Human Trafficking in the Courtroom.

Human Trafficking in the Courtroom.

It is the third week since I arrived in Kenya. I am sitting in a wooden bench, in a courtroom located somewhere in Nairobi, surrounded by an expectant crowd that patiently listens to the Judge, the clerks, the prosecutor and the involved parties of each one of the cases. I do not understand Kiswahili yet, so I cannot really tell what is going on. However, Julie, my colleague, explains to me the development of each case as we wait for ours.

We are there to accompany and provide support to one of the victims that receive HAART Kenya’s services at our shelter. Her name is Paula (pseudonym). She was informed of the fact that she was going to testify. The victim had also received the corresponding psychological assistance in order to be as mentally prepared as possible to face the challenge of re-telling her story in front of a legal system that still has a lot to do in order to prevent the re-victimization of victims like her. She would also receive assistance after the hearing, to help her overcome whatever she would face.

Finally, her hearing starts. From time to time she turns around and looks at us with her big eyes and her nervous smile, to check if we are there. Since in Kenya, as in many other countries, the victim’s participation during the legal proceedings is quite limited and prosecution in criminal cases remains the responsibility of the state which explains our limited role in the process. Therefore we cannot take a really active role during the hearing, but a supportive one.

It is a human right to be able to cross-examine the evidence whenever one is being accused of a crime. This is a process that in an ideal situation, the defendant should always have legal representation in the form of advocate. However, the situation in Kenya is not ideal and in many cases, the accused rarely has a defence lawyer. In general, if he/she lacks the funds to afford on the government rarely assigns one. This means that if they do not have a lawyer, the responsibility to cross examine the evidence lies with the accused. As fate would have it, this was the case in this courtroom; the accused has to cross-examine the testimony of the victim himself.

There she is, sitting in her wooden chair with her knees together, next to the prosecutor, spitting word by word what happened to her, in front of the exact same person that was responsible for all of it. I feel a knot in my throat as I can only imagine how she must be feeling right now. The bravery she is showing to all of us is a source of inspiration. It is the fuel that makes all of us feel hope and a sense of responsibility towards the well-being of victims and survivors.

Even when, at this hearing, the defender was not being particularly accused of human trafficking, Paula found herself in this situation as a direct consequence of her situation as victim of human trafficking. Sexual abuse was just but one of the abuses that she went through the process of trafficking.  She was rescued from that situation by HAART who then placed her in shelter managed by another organization. Unfortunately, while in that shelter which was supposed to be a place of safety, she was, again, sexually abused. The flaws of a system designed to protect victims like her become apparent. After this experience, HAART decided that opening its own shelter would be the better idea to prevent another situation like that. Currently, she receives all the assistance that our staff can provide in order to help her develop into a resilient human being.

Unfortunately, her story is not unique. A victim of human trafficking and a survivor of gender based sexual violence that was seeking for assistance and, instead, found herself re victimized by a system that was not able to protect her and ensure her safety is a common story.

Her story should make us think about how hard all of us – civil society, government agencies, international organizations – need to work in order to implement and develop a system that ensures the protection of victims. We should be encouraging and facilitating their access to justice as it is a human right, while preventing them from being re victimized. By the very system designed to protect them.

By Ignacio Lepro

 

Progress: A Shelter for Victims of Human Trafficking.

Progress: A Shelter for Victims of Human Trafficking.

On the 8th of June I traveled to an undisclosed location in Kenya to visit HAART’s shelter for rescued victims of human trafficking. A few hours drive from the capital the area is quiet serene and it is a perfect setting for aiding the rehabilitation of victims of trafficking.

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The shelter was opened in December 2016 when it was a much needed facility. The shelter has all the facilities for survivors to lead a healthy and safe life as long as they are residing there.

Importance of the shelter?

The shelter is very beneficial for a victims rehabilitation and re-integration back into society. By bringing a daily routine and structure into their lives it allows them to get back to normality after a very traumatic experience. For example, the shelter has a kitchen where residents can cook meals for the group each day. There is a small but expanding library so residents can practice reading and writing. It was nice to see these young people had real aspirations. Up on the wall the survivors stated their dreams of becoming lawyers, doctors, nurses and teachers. These were fantastic goals to aim for and the chances of them being pursued much more likely as a result of this shelter.

The shelter (which the location cannot be disclosed for security reasons) has a maximum capacity of 20 where female victims of trafficking can stay. Usually they are between the ages 8-18. Typically these victims are rescued from traffickers or rescued while they are in transit to their destination; often the Middle East.

HAART has a very dedicated legal team who fight to prosecute traffickers and any other people involved in the illegal trade of persons. However, it is not a cheap undertaking to keep the shelter running. HAART will always welcome any donations or second-hand items such as furniture, housing items, food or anything else which will help keep the great work continue.

