Tag Archive | "Human Rights"

March 14 attack in Nigeria

Critical Analysis: Religiously Motivated Violence Escalates in Nigeria

On Monday, April 7, the University of Denver Sturm College of Law will welcome Nigerian human rights attorney Hauwa Ibrahim. Ibrahim has spent her career protecting woman from the harsh penalties meted out under Shariah law in Nigeria’s northern states such as death by stoning and amputations for stealing. Another area of grave concern in Nigeria is the lack of religious freedom, primarily due to attacks by the Boko Haram, a fundamentalist terrorist group that seeks to overthrow the secular Nigerian government and replace it with a theocracy based on Islamic law.

Nigeria is the largest country in Africa with a population of over 177 million people. The country is divided approximately equally between Muslims and Christians. Islam is the dominant religion in the northern states, including the twelve northern states that have adopted Sharia law, while Christianity is most prevalent in the southern states. Interreligious conflicts occur frequently along Nigeria’s central states, or the “Middle Belt” where Christians and Muslims live in approximately equal numbers.

March 14 attack in Nigeria

The March 14 attacks killed approximately 150 people and destroyed 240 homes (World Watch Monitor)

On Friday, March 14, the tragic trend of sectarian violence continued in three villages in the central northern state of Kaduna. At about 11 pm, Muslim Fulani herdsmen raided the mainly Christian villages with guns and machetes. The Fulani are one of Nigeria’s 250 ethnic groups, are predominately Muslim, and have a history of land grievances against Nigerian Christians. The herdsmen descended on the villages and burned 240 houses and three churches to the ground. More than 150 people were killed and the victims were buried in mass graves.

One survivor, Emmanuel Tonak, recounted the attack: “We were fast asleep when we heard gun shots and chanting of ‘Allahu akbar’ [God is great]. Suddenly we came out and saw them advancing and some houses in flames. They came around 11 pm. I escaped into the forest, when they came I started hearing cries and gun shots.” Because the villagers’ homes were destroyed, many other survivors slept in the local primary school and other areas nearby. Sadly, the attack in Kaduna is unlikely to be the last. Since 1999, religiously motivated violence has killed more than 14,000 Nigerians, both Christian and Muslim, displaced thousands, and destroyed churches, mosques, businesses, and private homes.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent bipartisan commission that monitors global religious liberty and makes policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of State, and Congress, has recommended that Nigeria be labeled a “Country of Particular Concern” for the past four years for its systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom. As USCIRF explains, the United States can play a role in mitigating the sectarian violence in Nigeria including by prioritizing religious freedom in U.S.-Nigerian bilateral relations (which is significant as Nigeria is the eigth largest U.S. aid recipient) and officially designating Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern under Section 402(b)(1) of the International Religious Freedom Act.


Bryan Neihart is a third year law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and the Survey Editor of the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy. 

Posted in Bryan Neihart, DJILP StaffComments (0)

Critical Analysis: Turkey’s Failed Ban On Twitter

On March 20, 2014, Turkey blocked its citizens from the social media website, Twitter. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is the main culprit for this act. During a campaign rally, he stated “Now there is a court order. Twitter, mwitter, we will eradicate it all.” His purported reason behind the block: privacy concerns.

Prime Minister Erdoğan claimed that the block was a response to Twitter’s refusal to implement several court orders. The court orders stipulated that the social media platform “remove some links” per alleged complaints filed by Turkish citizens. Despite this, many people around the world believe that the prime minister wanted to remove tweets that included hyperlinks to incriminating audio of the prime minister and other top officials engaged in corruption. One such link contained audio of a male’s voice that closely resembled Prime Minister Erdoğan’s. The voice instructed another man to “dispose of large amounts of cash from a residence amid a police investigation.” Predictably, the prime minister denied any corruption. However, due to Turkey’s recent history of blocking social media websites, this looks more like an abuse of power to silence any opposition. Such drastic measures present two immediate concerns.

A woman protests the Twitter ban by writing a physical tweet. Image Source: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images.

A woman protests the Twitter ban by writing a physical tweet. Image Source: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images.

First, blocking Twitter debilitates some Turkish citizens’ hopes of ascension into the European Union (“EU”). Stefan Fule, the EU’s commissioner for enlargement, recently stated that blocking Twitter “raises grave concerns and casts doubt on Turkey’s stated commitment to European values and standards.” This shows that Prime Minister Erdoğan only has his own political interests in mind, not the interests of Turkish citizens.

Second, social media platforms like Twitter empower people because it gives them a way to speak out against an authoritarian regime. This is especially important given Prime Minister Erdoğan’s recent restrictions on the flow of information through traditional media, such as newspapers and television news. Sadly, Twitter is the only remaining avenue for the Turkish citizens. It is clear that the Internet has become the “last preserve of freedom of information in Turkey.” Thus, without Twitter, the prime minister hoped to silence the Turkish people.

