TURKEY’S EMBATTLED DEMOCRACY REARS ITS HEAD

by Will Colin-Diamond
Staff Writer

UPDATE: On May 6th, the High Election Council announced that it had annulled the results of the Istanbul municipal election following an “extraordinary objection” by the AKP, and scheduled a special election for June 23rd. This development casts serious doubt on the independence of the election authorities, up to this point considered the only bulwark against absolute dictatorship.

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PUBLIC PRISONERS: UKRAINIAN LABOR TRAFFICKING FOLLOWING RUSSIAN OCCUPATION OF CRIMEA

by Abigail Staggemeier
Director of Operations

Centrally situated in Eastern Europe, Ukraine benefits from its ideal location on the crossroads of the major transportation routes running from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean, and from Europe to Asia. The country’s geographic location also makes Ukraine a likely host for black markets and the trade of human beings; following the fall of the Soviet Union, over 230,000 people have been exploited in Ukraine and subjected to organ removal, sexual slavery, and labor exploitation. Moscow’s interest in the Crimean Peninsula is largely driven by the strategic military advantages that control of the territory offers. Possessors of the Crimean Peninsula wield power not only over the Black Sea, but the Mediterranean region at large. Putin’s justifications for recent acts of aggression reflect his vision for the geographic unification of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers, though it is widely assumed that Russian invasion marks an attempt to recreate the hyper-idealized era of pre-Soviet Russia. The ensuing war and displacement of over two million Ukrainians from their homes has called Ukrainian sovereignty into question, shaking the young nation’s economy, infrastructure, and social institutions.

2014 Crimean Annexation by Russia (Russia in blue, Ukraine in green, Crimea in black).

Russian occupation of Crimea has significantly impacted Ukrainian labor trafficking – a form of human trafficking where victims are forced to perform labor through force, fraud or coercion. An influx of Crimean refugees into mainland Ukraine provides traffickers with an expansive pool of citizens seeking employment. Data compiled by the International Organization for Migration reveals a constant increase in Ukrainian labor trafficking rates, which comprised 88% of Ukraine’s reported trafficking cases in 2017.

Several variables suggest an explanation for the surge in reported labor trafficking incidents. Russian occupation of Ukrainian territories, a decrease in Ukrainian governmental funds allocated to trafficking prevention, the complicity and corruption of Ukrainian law enforcement officials, and decreased access to legitimate labor are likely causes of the demonstrated increase. Additionally, as existing institutions topple and effective power vacuums ensue, a marked shift has occurred not only in human trafficking in Ukraine, but in Ukrainian crime overall.

In contrast to common belief, labor trafficking, not sex trafficking, accounted for over 90% of human trafficking incidents every year following 2014, and the percentage continues to rise annually. The most prevalent sectors for this class of exploitation are agriculture, manufacturing, and construction, though Oksana Horbunova—a National Program Officer for the International Organization for Migration in Ukraine—noted in an interview that a “new trend of the past two years is the trafficking in people for their exploitation in criminal activities, such as [involvement with] the arms conflict [in] the East of Ukraine, and dissemination of drugs in Russia, Brazil, Thailand, Malaysia.” Another recent trend is the trafficking of Ukrainian mariners who are commonly coerced into smuggling migrants from Turkey to Italy and Greece. As a result, many trafficked victims who are forced to assist in the illegal transportation of migrants are detained and imprisoned abroad.

Despite accounting for the majority of labor trafficking cases reported, Ukraine’s young men are by no means the exclusive targets. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) reports the atrocities faced by Olena, a working wife and mother who lived in Ukraine prior to her subjection to forced labor in Poland. After losing his job in 2016, Olena’s husband began to struggle with alcoholism—right after doctors diagnosed their daughter with a severe illness requiring intensive and costly treatment. With her family suddenly dependent on her meager salesperson’s income, she sought other employment opportunities and quickly settled on a farm job in Poland, which she had seen advertised in a local newspaper. Olena recounted to USAID that immediately upon her arrival at the farm, her passport was confiscated under the pretext of providing her personal information to local authorities. Unable to travel home, Olena had no choice but to endure her abysmal surroundings: a small room shared with twenty other women.

