A Cry for Freedom

U.S. Ambassador to Holy See on Abolition of Slavery

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ROME, DEC. 2, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a commentary by the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, Francis Rooney, on the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, observed today.

The day marks the adoption by the U.N. General Assembly on Dec. 2, 1949, the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others.

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In every corner of the globe people are crying out to gain the most fundamental of all rights: the right to be free. Yet on Dec. 2, International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, there will be millions whose voices we will not hear. They are the victims of human trafficking -- about 80% of them female, and up to half of them minors. They long to escape a life of captivity, literally to break the chains that imprison them in a world of forced labor or sexual exploitation. They have been forced to flee poverty, kidnapped, lured away from their homes, or tricked into a life in which they are denied the freedom to move and live without fear of abuse, rape or deprivation.

The U.S. Embassy to the Holy See has worked actively to enhance awareness of this issue with the Vatican, as well as with faith-based communities worldwide. Our most recent effort, a weeklong training seminar conducted in October in partnership with the Italian Union of Major Superiors (USMI), brought together more than 30 nuns active in the field of human trafficking in 26 countries. The event allowed for extensive sharing of best practices among participants and gave birth to the International Network of Religious Against Trafficking in Persons (INRATIP) -- the first network of its kind.

Addressing the seminar, the Vatican's Deputy Foreign Minister Monsignor Pietro Parolin expressed hope that greater attention to the issue will translate into more decisive responses to the problem. He offered the Vatican's full support for "the increasing numbers of consecrated persons engaged in this fight."

It is my experience, and deep conviction, that the Holy See and other faith-based groups have a critical role to play in the fight against trafficking in persons, now the fastest growing criminal activity in the world. Communities of women and men religious can offer victims shelter, job training and the hope of a better life. Bishops, priests and other leaders can do their part to raise awareness of the perils of trafficking among parishioners and encourage government authorities to put programs in place to prevent this crime against human dignity.

The United States is deeply committed to playing its part, too. In Fiscal Year 2006, the United States spent roughly $74 million to fund 154 projects in 70 countries supporting foreign government and NGO efforts to combat human trafficking. In that same period, the U.S. Government spent more than $28 million for anti-trafficking projects at home. Further, the U.S. Department of State's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons compiles the most comprehensive annual report on what governments around the globe are doing -- or not doing -- to combat slavery.

President George W. Bush once said, "No one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave." Because of the stain of slavery on our own history, these words guide our efforts against trafficking in persons, based on our fundamental belief in freedom and human dignity.

Dec. 2 is not only a day of reflection, but of action. All who support the human drive for freedom must stand together and give voice to the victims of trafficking who are so often kept silent. The United States stands ready to partner with anyone committed to putting an end to this modern-day slavery, which we strive to banish to the pages of history books. This time for good.