Objectively, Turkey’s block on Twitter was predictable. Many countries before Turkey have clung to such efforts in a last ditch effort to silence any opposition. However, the fact Turkish citizens have found ways around the restrictions showed that such oppressive measures are as draconian as the authoritarian regimes that instituted the blocks. As has been the case with other situations around the world, Turkey is the latest example of an undeniable truth: countries cannot block Twitter. Because of this, historically oppressive countries are losing their ability to deny a fundamental human right: the freedom of expression.

Casey Smartt is a 2L and a Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

Posted in Casey Smartt, DJILP Staff, TVFA PostsComments (0)

Critical Analysis: The Resurgence of the Modern Baby Box

Baby hatches (also called baby boxes) are not an entirely modern concept, as their use can be traced back to medieval times.  Their purpose has also largely remained the same: to allow a mother to anonymously leave the child in a safe and protected place, the baby box, when she feels she is not capable of providing for the child.  The child’s father or other family members can utilize the baby box as well.  Whether the mother is leaving the baby at a local hospital, church, or charity, mothers do so for different reasons, be it to avoid having an abortion or female infanticide (in some countries), or to leave an illegitimate or disfigured child in the care of others.  However, the resurgence of the baby box in numerous countries throughout Europe and Asia has spurred a hotly contested debate between the desire of the mother to leave the baby anonymously and the right of the child to discover the identity of his or her parents, a conflict that may never be resolved.

This is a baby hatch fixed in a wall near a hospital in Berlin, Germany. Image Source: AP

This is a baby hatch fixed in a wall near a hospital in Berlin, Germany. Image Source: AP

In Germany, there are nearly 100 baby boxes in existence.  Generally, the baby is cared for by the providers of the baby box before going through Germany’s legal system for adoption.  In some instances, a mother has the opportunity to return to the site where she left her baby and reclaim him or her within a certain time period.  After a set time, however, the mother cannot return to reclaim the baby and the adoption will be final.  However, the entire operation of baby boxes in Germany is at odds with the country’s laws.

Abandoning a baby is illegal in Germany, and the country’s Constitution provides its citizens with the right to know who their parents are and gives fathers a right to help raise their children.  So allowing the continued operation of the baby boxes falls within a legally gray zone, one that strongly nods towards the social policy that is the foundation of its existence.  Supporters of the baby boxes view them as a last hope for women who are unable to shoulder the burden of taking care of their baby.  Those in opposition believe that baby boxes send the wrong message to society that women can hide their pregnancies and then abandon their babies.  For now, Germany appears to be allowing the operation of the baby boxes despite strong criticism against their existence.

In France, the law gives women the right to have an anonymous birth and a right for their identity be kept secret from their child if they so desire.  The European Court of Human Rights upheld the law in 2003, stating it does not violate the European Convention on Human Rights.  However, the operation of baby boxes in France, Germany, and other countries clashes with the right of a child to know or preserve his or her identity, which is guaranteed in Article 8 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Article 7 also gives a child the right, as far as possible, to know and be cared for by his or her parents.  If a country allows a mother to legally leave her child in a baby box, the child will never know the identity of his or her parents let alone be given the opportunity to be cared for by them.

The continuing conflict between the mother’s desire and (in some countries) right to give birth anonymously and the child’s right to know and be cared for by his or her parents is prevalent in not only Europe but other corners of the world as well.  Whether or not governments will continue to allow the operation of baby boxes in the midst of a debate with no clear right or wrong answer is yet to be determined.

Laura Brodie is a 2L and a Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

Posted in DJILP Staff, Laura Brodie, TVFA PostsComments (0)

Critical Analysis: High Stakes for GLBTQ Community in Uganda

After a controversy spanning five years, Ugandan President Museveni signed a bill into law expanding the criminalization of homosexuality in Uganda.  GLBTQ individuals could now face up to life imprisonment.  Besides an inherent anti-GLBTQ sentiment, the rhetoric surrounding the passage of the bill has been strongly anti-colonial and anti-West.  Decried by nations and NGO’s as potentially violating human rights, the Ugandan government is defying international pressure and embracing an extreme stance on homosexuality.

Ugandan government takes an extreme stance against the GLBTQ community. Image Source: Reuters

The Ugandan government takes an extreme stance against the GLBTQ community with anti-homosexual laws. Image Source: Reuters

In contrast to many other anti-GLBTQ laws, the stakes for GLBTQ individuals in Uganda are particularly high.  Beyond the discrimination enshrined in laws in the United States, or even criminalization as seen in Russia and most of the rest of Africa, Uganda’s GLBTQ community faces a substantial threat of violence.  The original bill made some homosexual acts a capital offence.  Though this punishment was removed from the final bill amid international outcry, the 2011 beating death of activist David Kato demonstrates the grave risk homosexuals face in Uganda.  A recently published list of high-profile homosexuals makes the potential for violence very real.  GLBTQ individuals, their supporters, and their families are understandably alarmed by the passage of the law.

