Ending slavery: International Justice Mission founder says 46 million people are currently enslaved

International Justice Mission founder and CEO Gary Haugen, a former human rights attorney, in action before an audience.

Photo courtesy of the International Justice Mission

By Cynthia Price
Legal News

“For the first time ever in human history forces are aligning for this generation to see the end of human slavery,” the founder and CEO of International Justice Mission (IJM), told audiences in Calvin College, Grand Rapids, in his presentation on Jan. 11.

“We are at the utterly unique moment in history... when God has arranged for us to be alive in an epic moment,” he said. “There are more people in slavery than at any other time before: 46 million, about four times more people than during the African slave trade. Slavery is not a relic of history; it’s a larger reality than at any other time before now.”

He added that it is a $150 billion annual business, with “more profits than Coke, Disney, Chevron, Wells Fargo Bank and Exxon combined.”

Haugen, a forceful and inspirational speaker, was formerly a human rights attorney. After graduating from Harvard University with a B.A. in Social Studies and receiving his J.D. from the University of Chicago, he worked in the U.S. Department of Justice, focusing on crimes of police misconduct.

But an experience he had in 1994 changed his life. He was Director of the United Nations’ investigation of genocide after what took place in Rwanda, leading a team of lawyers, prosecutors, law enforcement officers, and forensic experts to determine who was responsible for the carnage and eventually bring those people to justice.

According to Kevin den Dulk, Calvin College’s Paul Henry Chair in Christianity and Politics, who introduced Haugen, “He saw the cost of sex trafficking, police abuse, modern-day slavery, but these experiences also showed him opportunities to work through justice systems. He founded International Justice Mission in 1997.”

IJM has led the way globally with a three-pronged approach: identifying and mapping the extent of slavery, and keeping track of data about changes in the numbers of slaves; working with government to eliminate it; and offering support services addressing the tremendous damage done to the people rescued from slavery, to prevent them from being vulnerable to re-entering the slave trade.

Haugen has been recognized as a Trafficking in Persons “Hero,” which is the highest honor given by the U.S. state department for anti-slavery leadership. Information about Haugen and IJM has appeared in Foreign Affairs, The New York Times, the New Yorker, The Times of India, Forbes, U.S. News & World Report, the Guardian and on National Public Radio, along with many others.

Haugen has himself written several books, including Good News About Injustice; Just Courage; and, most recently, The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence.

His Calvin presentation, called “Until All Are Free: A Look at Slavery Today and the Church's Invitation to End It,” was underwritten by Barnes and Thornburg law firm and The Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics for which den Dulk works.

Haugen’s message of hope is based on an understanding of the specific ways in which “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” as he quoted from Dr. Martin Luther King.

“For the first time in human history, slavery is against the law everywhere,” he told the audience. “Then why does it still exist? Slavery exists because there are huge parts of our world where you simply don’t get in trouble for doing it, places where these laws are simply not enforced.

“In South Asia, if you were to enslave a poor person, you’re more likely to be struck by lightning than to be convicted. It continues to exist for just one reason, and that reason is impunity.”

In a study IJM conducted in a large Philippine city, asking the government and police officials to do a better job of enforcement yielded excellent results. The organization’s original goals was a reduction of 20%, but they were able to reduce it by 79%. They went on to achieve similar success in other Philippine cities.

Haugen somewhat downplayed human trafficking in the U.S. — surprising since many say it is a goal to have the public understand that trafficking happens everywhere. His rationale was simple: most law enforcement and justice agencies here do not ignore the problem. In response to a question, he did advise that concerned people make sure  their governing bodies and police know that pursuing slavery’s elimination should be one of their highest priorities.

“You can find it in any country,” Haugen stated, “but 70% of the world’s slaves are in just ten countries.” The map on IJM’s website, www.ijm.org, does not break it down just that way, but deems it “most prevalent” in countries on the African and Asian continents, as well as a few in Central America.

IJM has 17 field offices in Africa, Latin America, and South/Southeast Asia.

At his Calvin lecture, Haugen noted that the structure underlying the system of slavery is composed of four groups: slaves, slave owners, the governing authority and prophets of God.

In the arc of history, Haugen said, it is important that if the governing authorities are unresponsive, those with religious convictions must step in.

“There were so many living in slavery in the past, but we find ourselves where we are right now with more slaves than at any other time in human history,” Haugen said. “Why? Because the governing authorities are simply not doing their job. In response what does God do? He raises up the prophetic voice of His people, He gives them the dignity of responsibility, sends them to the Pharaohs, to the kings and judges, to demand that they give Him authority and end slavery.

“The God of history is preparing to do this for the last time,” he continued, “but the people of God cannot raise their prophetic voices if they are themselves asleep. It is time to wake the slumbering giant of the church again.”

Suggesting a church-by-church reawakening, IJM has prepared materials for those who would like them, available at www.ijm.org. Haugen added that there are a number of other actions people can take on that website.

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