to increase and expand trainings so more people know how to spot and stop trafficking when it’s occurring. He issued a challenge to companies to develop tools to combat modern slavery. He made clear that we will increase assistance and public/private coordination to help victims recover and rebuild their lives – including a multimillion dollar partnership with Humanity United. And the President announced that he signed an Executive Order to strengthen protections against trafficking in persons in government contracting and to ensure American tax dollars are “never used to support the trafficking of human beings.”
The President also noted that this is an issue that should unite all Americans—Democrats and Republicans—as he called on Congress to renew the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
This is not just an important policy issue for this President – it’s personal. As a committed Christian, the President believes in the Bible’s call to “rescue the oppressed.” He recognized the work of The Catholic Church, International Justice Mission and Passion City Church in Atlanta. He heard the voices of the tens of thousands of young people who signed a petition asking him to continue to offer leadership on this issue. He not only answered the call, but has responded with a call of his own-- for faith communities to redouble their efforts:
Every faith community can take action as well. By educating their congregations. By joining in coalitions that are bound by a love of God, and a concern for the oppressed. And like the Good Samaritan on that road to Jericho, we can’t just pass by indifferent. We’ve got to be moved by compassion. We’ve got to bind up the wounds. Let’s come together around a simple truth—we are our brother’s keeper, we are our sister’s keeper.
As a husband and the father of two daughters, the President told the stories of courageous women who are survivors of trafficking and are now living full, free lives. He challenged all people to “stand up against the degradation and abuse of women.”
So this is the call. This is the task of our generation: to once again march toward freedom for all people.
Our message today to them is, to the millions around the world—we see you. We hear you. We insist on your dignity. And we share your belief that, if just given the chance, you will forge a life equal to your talents and worthy of your dreams.
Our fight against human trafficking is one of the great human rights causes of our time, and the United States will continue to lead it—in partnership with you. The change we seek will not come easy, but we draw strength from movements past. For we know that every life saved—in the words of that great Proclamation—is “an act of justice,” worthy of “the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.” Thank you very much.
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