Chargé d’Affaires Ted Allegra’s Opening Remarks Before the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child
Concerning U.S. Implementation of the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child
May 16, 2017
Thank you Madam Chair. I am Theodore Allegra, the Chargé d’Affaires of the Permanent Mission of the United States of America to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva.
I have the honor and the privilege to address the Committee on the Rights of the Child today on behalf of the United States. The United States cares deeply about human rights and fundamental freedoms, including those that will be the focus of our discussion today. As you are aware, there is a strong legal framework in the United States to protect children from exploitation, and the United States is proud to participate in today’s meetings.
The U.S. reports under the Optional Protocols are comprehensive and robust; they document the legal regimes and policy programs in place to combat child exploitation, and to ensure that children are not unlawfully recruited or used in armed conflict.
Our entire delegation looks forward to engaging in a dialogue with you today about our extensive work to protect children through the implementation of the Optional Protocols. And the United States has sent a distinguished and wide-ranging delegation to Geneva by which to do so, itself demonstrating the seriousness with which the United States takes these treaties.
Our delegation includes senior officials from the State Department, and the Departments of Justice, Defense, and Homeland Security, as well as the Attorney General from the great state of Colorado.
I am joined at the table by our co-heads of delegation: the Honorable Richard Visek, the Acting Legal Adviser to the U.S. Department of State and Susan Coppedge, Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons; and also by Cynthia Coffman, Attorney General of the State of Colorado.
I will now turn to Acting Legal Adviser Visek for further introduction.
Opening Remarks of Acting Legal Adviser Richard C. Visek
May 16, 2017
Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you, Chargé Allegra.
My name is Richard Visek, Acting Legal Adviser of the U.S. Department of State. On behalf of the United States and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, it is my honor to co-lead this distinguished delegation with Ambassador Susan Coppedge and appear before the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Today’s review is the latest in a series for the United States since we last appeared here in January 2013. In 2014, the United States presented our record before three different international human rights treaty bodies: the Human Rights Committee, the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the Committee Against Torture. And, in May 2015, we appeared before the UN Human Rights Council for a Universal Periodic Review.
These treaty presentations and the numerous reports we have submitted demonstrate the United States’ ongoing commitment to protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms domestically through the operation of our comprehensive system of laws, policies, and programs at all levels of government – federal, state, local, insular, and tribal. They also demonstrate our willingness to look at our own practices with the goal of deepening our efforts to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms for all. And, throughout these reporting processes, we are proud that we have continued to consult openly with members of civil society. Since our last review in 2013, the State Department alone has helped facilitate more than 15 consultations with civil society specifically on issues related to international human rights obligations or commitments.
In short, we value the reporting process; we value our engagement with the Committee; and we value our engagement with the international human rights community, including civil society.
We turn our attention today to the Optional Protocols. Before addressing the Protocols, I would like to acknowledge that the United States has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), although we agree with its underlying goal of protecting some of humanity’s most vulnerable persons. As you know, the United States has a robust system of federal and state laws to protect and promote children’s rights, which often serves as a model for other countries. Our not having ratified the Convention does not in any way indicate a lack of commitment to protecting children.
Throughout our presentation, you will hear from dedicated public servants who will attest to our efforts—as well as the challenges we face—to combat child trafficking, child pornography, and the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers. We are especially proud to be joined by Attorney General Cynthia Coffman from the State of Colorado, a state that has made important strides in combatting human trafficking and other forms of child exploitation. Her presence underscores our national commitment to combatting child exploitation at every level of our federal system.
In her remarks this morning, Ambassador Susan Coppedge will provide an introduction to U.S. efforts related to the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography (OPSC). Attorney General Coffman will then provide an overview of Colorado’s efforts to combat these forms of exploitation.
Following Attorney General Coffman’s remarks, Tara Jones of the Department of Defense will provide a brief introduction to U.S. efforts under the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict (OPAC).
Alexandra Gelber, from the Department of Justice, and Jeff Rezmovic, from the Department of Homeland Security, will also offer brief opening remarks that introduce their agencies’ key roles in implementing U.S. obligations under the Protocols.
