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by Jill Brown, student at GMU

On the twenty-sixth of March, I had the privilege of attending a lecture and dinner with Ambassador Ahmed Kamal, former U.N. Ambassador to Pakistan. Ambassador Kamal spoke on the promotion and maintenance of peace in the modern world. While I found him and his subject fascinating, I believe he made several generalized statements in his lecture that were erroneous and this concerned me greatly.

It was clear that several of the students gave his speech a great deal of credence, but I was not pleased with the sweeping conclusions he was drawing from his premises. For example, one of the statements he made that colored much of the rest of his speech (and even the dinner conversation) was that young people, those under thirty years of age, ought not pay heed to the counsel of those beyond thirty when making decisions regarding the future of our world. His premise, that young people between the ages of twenty and thirty are at their peak both physically and mentally, supported by examples like Joan of Arc, Chopin, and Keats, was fairly sound. It is true that young people are endowed with a great deal of energy and that the brain seems to function at its peak creativity within this decade; therefore, the younger generation of any age has a great deal of responsibility for making use of this incredible potential. However, his assertion that we, as young people, ought not listen to the counsel of our elders, was, in my opinion, incorrect.

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Post by Dylan Matthews, Campus Progress

The nation’s initial response to 9/11 was one that could have easily come from an eleven-year-old. Let’s hope we’ve moved beyond the need for war as a response to terrorism.

9-11 tribute

The Tribute in Light is an art installation of 88 searchlights placed next to the site of the World Trade Center to create two vertical columns of light in remembrance of the September 11 attacks. (Flickr/macten)

I was in my sixth grade newspaper class when I heard that a plane had hit the south tower of the World Trade Center. It wasn’t until the second plane struck the other tower that my middle school sent around notes to teachers telling them to make the announcement. One plane, I suppose they had reasoned, could have been an accident and perhaps not worth causing panic. Two was something altogether different. After a brief and, in retrospect, fairly odd warning from my teacher against assuming it was Muslim terrorists that were responsible, we flooded into the school library to watch madness unfold on the school’s 50-inch TV as Dan Rather informed us that the Pentagon had been hit as well.

Everyone one of us, old and young, has of these stories. For people my age—that is to say, those of us currently in college or late high school—the impression of that day has been particularly formative. Before that day, this country we lived in was not one that fought wars. We were barely sentient for the Gulf War, if alive at all. Our country was not one that was attacked on its own soil.

This was the first truly huge event of our lives, and its sheer scale overwhelmed all but the most immediate details. We were too overwhelmed to wonder or care whether al-Qaeda or Iraq or a Timothy McVeigh-like domestic terrorist had planned the act.

That evening, President George W. Bush addressed the American public, “Tonight we are a country awakened to danger and called to defend freedom. Our grief has turned to anger, and anger to resolution.” My eleven-year-old self understood his logic and took the next step. Big acts, Bush was saying, necessitate big responses.

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Pirates have long been subjects of fascination and intrigue in the Western literary imagination. Authors have published accounts of looting, mustachsomali-piratesed, one-legged bandits toiling over treacherous waters in such epic masterpieces as “Peter Pan.” But in Somalia, where many forge a living by capturing commercial cargo ships in the Indian Ocean, the motives for pursuing a life of piracy aren’t so romantic.

Reports of Somali pirates hijacking foreign ships have circulated through the news quite frequently in the past few months. Last September, for example, the New York Times’ Jeffrey Gettleman reported a band of Somali pirates snatched a Ukrainian arms vessel headed for Kenya.  Much of the article delved into the details of the attack, the great conundrums that Somali piracy presents for the international community and African law-making bodies, as well as the deviance of the criminals responsible for the attack. Gettleman describes the pirates in the following manner:

“The gun-toting, seafaring thieves, who routinely pounce on cargo ships bobbing along on the Indian Ocean, suddenly found themselves in command of a vessel crammed with $30 million worth of grenade launchers, piles of ammunition, even battle tanks.”

While his word choice certainly grabs the reader’s attention, the analysis provided notably fails to examine driving forces behind the growing trend of Somali piracy. Might there be reasons beyond an assumed natural affinity to  lawlessness and violence?  What of the public perception of piracy as a form of national defense among Somalis?

Much to the ire of the United States and Russia, the pirates refused to turn over the Ukrainian ship, claiming the charged ransom money was to be used to fund public service projects to clean up toxic waste along the Somali coast. That is, uranium radioactive waste European and Asian companies have dumped in Somali waters for over a decade. Yes, the same Europe that is crying foul each time Somali pirates attack. Not to mention that foreign powers have been illegally draining Somali fisheries and other marine resources since 2000.