Despite the anti-West rhetoric, the anti-GLBTQ movement can trace back to evangelical Christian roots in the United States.  Though not explicitly supporting the legislation, American evangelicals are accused of exporting their culture wars by using Uganda and other African countries push back against the growing support for GLBTQ rights in the United States.  Indeed, a group of American Christian politicians called “the Family” are tied to the Ugandan leaders who brought forth the legislation.  The result is that much of the debate surrounding gay rights in the United States has transplanted into Uganda, but with the more extreme goal of eradicating homosexuality at any cost.

The backlash for Uganda promises to be significant.  The European Union released a statement noting Uganda’s obligations under human rights laws and Sweden has announced potential redirection of funding away from the government.  Norway, Denmark, and the Netherlands have halted aid, while the United States has announced a review of aid.  Financial implications may be limited, however, because of the important role Uganda plays in addressing the unstable situation in Somalia.

The international community faces the dilemma of how to support human rights while respecting a nation’s ability to determine social policy.  Given American involvement in the development of the law, we have a particular responsibility to take some sort of action.  Direct financial pressure on Uganda may not be effective, because it may lead to economic and political instability in a relatively fragile state.  Rather, we can back indigenous efforts to establish GLBTQ rights as human rights in Uganda. The West can accomplish this by supporting Ugandan organizations (like this one), activists (as Sweden is), or high-profile Ugandan GLBTQ supporters (like here). Most significantly, we can hold our own citizens accountable for their involvement in GLBTQ persecution, such as through lawsuits, boycotts, and political pressure.

Alicia Gauch holds a Ph.D in International Peace Studies, and is a second year law student and Staff Editor at the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

Posted in Alicia Gauch, DJILP Staff, TVFA PostsComments (0)

Critical Analysis: Putin Signals Change in Human Rights Policy… Every Time the Olympics are in Town

Famed Russian political prisoner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was released from prison last week in a surprise pardon by President Vladimir Putin.  Khodorkovsky, was an oil tycoon before incarceration as well as the richest man in Russia at one time.  Through a series of deals negotiated with the government, Khodorkovsky bought up many state oil companies following the collapse of the communist government in the early nineties.  Officially charged with tax evasion – many believed that he was imprisoned for his vocal opposition to Putin as well as using his immense wealth to back Putin’s opposition.

Khodorkovsky at a court hearing in 2008. Image Source: Reuters

Khodorkovsky at a court hearing in 2008. Image Source: Reuters

According to the Kremlin, after ten years Mikhail Khodorkovsky requested a pardon because of humanitarian reasons.  Although attorneys for Khodorkovsky had appealed many times, this was the first pardon requested.  Furthermore, the request apparently came directly from Khodorkovsky as initial reports stated his lawyers knew nothing about it.  Some surmise it was in response to rumors that Russian prosecutors were readying a third case against him, in spite of his scheduled release date this upcoming August.

This move from Putin has left many wondering what is to become of two other high profile cases – that of two members in the political rock group “Pussy Riot” and thirty Greenpeace activists.  Both cases have drawn tremendous publicity worldwide.  The incarcerated rock band members received two-year sentences for performing a song in a Russian Cathedral.  The song was received as being both raunchy as well as critical of Putin.  The Greenpeace activists are awaiting trial on their cases for protesting aboard an oil rig.

President Putin recently introduced legislation that will likely answer the question of their fates.  The legislation, often referred to as an “Amnesty Bill,” is being rushed through legislation.  Once signed, all of the cases in question will qualify for pardons – something most in and out of Russia believe will occur.   Given the current temperature of media inside the state, these pardons are no longer a surprise.  Weeks and months ago, however, Putin had promised that nothing of the sort would occur, stating, “This is a serious thing for us. And we do not plan to soften (our stance), we will only be toughening it.”

Two things have some questioning the sincerity of the Kremlin’s generosity.  First is the proximity of these moves to the upcoming Olympics in Sochi, Russia.  With the spotlight on Russia’s human right’s record, the timing of these releases is peculiar to say the least.  Additionally, the releases are, so far, small in scale.  The prison doors are far from being flung open.  Secondly, is the way that the releases were carried out.  The releases – both past and impending – are centered around the executive rather than the judiciary.  That raises the question of whether these maneuvers are any actual departure from Putin’s measured democracy whatsoever.

Tom Dunlop is a 3L at Denver University and a Staff Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

Posted in DJILP Staff, Tom Dunlop, TVFA PostsComments (0)

Critical Analysis: Russia Still Under International Scrutiny for Imprisonment of Greenpeace Activists

After two months of imprisonment in Russia, nine Greenpeace activists were released on Tuesday, November 19th, by a St. Petersburg court order. The activists, who were among 30 imprisoned since September, still face charges of “hooliganism” for protesting offshore oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean. The detainment of these individuals, who hail from countries including Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Poland, and France, increased international criticism of Russia’s legal system and human rights violations.

