Joining Efforts to Fight Human Trafficking

July 30 is the first World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. This is a crime that affects millions but goes almost unnoticed due to the victims’ vulnerability. Panama and Copa Airlines join forces in the “Blue Heart” campaign aimed at exposing the problem.

By: Editorial Panorama of the Americas
Photos: Courtesy UNODC

An estimated 2.5 million people are trapped in trafficking networks; 60% are women and one third are children.

Human trafficking is defined as any act of recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons for the purpose of sexual exploitation, labor, begging, or organ harvesting operations. On December 18, 2013, the UN General Assembly designated July 30 World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.

According to data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), human trafficking represents the third largest source of income for transnational organized crime, after drug and arms trafficking. It is a difficult crime to detect and, as result, bringing attention to victims is complicated.

To bring visibility to the issue, UNODC launched the “Blue Heart Against Trafficking” campaign in 2009, hoping to inspire a global movement to make society, businesses, and governments aware of the scope and depth of the crime.

In November 2014, Panama became the first country in Central America and the Caribbean to officially adopt the “Blue Heart” campaign, after President Juan Carlos Varela signed the Blue Heart Pact.

Vice President and Foreign Minister of Panama, Isabel Saint Malo, stated that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is doubling its efforts to combat this crime on an international scale, while seeking, at the local level, to strengthen the institutions involved in the issue and enforce Law 79 of 2012, which prohibits all forms of trafficking. To this end, the National Commission against Trafficking in Persons and Related Activities was created and is currently chaired by Rodolfo Aguilera Franceschi, Minister of Public Safety.

Alvaro Varela, general secretary of the National Commission Against Trafficking of Panama, said that there is much to do yet, but “thanks to advice from UNODC, the International Organization for Migration, and other nonprofit institutions, we are optimistic about reaching a satisfactory conclusion in this matter.”

Panama has set up a specialized trafficking unit within the National Police and the Attorney General’s Office includes a Specialized Office for Organized Crime. The latest data indicate that Panama has made two convictions for this crime and fourteen investigations are currently underway. There are plans to build a shelter for victims in order provide safe and appropriate housing and attention while investigations are conducted.

Panama and its Hub of the Americas play a key role in the global campaign and the fight against this crime in the region will receive particular attention. Copa Airlines has therefore joined the campaign to support authorities and organizations in promoting a culture of prevention and cooperation, and will work closely with Security, Immigration, and Administration personnel at Tocumen Airport.

UNODC representative for Central America and the Caribbean, Amado Philip de Andrés, stressed that combating trafficking is a major challenge that involves prevention through awareness campaigns and comprehensive public policy, protection of victims, aid to victims struggling to recover their former lives, and prosecution of the crime by strengthening the capacity of both investigative and judicial authorities (public prosecutors and judicial organs, respectively).

Currently, 159 countries are party to the Palermo Protocol against Trafficking in Persons. It is estimated that people from at least 127 countries have been exploited in 137 states.