Mainstream news outlets also fail to mention the devastating poverty and weak rule of law that has drawn many Somalis to piracy as a means of livelihood. Without a reliable government or a functioning economy, most Somalis end up desperate for a means of income.

In other words, it seems convenient for the international community to dismiss Somali pirates as third-rate thugs. But, it would prove more constructive for major world powers to address the bloody conflict with U.S.-backed Ethiopian forces that has been ripping through Somalia for the past nineteen years. A thoughtful letter to the editor for the UK’s Financial Times pointed out that over the past two years, battles between the Somalis and U.S.-backed Ethiopian troops have resulted in the displacement of one million and the death of 10,000 Somali citizens. Locked in violence and pandemonium, Somalis have increasingly turned to less conventional industries, such as piracy, as a means of survival and way to exercise power over the terms of their own lives.

What can the world’s major powers do? For one, the United States should stop its funding and support of Ethiopia’s invasion and violation of Somalia’s territorial integrity. In addition, wildly hazardous, health-threatening toxic waste dumping on the part of European and Asian  companies should cease. Finally, as per usual, diplomatic intervention and humanitiarian aid will go much farther than bellicose rhetoric and short-sighted interventionist policies  in stemming the Somali piracy problem.

Oh, and the illegal usurpation and abuse of a sovereign country’s resources and territory have never been the best way to stamp out crime.

Last November 11th, I wrote this:

  Whether you call it Armistice Day, Remembrance Day, Veterans Day, Poppy Day, or the Day of Peace, November eleventh is the day hundreds of millions of people around the world mark the end of the First World War. Eighty-eight years ago today, the guns fell silent on the Western Front of that war. The Armistice was signed at 11am –the eleventh hour of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month of 1918.

More than 15 million people, including almost 7 million civilians, lost their lives in World War I. For Europe, it was the first in a series of connected conflicts that would shake the continent for decades to come. Beginning with the victims of World War I, an estimated 95 million Europeans lost their lives to political violence within the span of a single generation.

Reflecting on such awful numbers makes me question human nature, and its capacity for cruelty. Looking at Europe today, however, fills me with hope. Peace, here, is a great multi-generational project. And it continues today.

I will leave you with the words of Robert Schuman, one of the fathers of European unification.

"World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it."
-Robert Schuman, the Schuman Declaration, 1950

This year, I am spending November 11th in Sarajevo, a European city that bears the scars of a war that took place within my memory. A hundred thousand people perished between 1992 and the winter of 1995 in this small country, and nearly one out of every ten victims died here, in Sarajevo, the victims of attacks that deliberately targeted civilians as they went about their everyday lives. Today, Sarajevo is alive and culturally booming, but it will be along time before it recovers from the loss of so many lives, and the destruction of so much history.

Thousands of landmines lurk under the soil in the lovely hills surrounding the city, and cemeteries filled with civilian war dead stand out as splashes of striking white in Sarajevo’s old neighborhoods. 

Politically, Bosnia is a mess, and a long way from European integration. One can only imagine where Bosnia would be today if the Bosnian War had never taken place. A civilian war victim I spoke with this past summer told me that despite the unspeakable tragedy that befell him, he desires peace, not vengeance. More than anything, he said to me, he wishes, every day, that time could be reversed to the day the war broke out and history altered so it never happened at all, so his family would still be alive and happy.

So, my thoughts today are on war’s long, difficult aftermath, and the necessity of working for a world in which diplomacy, tolerance, and compromise replace tanks, and mortars, and helicopter gunships — a world that would be safe for you and me alike, whoever we are, and wherever we live.

The American populace is increasingly publicly wondering and debating whether or not Bush and/or members of his administration have intentions of making Iran country #3 that America has invaded during the past two presidential terms. Bush’s, Cheney’s, Rice’s, and, up until his recent resignation, Rumsfeld’s rhetoric towards Iran has run the gamut from threatening military response against members of the Axis of Evil (of which Iran is obviously a member) in the 2002 National Security Strategy to stating that the US will not even talk to Iran about compromising until Iran compromises first (which doesn’t make sense for Iran to adhere to, which is another blog for another day).

