The IAWJ Co-Hosted the Regional Conference on Human Trafficking in Latin America and the Caribbean

For the IAWJ’s Spanish-speaking members, the culmination of the month’s activities was a virtual regional conference on July 30 and 31, co-hosted by the Poder Judicial of the Dominican Republic, the Instituto de Estudios Judiciales of Chile, the Red Interamericana de Mujeres Profesionales por los Derechos Humanos, UNODC, AJURD, MACHI and the Fundación LIBERA. This year’s virtual conference ran for two half-days, with two panels each day, an opening ceremony on day 1, and a closing ceremony day 2. Dignitaries at the opening included Supreme Court Justice Nancy Salcedo Fernández of the Supreme Court of the Dominican Republic, IAWJ President Vanessa Ruiz, and Mr. Lawrence Petroni, the Deputy Chief of Mission to the US Embassy in Santiago. The US Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Ambassador Robin Bernstein soldiered on diplomatically, even as then-Tropical Storm Isaias struck Santo Domingo while she was talking and knocked out her electricity halfway through her talk. Justice Katia Jimenez (AJURD) and Judge Francisca Zapata (MACHI) closed the conference and reminded participants of the continued efforts of the IAWJ to build our regional networks to ensure coordination throughout LAC.

The organizers structured the program so that on Day 1 the speakers would be judges, prosecutors, and other justice sector actors, while on Day 2, the speakers primarily would come from the NGO world. The two panels on Thursday, July 30 were titled “Gender-based violence and sexual exploitation: What is owed to women and girls in Latin America and the Caribbean” and “Forced labor and other forms of slavery: Migration, vulnerability, and discrimination in the LAC Region.” Panel topics for Day 2 were: “The 2030 Agenda and the obligation to protect and respect Human Rights” and “Due Diligence and the Emergence of New Standards.”

The central themes that emerged from the conference were: (1) that the ways in which trafficking victims can be exploited are limited only by the human imagination, requiring responders to focus and train on recognizing the elements and sequelae of exploitation, rather than on static rubrics; (2) that prevention requires an understanding of the factors that make potential victims vulnerable, such as climate change-driven losses of the means of subsistence, the economic dislocation and job losses resulting from the worldwide COVID pandemic, the power dynamics that limit a victim’s ability to exercise autonomy, the precariousness of those in a foreign country without legal status, etc.; and (3) the need to break down siloes, not just across national borders, but across professional ones.

The IAWJ is very grateful to all its members who served as speakers to share their knowledge and experience and all of its members who logged on for some or all of these virtual activities. The IAWJ team is working through its grant in the Dominican Republic to bolster regional networks to help address a range of human trafficking issues.