Greenpeace activists were arrested by Russian authorities for "hooliganism" by protesting offshore oil drilling. Image: Greenpeace

Greenpeace activists were arrested by Russian authorities for “hooliganism” by protesting offshore oil drilling. Image: Greenpeace

On September 18th, two Greenpeace activists were captured while attempting to board the Gazprom’s Prirazlomnaya platform to remove a banner in protest of the oil drilling. Initially traveling aboard the Greenpeace ship “Arctic Sunrise” with 28 other activists, the ship and its occupants waited in the international waters for the release of the two captured activists.  All of the activists were subsequently arrested at gunpoint by Russians stationed on the platform. Dubbed the “Arctic 30,” the Greenpeace activists were initially charged with piracy by Russian authorities. Later, the charges were reduced to “hooliganism,” which carries a maximum jail sentence of seven years, less than half of the maximum sentence a piracy charge carries.

Greenpeace continually pushed for the release of the Arctic 30 on bail, but Russian authorities were reluctant, claiming that they wanted to hold the prisoners for another three months for further investigations. Greenpeace released a statement in early November indicating that the imprisonment of the Arctic 30 “represents nothing less than an assault on the very principle of peaceful protest. Those brave men and women went to the Arctic armed with nothing more than a desire to shine a light on a reckless business.” Greenpeace’s Executive Director, Kumi Naidoo, remained staunch in his position that Russia was violating the Human Rights Act by detaining the Arctic 30.

Greenpeace is not without its critics though. The arrests came after the Arctic Sunrise asked for permission to enter the Northern Sea Route but was denied by Russian authorities. Nonetheless, the ship ignored this denial and entered the route. Some see Greenpeace’s efforts as attention tactics, characterizing the organization’s actions as ways to make as much of a spectacle as possible, which therefore detracts from the underlying objective of environmental awareness and improvement.

Originally held in the Arctic city of Murmansk, the Arctic 30 were moved to St. Petersburg where they were able to be visited by family and lawyers. As of now, nine of the prisoners are eligible for release if the bail of $61,000 is met for each of the activists. Greenpeace stated that the organization has raised enough money to meet the bail amounts. While this is an indication that Russia is relaxing their stance on this internationally criticized situation, it should be noted that the activists have not been released of the charges against them. Furthermore, this event coupled with Russia’s highly publicized anti-gay laws, has spiked international scrutiny over the country’s human rights record.

Lydia Rice is a 3L and is Candidacy Editor of the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy

Posted in DJILP Staff, Lydia Rice, TVFA PostsComments (0)

Critical Analysis: Another Olympics, Another Human Rights Situation

In 2008, the International Olympic Committee was widely criticized for allowing China to showcase Beijing while not adequately addressing human rights concerns.  Five years later, the IOC is now embroiled in another human rights situation, as Sochi, Russia, will host the 2014 winter Olympics.  The 2014 Sochi Olympics have been criticized for a number of human rights issues, including passing laws that discriminate against the LGBT community.  Have the IOC and its main sponsors learned anything from 2008 or are they repeating the same mistakes?

LGBT athletes face possible discrimination at the Russian Olympics.

Athletes will face possible discrimination at the Russian Olympics as new laws specifically target LGBT groups.

In 2013, Vladimir Putin has signed multiple bills into the law that discriminate against the LGBT community.  These include laws that prevent the adoption of Russian children by gay couples or individuals.  Another law allows police to arrest tourists and foreign nationals who are suspected of being gay or for being “pro-gay.”   Furthermore, a law has been passed that categorized any gay propaganda as pornography.   These discriminatory laws have created an international backlash.  There have been a number of protests, including bars not serving Russian vodka.

The second Fundamental Principle of Olympism includes “the preservation of human dignity.”  The IOC has tried responding to the outrage and protests over these laws.   After these laws were passed, the IOC reiterated their commitment to ensuring that the 2014 Olympics were free from discrimination.  In October, 2013, the IOC president received assurances from Putin that athletes and visitors to the games will not be affected by these laws.

In addition to dealing with the government of Russia, Human Rights Watch has also pressed Olympic sponsors about the human rights concerns within Russia.  Human Rights Watch wrote to the top sponsors of the Olympic games, including Coca-Cola, General Electric, and McDonald’s, to ask them to take steps to help alleviate these abuses.   While several of the corporations responded, none have been willing to actively speak out against the abuses.  Human Rights Watch highlights that these corporate sponsors have failed to take active steps to reverse the negative human rights situation in Russia.

It appears that the IOC and the major Olympic sponsors have failed to learn any lessons from the 2008 games.  Once again they have failed to live up to the Olympic Charter and continue to showcase a country that is violating its citizens’ human rights.  While the IOC has received assurances that surround the games, this does nothing to protect the individuals that have to live in Russia after the games.  Russia’s sports minister stated that the law was not a mistake, but the timing of the law was a mistake.  While individuals in and around the games may be free from anti-gay laws for three weeks in February, the IOC and its sponsors have again failed to take action to prevent human rights abuses in a country that it is willing to highlight for three weeks.