Steven Clemons, Director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, recently posted an op/ed on debating this issue and ultimately concluding that Bush will not attack Iran. He delves into great detail describing how the US administration’s threats would lead one to think that Bush is seriously considering an invasion, but that in fact his military and intelligence advisors have warned him of the problems with this plan (not the least of which is America’s quickly deteriorating popularity in the Muslim world), making Cheney and his neoconservatives unsuccessfully try ever harder to convince Bush and the public of the necessity of an invasion. However, Clemons mentions only briefly the possibility of an "accidental" confrontation.

The scenario of a covert attempt to create war deserves much greater thought than Clemons included in his article, despite his mentioning that it is worth worrying about. When considering Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s past roles in using fake memos from Niger to drum up a war in Iraq, blatantly ignoring the intelligence community’s cries that the sources were questionable, why would they not repeat a similar scandal for war with Iran? This time, however, it is likely that they will not use the public to vet their phoney intel, but will instead quietly put ants in Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s pants until he lashes out, giving the administration something to respond militarily to with the full support of the public, who will think they know the whole story – simply an angry Muslim country attacking the US, yet again.

"Patterns of violence against women in conflict do not arise "naturally" and are not collateral damage of war. They are ordered, condoned, or tolerated by those in power. They persist because those who commit them know they can get away unpunished." -Irene Khan, Amnesty International

In conflict situations, whether they are inter-state wars, civil wars, or conflicts born out of deeply divided societies, women are specifically targeted in large numbers for acts of sexual and gender-based violence. The torture they face, the extent they are subject to rape, and the outrages upon their personal dignity are different than those men endure in times of war.

Iraq is no exception. New war, same very old stories. Women are being forced into prostitution and sexual slavery, and are sexually abused by insurgents, Iraqi soldiers and police, and (in several highly publicized and grisly cases) American soldiers as well.

IRIN has the story of Luana Martiri, a brave 22-year-old literature student at a Baghdad university who was raped by Iraqi soldiers and decided to speak out about her ordeal.

"I thought very hard before agreeing to tell my story. But I cannot allow other girls to suffer the same violence I suffered. in addition to being discriminated against and lacking support.

"With the exception of my older brother, Khalil, all my family had left for Amman, Jordan and then for Sweden. I was waiting to finish my last year at university before joining them. Only I and Khalil stayed behind. One day, while he was at university, a group of Iraqi soldiers raided our home saying that they had information that there were insurgents in the area.

[…] "I was alone again in the house and I heard a sound coming from the living room. First, I thought Khalil had come home earlier and then I realised it was one of the Iraqi soldiers who had raided our home two days previously.

[…] "I was surprised and was about to ask him if he was conducting another raid when he put his hand directly over my mouth and told me that if I made any sound, he would wait for my brother and kill him.

[…] "I tried to free myself from his arms and run but he was much stronger than me. He forced me into a bedroom and made me do what I had never done before in my life. He raped me while I cried and tried to bite his hand but each time I did this he hit my face with his other hand.

"When he finished he told me that if I told the police about it he would return and do it again with me and kill my brother so the house would be just for me and him.

[…] "When my brother came home I told him everything. He got so upset that he forced me to go to the police with him. There we met a sergeant who asked for proof that it was an Iraqi soldier who raped me, saying that maybe it was not a soldier but only someone dressed like one.

"After two hours of humiliation, being looked at by the police officers as the latest girl who lost her virginity in Iraq, we went home. Khalil cried more than me because he couldn’t believe that his sister had suffered such abuse while he was away and the rapist would not be charged.

[…] "Two weeks ago, I discovered that I was made pregnant by the rapist.

From a paper I wrote a few months ago:

It is the hope of all engaged in the young field of international criminal law that the prosecution of individuals who engage in gross human rights abuses may deter such acts by others in the future. For far too long, sexual and gender-based violence in wartime were treated as incidental to conflict, but that has changed, due in large part to the commitment of women involved in international law to reverse millennia of shameful and destructive impunity. There is still much work to be done. Acts of sexual and gender-based violence continue to be committed widely in conflicts around the globe, and it remains the obligation of individual states, as well as the international community as a whole, to ensure that these crimes do not go uninvestigated, unprosecuted, or unpunished.

While I’m not completely comfortable referring to human trafficking and its victims in economic terms, the truth is this crime would not exist without a market that offers great financial rewards to those involved. One of the most disturbing characteristics of human trafficking lies in its most basic definition: the sale of human beings. Trafficking turns a life into a mere commodity, which can be bought and sold like any other good. Because trafficking is driven by economic motivations, it must be analyzed in economic terms–regardless of the discomfort such an analysis may cause.