Tasked with picking strawberries from 4:30 am to 9:00 pm every day, Olena’s employers allowed only one daily break of 30 minutes. The report notes that the working conditions soon afflicted her physically, as she developed allergic reactions to pesticides and her joints suffered from the intense workload. This was only the beginning of the horror ahead. The USAID report notes that after working some time without receiving any compensation, a group of women went on strike, stating that they would not work until they received their due pay. Shortly after the strike began, “men wearing face masks entered their rooms and started beating them with rubber sticks.” Olena herself was knocked down from the impact of a forceful blow to the head. Instead of simply rebuffing the women’s demands, the farm owner proclaimed that they owed him money for the food and lodging he had provided for them. He then demanded that every worker surrender their cell phone while pledging to kill anyone who “disobeyed or asked for help.” To further deter any thought of escape, her employers ordered the construction of a guarded fence around the compound. It was not until the harvest season’s end in late summer that the women were sent back to Ukraine via bus without receiving payment of any kind.

Home at last, Olena sought medical and psychological help to alleviate the post-traumatic stress she experienced. After taking advantage of programs aimed at reintegrating victims of trafficking back into normal life, she embarked upon her own business venture and received a grant from USAID which she directed to the opening of her own shop. Olena’s husband no longer struggles with alcoholism and contributes to his wife’s entrepreneurial endeavors. Both express a renewed hope in their ability to provide financially for their family.

Despite the best efforts of Ukrainian NGOs, human rights groups, and anti-trafficking institutions, many information campaigns go unheeded. A survey on Ukrainian migration and human trafficking released by the IOM in 2017 revealed that while 84% of respondents were cognizant of the dangers of trafficking, nearly 20% of would accept work without the guarantee of legal employment status. Of those who indicated that they were aware of human trafficking, only 54% expressed confidence in their ability to avoid traffickers. Six percent indicated a willingness to “‘work in locked rooms where they are not allowed to leave their working sites without permission,’” while three percent would accept work at illegal enterprises.

Though widely recognized as the world’s hub for human trafficking, Ukraine has remained on the United States Department of State’s Tier II Watch List for five consecutive years. Ukrainian officials manage to avoid a Tier III assignment (the U.S. Department of State’s lowest priority ranking) simply because they have published an anti-trafficking action plan—though the execution of this plan is delayed, annually. While the U.S. Department of State recommends that Ukraine “punish convicted traffickers with proportionate and dissuasive sentences […] increase training for law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking cases, particularly on forced labor,” and “vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, including public officials complicit in trafficking crimes,” the likelihood of such measures being taken before the situation worsens is improbable for reasons highlighted throughout this research. As demonstrated by the story of Olena, the IOM’s documentation of the number of labor trafficking crimes receiving court verdicts, the level of skepticism with which Ukrainian citizens view law enforcement officials, and the high percentage of Ukrainians who demonstrated a confidence in their ability to avoid human traffickers, Ukraine’s battle with trafficking is far from over. Though the Ukrainian government’s efforts to curb the threat of trafficking has resulted in little success, the increased efforts of NGOs and nonprofits dedicated to educating citizens about the dangers of trafficking, as well as reintegrating identified victims back into society, are inspiring.

Continued research on the topic of labor trafficking in instances of forced migration is critical to better determine how to prepare for and mitigate this phenomenon in the future. Researchers of other nations experiencing similar occurrences of forced mass migration, sudden increased rates of Internally Displaced Persons, or territorial occupation will benefit from increased analysis on the impact that such events have on human trafficking, equipping policymakers with a greater foundation upon which to shape emergency action plans and security policy. My hope is that future research on the relationship between labor trafficking and the national economy will motivate governments to increase anti-trafficking efforts by championing the belief that when the individual thrives, so too will society.

Photos by:
United Nations Development Program
Crossswords
ACF HHS

THE ART OF HEALING: RECONCILING THE PAST THROUGH ARTISTIC EXPRESSION

Display of victim’s skulls in the Genocide Memorial Church in Rwanda.

by Hector Guzman
Staff Writer

This April, Rwandans mourned the 25th anniversary of the country’s genocide. As part of the larger Rwandan civil war, the genocide itself lasted 100 days and resulted in the murders of almost 1,000,000 Rwandans, constituting 70% of the country’s Tutsi population. The genocide proved to be a highly organized and systematic process of ethnic extermination. For 100 days, the world stood by silently and the international community failed to establish peace.

