Today, July 30, we mark World Day Against Trafficking-in-Persons, a day established by the United Nations seven years ago to recognize victims of human trafficking, raise awareness of this world-wide scourge, and promote the protection of victims’ rights.
This year the UN is focusing on the “first responders” to human trafficking – the people who identify, support, counsel, seek justice for victims, and challenge the impunity of traffickers. We are proud to celebrate one of Kazakhstan’s first responders, Nina Balabayeva, who the United States has honored in this year’s Trafficking in-Persons report as one of ten counter-trafficking heroes worldwide. Nina Balabayeva has dedicated her life and career to combating trafficking-in-persons and helping trafficking victims, both foreign and Kazakhstani. The founder and director of Rodnik, an NGO located in Almaty, Ms. Balabayeva has been instrumental in leading the organization’s work to provide psychological and legal support to victims of trafficking. Over the past two decades, her organization has assisted more than 16,000 people. Her organization opened Kazakhstan’s first trafficking shelter in 2006.
The essential work of Ms. Balabayeva and other first responders around the world has become even more important and challenging during the COVID-19 pandemic. Human trafficking is not a problem we can put on hold while we respond to COVID-19; it is a problem we must try even harder to combat as travel and border restrictions imposed by countries throughout the world place even greater pressure on vulnerable populations easily exploited by traffickers.
The year 2020 also marks the 20th anniversary of the State Department’s annual Trafficking-In-Persons Report, which represents our commitment to fight human trafficking on a global scale. The enduring message of the TIP Report is that there is no excuse for human trafficking, and governments must take bold action to end it.
Each year, the TIP Report makes recommendations on how each country can improve its record fighting human trafficking. This year’s TIP Report recommends that Kazakhstan increase assistance to foreign victims of trafficking and ensure assistance is not contingent on participation in investigation or prosecution efforts; increase efforts to identify victims, particularly foreign forced labor victims; and, investigate and prosecute more trafficking crimes. One of my top priorities as Ambassador to Kazakhstan is to work with local partners and the government to assist Kazakhstan to make these changes and expand Kazakhstan’s efforts to combat human trafficking.
Over the last two decades, the U.S. Department of State, along with the United Nations, other multilateral organizations, host governments, NGOs, survivors, and other advocates have been unrelenting in the pursuit of a world free from human trafficking. We acknowledge our achievements and steel ourselves for the battle ahead and the work yet to be done.