According to International Organization for Migration (IOM) more than 20,000 victims are trafficked through Kenya annually from neighboring countries including Ethiopia, Somalia and South Sudan. This is a frightening statistic considering the Kenyan Government implemented a new law which was created in 2010 to tackle the issue of trafficking. However, the Counter-Trafficking in Persons Act has had very little impact and the issue remains very prevalent today. This number must be reduced.

It was quiet a shock for me to learn that with the current rate of human trafficking of females into prostitution globally, it is a much more lucrative business than drug trafficking (or any other forms of transnational criminality for that matter). US Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan stated in April 2017:

“Human trafficking for sex earns more money than drug trafficking that is why there are more organised criminal gangs globally. One of the current debates is to reduce demand for sex, delegitimise purchase of sex and stop prosecutions of people who sell sex and prosecute the purchasers,”

It is with such worrying statements like that of Attorney General Lisa Madigan that the goal of raising awareness on the matter of human trafficking in Kenya and further abroad is so important. It is why HAART is dedicated to the cause. As Benjamin Franklin once said

“justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”

We ask for your support today.

 

By James Fahey

On transit

Taking a business trip or even leisure trip and going through the immigration process and airports processes is a normal thing to most people. We normally travel oblivious of every other process in the same airport or plane with us; minding our own business to the latter. This was the case for my colleagues and I when we were returning to Kenya from Ethiopia. Checking in and queuing at airport in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia was normal.

As we went up the escalator in search of our gate we met a lady who seemed not to be sure of where she was going. She was staring at the escalator, seemingly not understanding how it works. She did not speak English and thus verbal communication was difficult. She showed her boarding pass to my colleague, she needed to know where her gate was as well and so we directed her. Luckily she was going in our direction and it was easy to help her. Her boarding pass indicated that she was travelling to Lebanon. This immediately became suspicious to us as a possible case of trafficking but we did not make much of it. This was not until we got to her gate. There were seated about nine ladies all travelling to Lebanon. The lady we met on the escalator was happy to see them, they seem to know each other. There and then our suspicion was even better qualified. None of the women spoke English we quickly sought out someone who could speak Amharic which was what they spoke. Luckily, one of the shop attendants agreed to help us. We gave them the contact of an organization that they could get in touch with in case they got into trouble in Lebanon. At this stage, there was nothing much we could do as they were set to travel.

Photo by Bethan Uitterdijk

This is just but one out of the many instances that go unnoticed. We often see young men and women that are traveling on fights to the Middle East in the Nairobi and Addis Ababa airports. Ideally there immigration and airport personel should be aware and provide some form of awareness on human trafficking given to such vulnerable  groups at the airports so that they are aware maybe we could avert some trafficking cases. If there was a bit more in-depth investigation done by the immigration when such groups or individuals are applying for visas or leaving their countries through the airports; then maybe more cases of trafficking would be averted and even capture the perpetrators. We need sensitization and awareness raising on human trafficking in our airports and with immigration.

By Phyllis Mburu

The face of joy

I think one of the most satisfying things on earth is seeing someone who has not known joy and peace finally find it. It is even more satisfying to be involved in their walk to realizing this and watch their reactions afterwards.

By Rehema Baya

This was the feeling I had on the last day of November 2016 when HAART’s shelter was officially opened and the children were brought in. The excitement was written all over their faces; knowing that they will be at HAART’s shelter where they would receive the care and protection they require. They were excited about the space and the faces they met; most especially the victims department members who have walked with them and toiled tirelessly to see the shelter become a reality.

The girls had just closed school and this was home to them. They giggled to each other while having dinner; a clear indication of the friendships they had created and having a roof over their heads just crowned it. I observed how fast they became comfortable in the place. They were not shy to choose their beds and walk around the shelter to familiarize themselves with the place. Their settling was very swift.

We shared dinner that evening as they talked about school and their journey from school to the shelter. They were happy, yes they were happy. Finally what had been denied to them; the opportunity to just be a child and receive care and attention was right in front of them. They would enjoy the holidays assured that they were safe. This made me realize how important peace of mind is to every human mind regardless of their age, and just how important it is for people to care about each other’s peace of mind. The opportunity to dream again and keep it at it knowing that it is achievable was here.

By Rehema Baya

This was a big achievement for HAART. Changing lives and doing the best while at it is one of the key roles for HAART. It was also a dream come true for HAART as the idea of having a shelter had been lingering for a while. This meant that the protection program had grown and we could confidently assist more girls without having to worry about their aftercare. More than ever before I was proud to be a part of the HAART team.

By Phyllis Mburu

A2ES video 2016

We are happy to finally be able to share the video about the Arts to End Slavery exhibition in 2016 that was recorded on the World Day against Trafficking in Persons, 30th July 2016.

