Deputy Chief of Mission Kathleen FitzGibbon Remarks at NAPTIP Five Year Planning Conference

Good morning/afternoon.

I’d like to thank NAPTIP for inviting us to be part of your planning session today.  From 2002-2004, I was fortunate to be a member of the then-newly-created Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons at the Department of State.

This multi-disciplinary office has grown exponentially, which is a sign of the importance our government places on combating modern day slavery.  I worked closely with the Government of Nigeria on legislation and the creation of NAPTIP itself.  I burst with pride at what NAPTIP has become and I believe its achievements are an important contribution to the well-being of Nigerian society.

So, for me, this invitation is a source of great honor because of my personal and professional commitment to combat trafficking in persons.  We look forward to working with you to strengthen Nigeria’s organizational framework through the 2021-2025 National Action Plan on trafficking in persons.

  • On behalf of the U.S. government, I want to acknowledge NAPTIP’s leading role in combatting trafficking in persons in Nigeria and the region.  No organization is possible without dedicated officials, and I thank all of you here today working to support NAPTIP’s mission.  From my own experience, I know the emotional toll working on this issue, but also the reward of knowing that your work has helped victims become survivors.
  • I salute your daily contributions to the global challenge of countering human trafficking. On days when we felt overwhelmed by the scope and magnitude of the problem or just our own internal bureaucratic challenges, my fellow colleagues and I would say, “wait a minute…we helped a victim today” and that made us all look forward to coming to work every day.
  • We are marking the 20th anniversary of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and the United Nations Trafficking in Persons Protocol this year. As you know, our own and Nigeria’s anti-human trafficking efforts focus on prosecution, protection, and prevention.
  • We applaud NAPTIP’s exemplary work to prosecute traffickers, identify victims, and prevent the crime through awareness raising. Our own experience tells us that no one agency or ministry can shoulder this burden alone, which is why we also commend other government representatives and non-governmental organizations who are valuable partners in ending this scourge.  This is undeniably hard work, and only through collaborating across ministries and with civil society can we address these heinous crimes.
  • Just last month, the White House released the first-ever comprehensive National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking to address how best to address this scourge through a coordinated effort.
  • In the U.S., the State Department has the overall lead on coordinating anti-trafficking, which includes the Department of Justice, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Defense, among others, at both the federal and state levels.
  • Deepening partnerships with a broad array of stakeholders inside and outside of government is critical to bolstering Nigeria’s anti-trafficking efforts. Fighting modern day slavery requires all-hands-on-deck working in a coordination.  The traffickers are highly organized.  We anti-traffickers must be even more coordinated within our respective governments and with our NGO partners.  The victims of human trafficking deserve no less than a whole-of-government commitment to ending this practice.
  • We all know that prosecution is at the core of anti-trafficking efforts. This does not mean prosecuting only the traffickers.  It also means holding complicit officials accountable to signal to that no one is above the law.
  • This February, our Department of Defense worked with federal prosecutors and local law enforcement to investigate 24 U.S. service members for crimes including human trafficking.  Instead of hiding these crimes, after a transparent investigation, all guilty parties were dishonorably discharged, one was sentenced to 18 months, and another is facing a general court martial, the U.S. Military’s most severe judicial proceeding.
  • This year has seen a number of significant prosecutions of traffickers where the maximum penalty has been metted out. Bravo for jailing these exploiters!
  • On protection, NAPTIP and several non-governmental organizations provide victim-centric care to survivors of trafficking.
  • We have discussed with NAPTIP our concerns about the government can best protect those most vulnerable, which includes women and children. The commercial sexual exploitation of women and children is a major issue confronting many countries and Nigeria is not immune.  Almost two million internally-displaced persons are at risk for some sort of exploitation and it is incumbent upon government authorities at federal, state, and local levels to protect them from victimization.  We recognize NAPTIP’s increasing engagement around exploitation in these camps.
  • Prosecution of those who engaged in sexual exploitation of women and children in IDP camps should be punished to the full extent of the law. This is also considered one of the worst forms of child labor as is child soldiering.  We continue to monitor the use of children in conflict zones for labor and urge the Ministry of Defense and state governors to remain vigilant in preventing children from performing tasks for either the military or civilian joint task forces.
  • Finally, prevention means shining a light on trafficking, which is critical to enlightening potential victims about the dangers of modern day slavery. We were proud to see that Kenneth Gyang, a 2018 American Film Showcase Fellow, succeeded just last month in releasing the film “Oloture.”  This was the second Netflix Original feature in Nigeria’s film history and swiftly became one of the most successful crossover Nigerian titles on the service, creating a buzz of awareness and conversation about the dark realities of human trafficking.
  • I want to acknowledge Nigeria’s efforts to make progress on the Department of State’s 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report’s prioritized recommendations.
  • We are proud to stand with Nigeria in its fight against human trafficking, and we look forward to robust conversations today as you build Nigeria’s 2021-2025 National Action Plan. Human trafficking is an intolerable blight on any society that values freedom, individual rights, human dignity, and the rule of law.   Together we must succeed.
  • In closing, I would like to congratulate NAPTIP’s Director General, Dame Julie Okah-Donli, for her appointment as the chair of the United Nations’ Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons.  This appointment is well-deserved. This sends a strong signal to the rest of the world that Nigeria is a heavy-weight in the fight to end human trafficking.  Well done, Dame Julie!

Thank you for listening and thank you for your personal and professional commitment to defeat modern-day slavery.