This past year, American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Research Fellows supported ABA ROLI’s project aimed at creating a multifaceted typology of TIP risks and best practices for mitigating those risks in sub-Saharan Africa’s supply chains. As fellows, Kathryn Bacharach, Ruta Hadgu, Maheshi Herat, Luladay Mengiste and Ciara Remerscheid were involved in compiling and analyzing laws pertaining to TIP across sub-Saharan Africa. The surveys they conducted covered nine areas — legal and institutional frameworks; governance and justice systems; economic system; corporations and contracts; property and natural resources; individual rights; rights of children, communities and indigenous people; migration and boarder security; and national security, humanitarian emergencies and post-crises reconstruction.
(From left to right, top row) Kathryn Bacharach, Ruta Hadgu, Maheshi Herat, (from left to right, bottom row) Luladay Mengiste and Ciara Remerscheid share their experiences as ABA ROLI Trafficking in Persons Research Fellows.
ABA ROLI: Please describe the work that you did as an ABA ROLI TIP Research Fellow.
Hadgu: I researched, compiled and analyzed legal, policy and institutional framework of sub-Saharan African countries to identify TIP risks and best practices for combating TIP risks in the supply chains. Additionally, I conducted a case study and analyzed the potential risk of human trafficking and use of slave labor by foreign mining companies in the Eritrean mining sector.
Herat: I mainly focused on governance and justice; natural resources and property; and rights of children, communities and independent persons. I also conducted research and did a background report on sexual violence and sex trafficking of women and children in artisanal mining in conflict mineral zones in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). This was the basis of subsequent field research by the (ABA ROLI) Africa team. I also evaluated Ghana data from the nine surveys and produced a country memo.
ABA ROLI: What was the most interesting observation or finding from your research? Was there anything surprising?
Hadgu: The most interesting finding was the lack of comprehensive and harmonized laws to prevent TIP and protect trafficking victims, exacerbated by weak enforcement systems in the target countries. Despite the enormous number of people affected by TIP, it is an under-emphasized issue.
Herat: More than a surprise, the project was a reconfirmation of an issue common to many countries in the world — the existence of a plethora of laws with very weak implementation. This, I believe, helps me in my work as a legal researcher who is keen on suggesting and advocating for changes in legal frameworks. It prompted me to think what could be done to bridge this gap between the written laws and their implementation.
ABA ROLI: What experience did you gain from working on ABA ROLI's program on TIP in sub-Saharan Africa? Did the internship or fellowship experience influence your career path?
Mengiste: As an aspiring policy maker, the experience really widened my perspective of the law-making process. Analyzing seemingly disconnected areas of the law through the trafficking in person’s lens helped me understand the importance of connecting the dots in policy making. Working with ABA ROLI also inspired me to continue working in the development sector.
Remerscheid: The fellowship really opened my eyes to the intersectionality of issues of migration and exploitation and underlying root causes such as economics and inequality. The research propelled me to continue to work in these spaces, with my focus having now narrowed on how migration issues relate to women and girls.
ABA ROLI: What have you been working on since finishing your fellowship with ABA ROLI? Have you remained interested in or involved with anti-trafficking in persons efforts?
Herat: After leaving ABA ROLI, I returned to my home country, Sri Lanka. Currently, I am working for Transparency International Sri Lanka, as a legal officer on research. I conduct research on legal frameworks pertaining to corruption with the objective of suggesting changes for improvement. I also advice clients on issues/complaints they have on corruption.
Mengiste: I am currently working as an intervention manager with Development Alternatives Incorporated (DIA) on its Enterprise Partners program in Ethiopia. The program focuses on women- and environment-inclusive growth by promoting investments. Although I am not working on anti-trafficking efforts directly, I hope to contribute my part by emphasizing the trafficking risks present in different markets.
Remerscheid: Since leaving ABA ROLI, I have gone on to complete a M.A. in Human Rights Law, and worked on several consulting projects for the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on Internally Displaced Persons and an array of social development issues for the London-based think tank, the Overseas Development Institute.
ABA ROLI: What skills, if any, from the work you did as an ABA ROLI TIP Research Fellow do you think are transferable to your current role and/or future careers?
Bacharach: I definitely think that learning how to design an assessment will be applicable in the position that I am about to start and in the future. I am about to start a position as a human rights officer for the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and a big part of my job will be to analyze the impact of current projects addressing human rights of populations that are particularly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and to use that analysis to scale up the projects and to better design future projects. Being a part of designing this assessment and learning about everything that is involved with designing an assessment in general was incredibly helpful in teaching me how to look at other projects.
Remerscheid: In the time since I finished my fellowship with ABA ROLI, I have been able to market myself and start my own consulting business, which is very exciting. I know for certain that the experience of doing high-level research on often difficult-to-find subject matter has set me apart from other similarly-experienced researchers.
ABA ROLI: What advice do you have for a recent graduate considering a fellowship opportunity, with ABA ROLI or in international law and development generally?
Mengiste: I think it is worth their time. Working with ABA ROLI, I was never treated as an “intern.” My input was valued and I was given the opportunity to engage. Staff members also made a genuine effort to help me with my career development. I think there is a lot to be gained from the experience, so I highly recommend it.
Remerscheid: I would say “do it.” The experience was challenging and at times, tedious, but I left with in-depth knowledge and expertise on an issue that I had little experience with previously. The whole ABA ROLI team was great as well. They took our work seriously and respected our thoughts and opinions on the subject matter. It was refreshing to be a part of an organization where juniors have an active voice, and where we were given constant opportunity to meet with other staff, ask about careers and mentoring and attend interesting conferences and lectures.
To learn more about our work on trafficking in persons, please contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at firstname.lastname@example.org.