Counter-Trafficking in Persons

Since June 1, I’ve been working for Winrock International on their Counter-Trafficking in Persons project. Winrock manages programs in dozens of countries, and I’ve been tasked to assist with programs in Bangladesh and Cambodia. In non-pandemic times, the intern in my position would travel to the country in which the program was implemented. Blog posts of years past are filled with the cultural immersion that comes with spending time in a foreign land. The sights, smells, tastes, and the people now all have to be imagined from my, admittedly very comfortable, couch.  

Winrock International’s Counter-Trafficking work is broken down into four categories: Prevention, Protection, Prosecution, and Partnerships. As a law-student, prosecution has a natural attraction for me, and I was fortunate to meet (virtually) with the man in charge of Winrock’s prosecution work in Bangladesh. Struggling through an intercontinental language barrier, he explained his work in prosecuting a ring of traffickers responsible for the murder of 26 Bangladeshi migrants. 

Sadly, these 26 Bangladeshi nationals were recently killed in Libya while trying to make their way to Europe. Human traffickers lure migrants with promises of better jobs and other opportunities in Europe. Once they arrive in Libya, these migrants are often held for ransom. According to the Criminal Investigation Department of the Bangladeshi government, these traffickers will share footage of trafficked migrants being tortured to extract large ransom payments from the trafficking victims’ families. When those families are unable to pay, their family members are executed.      

In this case, the 26 victims had already paid between $8,000 to $10,000 to reach Europe through Libya. After the trafficking gang began torturing them, the hostages attacked and killed one of the traffickers. The gang retaliated and murdered the 26. 

In response, the Bangladeshi government arrested as many as 52 suspected human traffickers involved in sending the migrants who were killed in Libya. This case will serve as a test for Bangladesh’s seven, newly-formed human trafficking tribunals, established to deal more speedily with the 4,700 human trafficking cases currently pending in the judicial system.

Yesterday, the United States Department of State released its annual Trafficking in Persons Report, wherein all nations are given a rating based on the efforts of that nation’s government to acknowledge and combat human trafficking. For years, Bangladesh, on the Tier 2 Watchlist, has barely avoided falling into the Tier 3 category that would result in U.S. sanctions and the withdrawal of U.S. government funding for development assistance. This year, however, encouraged by Bangladesh’s efforts in convicting more traffickers, increasing the number of human trafficking victims identified, and establishing those seven anti-trafficking tribunals, the U.S. government determined that Bangladesh qualified for Tier 2 status, free of any “Watchlist” qualification.

Whether or not my efforts played a significant role in this improvement, or if the timing is coincidental, we may never know.