Wesley Fry is a 3L and Editor-in-Chief of the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

Posted in DJILP Staff, TVFA Posts, Wesley FryComments (0)

Critical Analysis: The Deliberate Campaign Against Christians in Syria

Amidst a civil war and pervasive persecution, nuns gather for mass in the Catholic Patriarchate in Damascus in September. Source: Christian Post

Amidst a civil war and pervasive persecution, nuns gather for mass in the Catholic Patriarchate in Damascus in September. Source: Christian Post

News of human rights abuses in Syria, ranging from the plight of more than two million refugees to the use of chemical weapons against civilians, has filled international headlines over the last few months.  Conspicuously absent from any significant media coverage, however, is the persecution of the Christians remaining in Syria.  Though all religious communities have been devastated and suffered unthinkable harm, the Christian community in Syria faces an “existential threat.”

Prior to the current war, approximately seventy-four percent of the Syrian population was Sunni Muslim while thirteen percent were members of other Muslim groups, including Alawites, Ismailis, and Shi’a Islam, and Shi’as.  Members of the Druze sect accounted for approximately three percent of the population. And the ten percent of the country belonged to various Christian groups, including Greek Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, Maronite, Syrian Catholic, Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic.  These religious communities enjoyed a “modicum of freedom of religion” under Assad’s authoritarian regime, tempered by government control of the selection of Sunni Muslim imams, occasional minor tensions between religious groups, and other restrictions.

As early as February 2012, whatever religious freedom existed in Syria had vanished.  Christian families expressed their fear of being trapped and targeted during the civil war.  Their fears have been confirmed. In early September 2013, Christians were forced to flee the ancient Christian town of Maaloula after extremist Islamists led an incursion into the town.  Maaloula is home to two of the oldest surviving monasteries in Syria and is now nearly empty of inhabitants.  Due to the heavy shelling, one of the monastery was bombed, and more than thirty Christians went missing and six were killed. On September 21, rebels brutally beat a 26-year-old Assyrian Christian to death after they learned he was a Christian.  On September 26, 36 ulemas of Douma, a large suburb of Damascus, issued a fatwa justifying the confiscation of Christian homes and property to purchase weapons, to help orphans and the poor, and to provide for the families of martyrs. In October, Islamist militias began raiding Sednaya, another Christian village north of Damscus, killing and wounding some of the Christians who lived there.

These attacks are part of a pattern that some Syrian Christians believe is an attempt to eradicate them from the country.   As Nina Shea, a human rights activist and former commissioner on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, has explained that rebel groups have also targeted Christian leaders.  In June a Catholic Syrian priest was murdered, allegedly by beheading.  Priests and clergyman from various backgrounds were abducted, kidnapped, and killed during the summer.

In this context, it is naïve to think that the end of persecution will follow the end of the civil war.  The Christian population in Iraq has plummeted by fifty percent since 2003 due to religiously motivated acts of violence and intimidation.  In Egypt, the fall of Mubarak has led to a rise in attacks on Coptic Christians and their places of worship.  In fact, throughout the Middle East, sectarian bombings, murders, kidnappings, and threats have caused an exodus of Christians from the faith’s birthplace.  These precedents are ominous for Syrian Christians. The Apostle Paul visited the thriving church in Damascus in the first century, but if the suffering of Christians in Syria continues to be ignored, this millennia-old population, including some who even speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus, could become extinct.  It is time for this possibility to rank equally with the other human rights violations in Syria.

Bryan Neihart is a third year law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, a master’s candidate at the Korbel School of International Studies, and the Survey Editor of the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy. 

Posted in Bryan Neihart, TVFA PostsComments (0)

Technology Takes on Trafficking: How Data Collection is Changing the International Fight Against Modern Slavery (Part 2 of 3)

This is the second blog of a series of three blog posts addressing technological solutions to combat human trafficking. This post discusses the importance of the increased use of technology in the fight against human trafficking and provides an overview of the scope of current research on technology and trafficking. The first blog in this series discussed the scope of human trafficking worldwide, and domestic international instruments designed to address it. The final blog in this series will analyze the efforts private partnerships to apply technology to create anti-trafficking solutions.

