At U.S. Congress, ICMC Highlights Unique Role of Faith-Based Organizations in Combating Human Trafficking

Geneva, 16 January 2020 - “The value and scope of faith-based actors as long-term and sustainable partners in the fight against human trafficking cannot be underestimated,” said the head of the ICMC U.S. Liaison Office, Ms. Limnyuy Konglim, speaking in the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday.

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“Faith-based actors, especially religious leaders, can play a very unique and influential role by not only protecting victims, but also combating harmful practices within their communities,” Ms. Konglim explained.

Ms. Konglim spoke at a hearing organized by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, a bipartisan body in the U.S. House of Representatives. The hearing assessed the efficacy of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act as well as of the annual Trafficking in Persons reports and the role played in this regard by U.S. government agencies.

The ICMC representative’s testimony focused on the role of faith-based organizations in combating human trafficking and the added value of including faith-based organizations in anti-trafficking programming.

“Churches and other religious institutions are stalwarts within communities,” Ms. Konglim said. “They embody community and remain present — with or without the support of local or international donors. Faith-based actors are often inherently first responders through the physical church, support centers run by religious congregations and their members, who encounter individuals in need of support.”

Additionally, “in continuous service to their communities, faith-based partners also consistently seek to understand and address root causes of human trafficking as well as barriers to protection for survivors. Service to communities is people-centered and seeks the full restoration ― not just return, but holistic restoration and reintegration ― of survivors back into their communities,” Ms. Konglim said.

Introducing the anti-trafficking work done by ICMC and other Catholic organizations, Ms. Konglim explained that “our work is firmly rooted in the protection of life and human dignity. We recognize that human trafficking violates the dignity of the person. And thus, our commitment to this work is value- and not profit-driven. For this reason, it is critical that faith-based actors receive greater consideration as implementing partners, in addition to suppliers of information for reporting.”

“Faith-based actors, especially religious leaders, can play a very unique and influential role by not only protecting victims, but also combating harmful practices within their communities,” said Limnyuy Konglim, Head of the ICMC U.S. Liaison Office. The Co-Chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, Congressman Chris Smith, thanked Ms. Konglim for her emphasis “on the importance of the faith-based community, longstanding, as it has been, in providing enormous amount of support for people who have been horribly mistreated.”

Congressman Smith talked about his experience, visiting trafficking shelters all over the world, all of them faith-based, and how he personally witnessed and was struck by how women who had been so horribly mistreated, raped and insulted, found in their faith the nourishment that brought them a sense of reconciliation and was helping them to get their lives back together.

“I have always believed that faith-based communities”, he added, “offer a tremendous [potential], particularly on the victims’ side, when it comes to healing and reconciliation.”

The Hon. John Cotton Richmond, Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, from the U.S. Department of State, reminded the audience that “in 2014 faith-leaders from every major religion gathered at the Vatican to declare that their sacred texts do not support trafficking, that people cannot be bought and sold.”

Beyond creating such a “grand consensus,” he added, faith leaders and communities also have a role “in making sure that victims are cared for, and they have a unique ability to do that, because they can operate across communities, countries and regions, and on much longer timeframes than governments”.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act was passed into law by the U.S. Congress in 2000. The Act provides the framework for U.S. government policy and programming as it relates to human trafficking within the United States and globally.

It also established the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, which supports anti-human trafficking programs outside of the United States and releases the annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report. The TIP report is a yearly ranking of countries based on their efforts at human trafficking prevention, protection and prosecution.

The hearing took place on Wednesday, 15 January 2020. A video recording of the hearing is accessible via the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission’s website. Ms. Konglim’s intervention starts at 53:05.