What is Justice?

HAART has been chosen to participate in the Global Learning Collaboration project by Safe Horizon. This project will focus on sharing best practices among organizations in the world that deal with victims of human trafficking. On August 5th we had our first online meeting and the conversation was centered upon the definition of justice for survivors.

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By Rehema Baya/A2ES

I was looking forward to the breaking down of the concept of justice because I am slowly discovering that the definition of the word might be universally the same but it’s meaning is quite different to every person you ask. Therefore, the meaning of justice to victims of trafficking is just not different from mine as a practitioner but also from one victim to the other. This is something that all of us agreed upon. The question then becomes, do you find a common meaning for justice or do you go with the meaning that a victim presents?

When we think about justice, most of us think about the courts and the legal process but it is good to acknowledge that the legal process is a small part of the definition of justice especially for victims that have gone through the kind of trauma that trafficking does. Most victims see justice as the whole process of healing and recovery and reintegration back to society. We all seemed to agree that victims should come first therefore what justice means to them should always be the focus of our work. This is not always easy because we live in communities with systems that sometimes require us to respond in a specific way and that way might require that a victim’s priority will not be ultimate as it should be.

Access to justice through the legal process is a difficult task for most of us in the field of counter-trafficking. The discussions focused on the process of administration of justice for victims of trafficking. It is common practice in criminal cases for the police to want to collect evidence from the victim as soon as they are rescued. This is not easy for a victim who has gone through extreme trauma. In many cases and especially for victims of sex trafficking, their relationship with the police is not one based on trust. Most of them are scared because they have probably been through the system and been abused therefore asking them to trust the police and give their statement is a tall order.

It is also notable in places like Kenya that the police who are responsible for prosecution are not trusted to do the right thing. In most cases even if they are willing to help the complexity of the crime of trafficking makes it impossible for them to meet the threshold of evidence required to prosecute a trafficking case. The question then is should we give up on trying these cases? No, there is definitely work to be done especially with the police to create awareness about human trafficking and prosecuting these cases. It is when prosecuting a case that as a practitioner you discover that partnerships are important not just with each other but also with the government. We cannot give up on prosecution but we can systematically and strategically address some of the areas that we need to improve.

There was a suggestion of trying human trafficking cases as civil suit instead of trying them as criminal cases. Civil suits can be tried at any point when the survivor is ready for the case to be tried in addition any compensation made from the case directly benefits the victim of trafficking. Is this something that we should consider? I think we should. At the end of the day getting justice through the legal process for victims of trafficking should always be a priority for all of us. We don’t always have the means but we have every reason to try and ensure that victims feel that they have received justice after going through our programs.

Sophie Otiende

New Rescue Center for Victims of Trafficking in Kenya

Over the past 2-3 months we have been dealing with a shelter crisis (read about it here) that caused disruption to our work with reintegration and rehabilitation of victims of trafficking. More importantly, it meant we could no longer offer a secure and stable environment for the victims we were supporting. After a lot of work, long hours and tears from our dedicated team, we are extremely happy to announce that from today there will be a dedicated rescue center for victims of trafficking in Kenya. The local Advisory Council and the District Children Office inspected the rescue center and although there were still a few details left to fix such as getting all the furniture delivered, the inspection team was happy with the progress and have given an approval for the center to begin it’s operations.

By Rehema Baya

By Rehema Baya

We will not share the location or announce the staff that work there both to protect the victim and our staff as the Rescue Center is meant to be a safe house and the place will not be open for the public. However, we can say that the rescue center is in a safe neighborhood within 1-2 hours’ drive from Nairobi City Centre. The Centre will have a maximum capacity of 20 female victims of trafficking from the ages 8-18. We still have not decided on a name for the place and although we have some ideas, but if anyone have a good suggestion we are willing to listen.

Now that we are offering accommodation full-time to victims of trafficking if you have anything you would like to donate it would be very well received. Whether it’s monetary or items such as food items, household items, hygienic items, toys or books, we would be extremely grateful. We would like to thank our supporters who donate every month and also thank Bobmil Group who donated 21 mattresses. We are also extremely grateful for our donors such as Misereor, Misean Cara, Walk Free Foundation, Razem Dla Afryki, Mensen met een Missie and Missio Austria who allow us to assist victims of trafficking in Kenya. Lastly, we would also like to extend our gratitude to our UK partner Medaille Trust who have helped us by generously sharing their own shelter guidelines and manuals which has made the transition a lot easier.

Finally, from the management we are extremely proud and honored that we are able to work with such a capable and dedicated team that never wavered and worked extremely hard and diligent to make this rescue center a reality.

We are happy to receive the first residents of the rescue center today!