“Our understanding of technology’s role in human trafficking, while improving, is still in its infancy. Technology, while clearly facilitating trafficking, also can be used as an effective tool to combat it. Evidence-based research that examines the two sides of this issue is imperative for leveraging technology and policy approaches to benefit the vulnerable populations being exploited through trafficking.” – Mark Latonero, The Rise of Mobile and the Diffusion of Technology-Facilitated Trafficking[i]

Part II: Technology’s Conflicting Roles in Human Trafficking

Human trafficking has increased in intensity in the past few decades, likely facilitated by globalization and the availability of modern communication techniques. Just as modern technology enabled legal businesses to span oceans and cross borders, it also assisted criminal endeavors such as trafficking in persons. In a speech at the 2008 Vienna Forum to Fight Human Trafficking, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa said:

antonio maria costa

Executive Director Antonio Cost at the Vienna Forum to Fight Human Trafficking (antoniomariacosta.com)

In the past quarter century, the opening up of world markets has facilitated the movement of people, goods, capital and services–commerce has benefited, and so has illicit activity, including the trade of human beings. The ease of travel, the speed of the internet, and global competition have rendered the exploitation of humans by humans easier, broader and more efficient.[ii]

Mr. Costa references “the speed of the internet,” which global citizens appreciate and utilize on a daily basis to connect in seconds with like-minded people, regardless of geographic location. His statement is a reminder that this instant connectivity has bred exploitation and abuse even as it has produced camaraderie and business success.

Speedy and discrete, the worldwide web has played perhaps the most significant role in hiding exploitation from the average person, while simultaneously making it ubiquitous everywhere. This is precisely why activists are beginning to focus on understanding the power the internet and other evolving technologies have to eradicate the very problems they have allowed to prosper.

As the role of technology in facilitating human trafficking continues to expand, anti-trafficking advocates across all sectors—government, nonprofits, private enterprise—are attempting to keep up with traffickers by learning how to analyze data and track electronic activity in a way that makes it easier to locate and punish traffickers, and to rescue their victims. The first step toward finding a comprehensive solution to human trafficking, as Mr. Costa stated, is figuring out a way to quantify the problem at hand with statistical data:

In order to fight this monster [of human trafficking], we must know more about it. Lack of information, statistical and otherwise, have left us looking at footprints of a creature whose shape, size and ferocity we can only guess. It lurks in the shadows. The profiles of its cronies and their networks are sketchy. Its victims are too afraid to run away and speak up, their number unknown.[iii]

Mr. Costa’s pleas from 2008 have not gone unheeded, but neither have leaps and bounds been made in this area. A July 2013 report from the Congressional Research Service reiterates the necessity for data on the global scope and severity of human trafficking in order to begin forming effective solutions. According to the report, the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report is “among the most cost-intensive in terms of personnel resources both at U.S. diplomatic posts abroad and at headquarters in Washington, DC.”[iv] A single embassy reported that approximately 200 hours of work were required to resolve questions and differences in information for a TIP Report.[v]

Increasing the utilization of technology, especially data mining services, may eventually be able to alleviate the cost-intensive nature of data collection by making the necessary information easier to spot. Meaningful data, the report states, are essential both to measuring and reporting the scope of the problem in reports such as the TIP Report, and for assessing how anti-trafficking aid programs have improved the situation.[vi]

A group of academics has been called upon to lead the way in understanding and utilizing technology to develop trafficking solutions. Researchers at the University of Southern California’s (USC) Annenberg’s Center on Communication Leadership & Policy have completed some of the most comprehensive, relevant reporting on the intersection of technology and human trafficking. This video provides an overview of their project’s inception and some of the most relevant findings to date:



The USC Center compiled a report in November 2012, discussing how human traffickers are “taking advantage of technology to reach larger audiences and to do illicit business more quickly and efficiently across greater distances.”[vii] Asserting that technology must respond to this phenomenon by becoming a “central tool within a comprehensive strategy”[viii] against trafficking, the report mentions the following research efforts already underway:[ix]

Fears and anxieties emerge out of concern that things will get worse as a result of technology. Yet, new opportunities also present themselves. Before we wholeheartedly dismiss—or embrace—technology, it’s important to understand how the challenges and opportunities are entangled.[xiii]

  • Researchers at the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center have mined data to find victim information such as age ranges, gender disparities, treatment by police, and independent or group structures. They have also used data to identify perpetrator characteristics for different groups, and the effects of reporting suspected human trafficking, among other issues.[xiv]

Finally, the report discusses a 2010 article by Erin I. Kunze, who conducted an assessment of laws, international agreements, and other policies relating to Internet-facilitated sex trafficking. Kunze suggests that international laws are not sufficiently keeping pace with advancing technology. The article argues that, “[I]t is vital that the international community adopt both domestic legislation and international treaty provisions to target sexual predators and human traffickers who use technology and the Internet to enslave minors and adults alike.”[xv]

Kunze’s article highlights a debate within the international legal community over whether the language of current instruments sufficiently encompasses and criminalizes the technological facilitation of trafficking. For example, while the members of the Council of Europe argue that the term “recruitment” as it is used to define trafficking in the 2000 Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons (“2000 Protocol”) is sufficiently broad enough to include recruitment via online technology, Kunze retorts that even a broad interpretation of the word does not go far enough to cover specific acts of exploitation occurring online.[xvi]

UN special operation

UN carries out a special operation targeting human trafficking in Indonesia (UN Photo)

At this stage, Kunze’s pronouncements appear premature. As the United Nations suggested in a 2005 statement, attempts to create and refine technology-specific laws will remain premature as long as governments have not perfected their ability to enforce laws already in existence. This is especially true given the fact that, as the first blog in this series noted, international instruments criminalizing trafficking have existed since at least 1926. That first convention, the Convention to Suppress the Slave Trade and Slavery, prohibits all acts of slavery and every act of trade or transport of people, seemingly encompassing the acts that take place in virtual spaces today. The 1979 Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women likewise encompasses all forms of traffic in women. Finally, the 2000 Protocol uses words of direction including “prevent,” “combat,” “protect,” “assist,” and “promote cooperation,” all of which can be done in virtual spaces as well as physical ones.

