With local and regional partners as witnesses, Gov. Eloy S. Inos signed a proclamation Friday morning declaring January 2014 Human Trafficking Awareness Month to help drive the point that ending human trafficking begins with awareness of its harsh realities and then taking collaborative action.
Vigilance and reporting to authorities any suspicion of human trafficking goes a long way in helping combat the problem.
“Human trafficking is a severe crime that deprives and violates victims of their fundamental human dignity. It is a global issue, and all local and federal law enforcement, social service, medical, victim advocacy, educational, and other related organizations must work together to effectively prevent, investigate, prosecute and protect victims,” the governor said in his proclamation.
The governor said the CNMI remains committed to protecting individual freedoms and ensuring the elimination of human trafficking.
Human trafficking is described as early or forced marriages, commercial sexual exploitation, forced labor, labor obtained through debt bondage, involuntary servitude, slavery, and slavery by descent.
While victims are of every age, race, gender and nationality, the majority are women and children.
“Most victims have been abused, threatened and restrained to a point of being powerless to free themselves. Our vigilance is crucial to rescuing those held captive,” Inos said.
Unlike other crimes such as drug trafficking in which a person sells the drugs only once, human traffickers sell victims “over and over again.”
Friday’s proclamation signing also came two days before National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, observed on Jan. 11.
In the CNMI, human trafficking cases continue to be investigated and prosecuted, even as the U.S. State Department released its 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report tagging the CNMI as a “destination and transit location for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking.” The problem is also present in other Micronesian islands, as the State Department report indicated.
CNMI Attorney General Joey Patrick San Nicolas, at the signing on Capital Hill, thanked everyone “who, one way or another, have worked to help end human trafficking.”
San Nicolas said the coalition to address human trafficking will have a booth at the Jan. 23 Garapan Street Market to help drum up awareness about human trafficking, along with presentations at Northern Marianas College.
Assistant U.S. attorney Rami Badawy, echoing San Nicolas’ statement, said investigating and prosecuting human trafficking requires a collaborative effort from everyone.
“These are some of the most difficult cases to actually bring into a court setting. It requires not only law enforcement, not only the prosecutor, but also non-profit [groups], victim advocates…to bring these cases to light and do what we are here to do—justice for the most vulnerable victims, women and children, and put traffickers [away]. Events like this proclamation raise awareness. Out of awareness can we really begin the process,” Badawy said.
On behalf of U.S. Attorney Alicia Limtiaco, Badawy thanked the governor for signing the proclamation and all the other partners in addressing human trafficking in the CNMI and the region.
Also at the proclamation signing were Guma Esperansa director Laurie Ogumoro, Sr. Mary Stella Mangona, former U.S. Labor ombudsman and now Pacific Ombudsman for Humanitarian Law president Pamela Brown, Department of Public Safety Commissioner James Deleon Guerrero, personnel from DPS, CNMI Office of the Attorney General and other partners in addressing human trafficking.