As any introductory economics course teaches, in a market price is a function of supply and demand. With human trafficking, the supply side refers to the economic and social factors that create a pool of potential victims for traffickers to target. The demand side includes who is buying these people and for what purposes.

On the supply side, poverty, lack of education and social inequality are often cited as the main contributing (or ‘push’) factors. Wars, natural disasters and civil unrest can create a large number of displaced people which facilitates trafficking. The 2004 tsunami caused mass devastation and increased trafficking from Southeast Asia. Other recent examples include the 2006 Israeli-Lebanon conflict and the ongoing civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Rapid industrialization can also inflate the supply side of trafficking. In many developing countries, there is a wide socioeconomic divide between the urban centers and the rural areas. Poor, uneducated, rural populations become prime targets for traffickers who lure young people into the city with the promise of a good job and a luxurious lifestyle. Girls with many siblings seem to be the most vulnerable in this case. Also, cultural factors often play a role. Traffickers can exploit certain cultural norms such as the value placed on virginity, the responsibility of an older child to contribute to the family income, the common practice of taking out a ‘loan’ from an employer which is then repaid through work, etc. On a macro scale, insufficient birth registry and identification systems, the ready supply of fraudulent travel documents, corruption, and ineffective migration policies affect the supply side of human trafficking.

In terms of demand, I split the factors into two categories: direct and indirect. Direct factors which influence demand are obviously what and how much people are willing to pay a trafficker for particular services. The most common image of direct demand is a man paying for sex from an enslaved prostitute. However, other types include forced labor, bonded labor, illegal adoptions (‘baby selling’), begging rings and the sale of vital organs. What I call indirect demand comes from consumers’ constant quest for ever-cheaper goods and services. The nature of the capitalist system is to minimize production costs. Labor is normally one of the most expensive factors of production and as such it becomes an obvious place to try and cut corners. In fact, after being busted for trafficking many factory owners defend their actions on the grounds that they couldn’t compete in the industry (carpets, clothing, bricks, whatever) without slaves because ‘everyone else’ is using them too. This brings us to a much larger issue of sub-contracting, global supply chains, etc. which would be too long and complex for this particular piece. However, the important thing to remember is that the demand for human trafficking is not only driven by those who actually pay for the victim’s services; on the contrary, we all contribute to to trafficking demand–indirectly–even if we’re not aware of it.

As a function of supply and demand, prices fluctuate from one region and/or country to the next. Price is influenced by all the factors mentioned above as well as the distances travelled and the mode of transport employed. As Kevin Bales, President of Free the Slaves ( notes, price also influences the treatment modern day slaves receive. FTS reports that hundreds of years ago slaves cost as much as the equivalent of $80,000 apiece. Now that figure has fallen to about $100.  David Batstone echoes this point in his book Not For Sale:

"During the era of the American plantation economy, the slaveholder considered slave ownership an investment. The supply of new recruits was limited. Though the slave owner usually treated the slave like a beast, it would be equal to the treatment of a prized bull. The slave owner aimed to extract the value of his investment over the course of the slave’s lifetime." However, in the modern-day slave trade, "the glut of slaves and the capacity to move them great distances in a relatively short period of time drastically alters the economics of slave ownership. As relative costs plummet, slaves cease to be a long-term investment. The owner need not be too concerned about maintaining the health of the slave…just like used batteries, once the slave exhausts his or her usefulness, another can be procured at no great expense"

In terms of the ‘business model’ of trafficking operations, size and
strategy can range from individual entrepreneurs to small ‘mom and pop’
operations to sophisticated, mafia-style rings. "In some cases, traffickers have emerged specifically to meet the migration demand, and in other cases, there are established international criminal syndicates who have incorporated trading of humans into their existing spheres of criminal activity" (IOM report, June 1996). In many cases, law enforcement’s cooperation and/or willingness to look the other way plays a key role in traffickers’ success.

So that’s the basics of human trafficking economics. As I’ve mentioned previously, modern day slavery is a booming business; it’s the third most profitable black market activity behind drugs and arms. The current estimate of human trafficking’s total market value is $32 million, $10 million of which comes from the initial ‘sale’ of people and the rest from the profits and goods they produce.

The next post in this series will explore geographic trends in human trafficking. It will address questions such as: How are individual countries and regions categorized into places of origin, points of transit and destinations? Which specific types of trafficking are linked to each region? What are the similarities and differences in these geographic trends?


January 2020
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