Slavery does not persist because of a dearth of legal instruments with the capacity to combat it – it persists because it is difficult to track and understand. The international community should refrain from drafting premature legal instruments until it has gained a more thorough, comprehensive understanding of how human traffickers operate. Technology-specific language at the international level may eventually prove necessary to adequately address the increased use of the internet in perpetrating trafficking. However, it is more likely that as more information becomes available through the increased use of data mining and analysis, the existing language will prove adequate.

Arguably, this debate will not be resolved conclusively until more signatories to the Protocol actually begin to carry out its mandate by locating and prosecuting more cases of human trafficking within their borders. To do this, advocates must focus on compiling enough information on the problem to take decisive action against perpetrators. Only when trafficking cases reach the courtroom will we be able to test the functionality of the 2000 Protocol, and the domestic legal instruments based on the 2000 Protocol, as they are written.

Existing instruments may be sufficient to encompass violations that take place across digital spaces. What advocates lack is sufficient information to make this possible. As the third blog in this series discusses, several private partnerships are conspiring to change that.


Whitney Denning is a 3L and a staff editor for the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy.


[i] Mark Latonero et al., The Rise of Mobile and the Diffusion of Technology-Facilitated Trafficking 8 (2012), available at https://technologyandtrafficking.usc.edu/files/2011/08/HumanTrafficking2012.pdf.

[ii] Antonio Maria Costa, Exec. Dir. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Human Trafficking: A Crime that Shames Us All (Feb. 13, 2008), available at http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/about-unodc/speeches/2008-02-13.html.

[iii] Id.

[iv] Liana Sun Wyler, Cong. Research Serv., R42497, Trafficking in Persons: International Dimensions and Foreign Policy Issues for Congress 10 (2013).

[v] Id. at 11.

[vi] Id. at 14.

[vii] Latonero et al., supra note 1, at iv.

[viii] Latonero et al.,, supra note 1, at vi.

[ix] Latonero et al.,, supra note 1, at 11.

[x] Amy Farrell et al., Identifying Challenges to Improve the Investigation and Prosecution of State and Local Human Trafficking Cases 41 (2012).

[xi] Michael Shively et al., A National Overview of Prostitution and Sex Trafficking Demand Reduction Efforts, Final Report 47 (2012).

[xii] U.S. Dep’t of Justice, The National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction 4 (2010).

[xiii] Danah Boyd et al., Human Trafficking and Technology: A Framework for Understanding the Role of Technology in the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in the U.S. 3 (2011).

[xiv] Latonero et al., supra note 1, at 13.

[xv] Erin I. Kunze, Sex Trafficking Via The Internet: How International Agreements Address The Problem And Fail To Go Far Enough, 10 J. High Tech. L. 241, 253 (2010).

[xvi] Id. at 272.


Posted in TVFA Posts, Whitney DenningComments (1)

Violent Against Women Act

Technology Takes on Trafficking: How Data Collection is Changing the International Fight Against Modern Slavery (Part 1 of 3)

This is the first in a series of three blog posts addressing technological solutions to combat human trafficking. This post provides context on the issue of human trafficking, including a brief summary of the existing domestic and international legal instruments addressing it. The second blog will discuss the importance of the increased use of technology in the fight against human trafficking, and will provide an overview of the scope of current research on technology and trafficking. The final blog will analyze the efforts of private partnerships to apply technology to create anti-trafficking solutions.

 Part I: The State of the Law

 “It ought to concern every person, because it’s a debasement of our common humanity.  It ought to concern every community, because it tears at the social fabric.  It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets.  It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime.  I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name—modern slavery.” – President Barack Obama

The issue of child trafficking launched into the public eye this summer with news that, in a single weekend, the FBI rescued more than 100 children who were trafficked for sex in more than 70 cities across the country. The youngest victim rescued during the raids was just 13 years old. About 160 pimps were arrested for exploiting the children, and the criminal charges against them will include charges for human trafficking.

Operation cross country

Police arrest a pimp during Operation Cross Country in the U.S.

The roughly 100 children rescued in these raids represent only a tiny sliver of the global human trafficking epidemic. The U.S. Department of State’s 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report (“TIP Report”) estimates that about 40,000 trafficking victims were identified worldwide in the last year, and the undiscovered victims are even more numerous: social scientists estimate that as many as 27 million men, women, and children are victims of trafficking at any given time.

