Trafficking in Persons Event with Laura Anyola Tufon

Ambassador Peter Barlerin at Trafficking in Persons Event with Laura Anyola Tufon American Center.

Remarks by Ambassador Peter Barlerin

Trafficking in Persons Event with Laura Anyola Tufon

American Center, March 7, 2018 2 p.m.

[as prepared for delivery]

Ladies and gentlemen,

Distinguished Guests,

I’m pleased to welcome you all here to the American Center at the U.S. Embassy.

Today’s program is part of ongoing efforts by the U.S. government to engage with government and civil society to reverse trends in trafficking in persons.

I am glad to see many in the audience who are dedicated to combatting TIP.

For example, Beatrice Titanji, the National Vice-President of the NGO Nkumu Fed-Fed, is with us.  Beatrice and her organization are active in combatting trafficking of women, and they have championed the rescue of women victims in Kuwait.

I’m pleased to welcome Lydie Ella Essissima, from the Ministry of Social Affairs.  Her ministry is very involved in prevention efforts and the rehabilitation of victims.

Also, thank you to the journalists who are with us.  I see Inna Lazareva, Thomas Reuter Foundation’s Africa Resilience Correspondent, in the crowd and I understand we have five other media outlets represented. I look forward to seeing your reporting on this important topic.

And last but not least, I’d like to recognize our own resident anti-TIP expert at the U.S. embassy, Chris Murillo.

Every year the U.S. Department of State issues the Trafficking in Persons report to expose the problem of TIP worldwide.

Unfortunately, Cameroon has been on the TIP report’s “Tier 2 Watch List” for two consecutive years.  The Government of Cameroon must do more to address Cameroon’s position as a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation.

If Cameroon’s ranking does not improve, it will mean an automatic downgrade to Tier 3, which has consequences for broader U.S.-Cameroonian cooperation.

Countries in Tier 3 may not be eligible for U.S. government support outside of humanitarian aid and trade-related foreign assistance.

No tier ranking is permanent and countries that increase efforts to combat human trafficking will improve their TIP tier rankings.

The Government of the Republic of Cameroon has, within the last year, arrested some alleged traffickers, which is great, but justice in Cameroon can be very slow, and some cases have languished in the courts for more than two years, facing repeated delays.

Trafficking victims get tired of waiting.  They get tired of the threats and intimidation of the people and organizations they are accusing.

They get tired of having to bear the expense of sometimes travelling great distances at their own expense to attend trials that get cancelled at the last minute or get tied up with technicalities and deliberate stonewalling.

They get tired of judges who are subject to the temptations of corruption.

Oftentimes, they just give up.

These peoples’ cases need to move through the courts and final decisions need to be rendered.

Last September, the Cameroonian government made efforts to meet NGOs and civil society organizations working to fight TIP and encouraged them to share information and to collaborate more closely.

This is a positive sign.  While government and NGOs might not always agree, by working together they can help create a better world.

Better cooperation helps facilitate the identification and protection of victims, and ultimately, investigations, prosecution, and conviction of offenders that demonstrate to perpetrators that their actions will be punished, and to victims that their cries for help are heard.

Each year, the Department of State honors TIP Heroes around the world who have devoted their lives to the fight against human trafficking.  These individuals are NGO workers, lawmakers, police officers, and concerned citizens who are committed to ending modern slavery.

They are recognized for their efforts in the face of resistance that includes not only the common response that this is just part of life, especially in Africa to very real threats to their lives.  TIP Heroes to protect victims, punish offenders, and raise awareness of ongoing criminal practices in their countries and abroad.

I’m so pleased to welcome today Ms. Laura Anyola Tufon, who was honored by the Department of State as Cameroon’s first “TIP Report Hero Acting to End Modern Slavery Award” in 2013.

In her 15 years as the Northwest Regional Coordinator of the Justice and Peace Commission, Laura Anyola Tufon has been relentless in her commitment to fight child trafficking and forced labor in Cameroon.  Laura’s leadership has transformed her organization into a model for Central Africa.

The Justice and Peace Commission created the first community-based protection system in Cameroon to identify at-risk children and to protect victims from being re-trafficked.

Laura has worked within Cameroon’s own legal system to compel traffickers to compensate survivors and their families, leading to nearly 300 victims and their families receiving reintegration assistance and education.

It is quite clear that this woman has earned the title “hero.”

The Government of Cameroon needs all your help right now to address this problem, and I hope Laura has some about how we can change attitudes towards trafficking in this country and around the world.

Please join me, ladies and gentlemen, in thanking Laura Anyola Tufon for her for her ongoing work and for accepting our invitation to share her wisdom with us today.

Take it away, Laura.