25 years later, Rwanda is on a better path. After the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) seized the capital and effectively ended the genocide and civil war in 1994, a national government was installed under the leadership of the RPF. For 20 of the past 25 years, rebel leader-turned-president Paul Kagame has been leading Rwanda’s political reform. Despite being under the leadership of a multi-term president who has been known to be one of the most merciless in Africa, Rwanda seems to be prospering. The country is also healing from its past, as it is successfully achieving economic and social development.

As a result of the country’s trauma, art has emerged as a unique factor in the healing process. Rwanda’s Ubumuntu Arts Festival was established in 2015 with the mission of promoting civic dialogue through the arts. Essentially, the festival seeks to promote the nation’s healing by fostering participation from global artists and local citizens. A participant of Rwanda’s Ubumuntu Arts Festival affirmed, “‘When language fails us, art expresses what we feel.’” When there are few words to describe the horrors of genocide, the community turns to art as a means of conveying their deepest, unfiltered emotions.

Secretary Kerry Looks at an Exhibit Dedicated to Child Victims of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide at the Gisozi Memorial Center.

Art is crucial to keeping the memory of the past alive. Through artistic expression, stories and experiences are told and retold so that the world does not forget the gravity of the events that occurred 25 years ago. In this way, art sheds a light on the darkness of tragedy and perpetuates those memories while also allowing healing. It is both a remembrance of the victims as well as a haunting reminder of the reality and persisting threat of horrendous war crimes.

In the years since the Rwandan genocide, the United Nations (U.N.) has created the Office on the Prevention of Genocide to protect citizens of a nation when their government fails to do so. This U.N. office attempts to raise awareness by  providing the definitions of war crimes as well as prevention and response methods. In 2012, the United States created its own interagency board that emphasizes war crimes as its highest concern.

This April also marks the 27th anniversary of the Siege of Sarajevo, which signaled the beginning of the Bosnian War. Like Rwanda, the war itself is considered an international peace-keeping failure, as the conflict was marred by numerous war crimes and human rights abuses. Most notably, however, was the Srebrenica massacre of 1995. The massacre was one of the worst atrocities witnessed on European soil since World War Two, with more than 8,000 ethnic Bosniak Muslims killed in what was supposed to be a U.N. safe zone. But it all began in Sarajevo.

At the start of the Siege, Sarajevo was bombarded by mortar shells and other artillery fire. As a result, the mortars left behind countless craters. Today, 200 mortar scars on city roads have been maintained, filled with resin, and preserved. The Sarajevo Roses are Bosnia’s unique memorials in remembrance to the Siege and the subsequent war that engulfed the country. Scattered throughout the city streets and sidewalks, the Roses seem to mimic intrusive weeds that sprout out of the cracks in the pavement. They serve as a constant reminder—to pedestrians and on-lookers—that merely 27 years ago, the city was besieged by mortar fire and reduced to rubble.

One of the several resin-filled mortar scars known as Sarajevo Roses.

One does not have to walk through a museum or a national monument to pay respect to the war—the Roses are ever-present beneath pedestrians’ feet. Because of the numerous craters throughout the city, it becomes difficult to forget what caused them. To international observers, the Roses should not only signify the start of the Bosnian War, but also the inhumanities that continued well after the shelling of the capital. Though Sarajevo has since transformed itself into the economic hub of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Roses highlight that the wounds of past transgressions are still visible. We can attempt to heal them, but for the sake of the future, we can never forget.

Interestingly enough, the Cambodian Genocide and Armenian Genocide also commemorate their 44th and 104th anniversaries, respectively, in April. Similarly to Rwanda and Sarajevo, both the Cambodian and Armenian communities have used art to remember their victims and preserve the memory of past atrocities. Art is a powerful means of engaging with wounds from the past. It allows us to process our emotions in a creative manner, as not all feelings can be easily verbalized. The art of healing is two-fold; it reconciles the souls of survivors and begs remembrance from witnesses. Despite the horrors witnessed during war, countries have healed from their dark pasts through artistic expression and have also taken the global initiative to ensure that such atrocities are not committed again.

Photos by:
Adam Jones
U.S. Department of State
Jason Rogers