Defining Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is modern day slavery—forcing an individual to perform work against his or her will. As the TIP Report explains, human trafficking does not necessarily require movement. Victims may be born into servitude or transported for exploitation. They may even give consent to work for the trafficker, and subsequently become victimized.

In the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (“TVPA”), most recently reauthorized in March 2013 as part of the Violence Against Women Act, the United States established statutory definitions for this crime, which affects victims across all labor sectors. Under the TVPA, sex trafficking is defined as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act.” Sex trafficking is a severe form of trafficking in persons when “the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age.” Likewise, labor trafficking is defined as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purposes of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.”

International Human Trafficking Laws

Modern domestic laws such as the TVPA are heavily influenced by the many international instruments created throughout the past century to address the continuing scourge of slavery. While most of them are not accompanied by any enforcement mechanism, the following instruments all address trafficking directly or indirectly:

Modern Application

As demonstrated by the preceding list, attempts to eradicate slavery through international law stretch back almost 100 years. We know from our own nation’s history that domestic abolition movements were taking place well before this. Yet, the most recent convention and its accompanying protocol have set the course for how to define, prevent, and prosecute human trafficking in the modern era.

While many of the earlier instruments are purely aspirational and contain few, if any, actual punishments for offending nations, the 2000 Trafficking Protocol is actually a law enforcement instrument. It directs member states to take action to penalize trafficking by aggressively prosecuting it as a separate criminal offense within their borders. It also instructs countries to protect victims of trafficking in a number of ways, including protecting their privacy and security, providing resources for recovery, and offering the opportunity for non-citizens to remain in the country. Finally, it prescribes comprehensive policies aimed at prevention, including research, media campaigns, and updates to public policy where appropriate.

Violent Against Women Act

President Obama signs the Violence Against Women addition

The TVPA, discussed above, was enacted after the United States signed on to the 2000 Trafficking Protocol. The TVPA complied with the Protocol’s prosecution mandate by establishing human trafficking as a federal crime with severe penalties, and creating new crimes of forced labor and sex trafficking, and unlawful conduct laws with respect to using documents in furtherance of trafficking. It also mandates that traffickers pay their victims restitution.

The TVPA complied with the protection mandate by offering federal protections to victims, including eligibility for continued presence in the country in order to assist law enforcement, and the creation of the T Visa, which allows victims to become temporary residents if certain criteria are met.

Finally, the TVPA facilitated prevention by creating the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking, which is required to produce the TIP Report, reporting on and ranking countries’ efforts to combat trafficking. The President may impose sanctions on countries that do not meet the minimum standards established in the statute for combating trafficking, and are not making significant efforts to do so.

Modern Solutions to a Modern Crisis

The language in the TVPA, inspired by the 2000 Trafficking Protocol, is not drastically different from the language of prohibition in the very first international instrument, the Slavery Convention of 1926, which prohibited enslavement in the form of “the acquisition of a slave with a view to selling or exchanging him.” The real difference between these instruments is the historical context. Whereas the earliest prohibitions addressed the open sale of human beings on a visible market, the new slavery takes place in a different domain.

Today, almost all elements of our statutory definition of slavery—the “recruitment,” the “harboring,” the “force, fraud, or coercion”—are inextricably entwined with modern technology. In place of open sales in public squares, traffickers employ social networks to locate and market women and girls, use difficult-to-trace no-contract cell phones for themselves and their victims, and frequent illicit websites such as Backpage.com to carry out many trafficking business exchanges.

Google and other companies have addressed the role that technology may play in combatting human trafficking

Google and other companies have addressed the role that technology may play in combatting human trafficking

According to Ronald Hosko, assistant director of the FBI’s criminal investigative division, social media platforms were one resource the investigators utilized to uncover victims and exploiters in its most recent raid. Social media stands as the lone “virtual” space among the other locations—motels, casinos, streets—where the FBI investigated to track down this group of victims and exploiters.

As online sites, cell phones, and other evolving technologies become the go-to resources for exploiting trafficking victims, anti-trafficking advocates are beginning to see the necessity to harness the power of technology for their own purposes. In order to satisfy the mandates of both international and U.S. law, anti-trafficking advocates are learning to utilize the internet, cell phones, data processing services, and more, to turn technology against the traffickers who have learned to use it as a tool for exploitation.

Whitney Denning is a 3L and a staff editor for the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy.

Posted in DJILP Staff, TVFA Posts, Uncategorized, Whitney DenningComments (1)

University of Denver Sturm College of Law


Visit the DJILP Newsroom

Posts by Date

April 2014
« Mar    


EnglishItalianKoreanChinese (Simplified)Chinese (Traditional)PortugueseGermanFrenchSpanishJapaneseArabicRussianGreekDutchBulgarianCzechCroatianDanishFinnishPolishSwedishNorwegianHebrewSerbianSlovakThaiTurkishHungarianRomanian

TVFA Contributors