On behalf of the entire U.S. delegation, I thank the Committee for its commitment to protecting children around the world, as well as for the care and constructive spirit with which it has approached this review.
I now turn the microphone to Ambassador Coppedge.
Opening Remarks of Ambassador Susan Coppedge
May 16, 2017
Good morning Madame Chair and members of the Committee. Along with my colleagues, I want to express my gratitude to the Committee for the opportunity to present the U.S. government’s efforts to implement the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
I will briefly highlight some steps the U.S. government has taken to combat human trafficking – including child trafficking – through collaboration with survivors, interagency coordination, and support programs to protect children.
In December 2015, the U.S. government appointed its first U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking. All 11 Council members are survivors, some of whom were exploited as children, with a diverse range of backgrounds. This Council provides a formal platform for survivors to advise the President’s Interagency Task Force on human trafficking. In its first report, released in October 2016, the Council recommended – among other things – that the U.S. government provide training to relevant employees on human trafficking, including forced child labor and specifically child begging.
In 2016, the U.S. government issued a report on activities of federal and state governments to deter and prevent child trafficking in the United States. One highlight is the work of the Department of Health and Human Services to develop guidance on providing services to and reducing trafficking vulnerabilities for youth under the age of 18 who come in contact with programs for runaway and homeless youth.
In my Office, we have initiated Child Protection Compact Partnerships aimed at reducing child trafficking by working bilaterally with partner governments to build effective systems of justice, prevention, and protection. In 2015, we entered into our first such partnership, with Ghana, and my Office awarded $5 million to two NGO partners who are working with Ghanaian ministries and civil society organizations. In its first year, the program developed standards for child victim identification and screening; a plan to refurbish a children’s shelter; and coordination with local communities to remove 68 children from labor trafficking situations.
Last month, we signed our second Partnership with the Philippines, which aims to increase prevention efforts and protections for child victims of online sexual exploitation and forced child labor and hold perpetrators of these crimes accountable. My office and the Philippine government will provide funding to help achieve these objectives.
We look forward to providing you more specifics on our work throughout this session today.
I will now turn it over to Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.
Opening Remarks of Attorney General Cynthia Coffman
May 16, 2017
Thank you Madame Chair and Committee Members.
It is an honor to be here to speak with you about protecting children from trafficking and sexual exploitation. As the chief law enforcement officer in the State of Colorado, public safety is my top priority. It is especially important to me that my office work to protect our most vulnerable populations: our trusting children.
I am one of many state attorneys general emphasizing these issues. Five years ago, the National Association of Attorneys General formed a Special Committee on Human Trafficking of which I am a member. We foster alliances with partner agencies and non-governmental organizations, all designed to eliminate the sale of children and the many detrimental consequences of servitude.
All U.S. states and territories have passed innovative laws aimed at combating sex and labor trafficking. My own office has successfully sponsored legislation allowing law enforcement to use creative means in investigations.
Because traffickers operate in the shadows, making it challenging to track their illegal activities and often underage victims can be coached or intimidated by perpetrators, we allow electronic surveillance upon establishment of probable cause.
Imagine being able to shield child survivors from the painful burden of testifying against their captors and better yet, hearing the traffickers own words arrange a so-called “ date” to exchange child sex for drugs or money.
I recently received an email from a survivor whom I met at an event to raise awareness about sex trafficking of children. My new acquaintance sent me a photo we had taken together and shared that it had taken a lot for her to be able to attend the event. However, she said she found that hearing others speak out and fight on behalf of survivors gave her more confidence on her personal journey of recovery. So, I am here today on behalf of my brave young friend and all of her fellow survivors to say that I see them, and I and my colleagues will continue to join with you, to be their champions. Thank you.
And now I turn the floor over to my colleague with the Department of Defense.
Opening Remarks of Tara Jones, U.S. Department of Defense
May 16, 2017
Chair, members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to speak today about the substantial measures taken by the U.S. Military to implement U.S obligations under the Optional Protocol. I am Tara Jones from the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy. I am proud to represent the Department of Defense and the millions of service personnel who protect and defend our freedom while adhering to our deepest-held values.
Since 1973, the U.S. Military has been an all-volunteer force. Ensuring this professional force is manned with individuals of high caliber is a demanding task – as recruiters must compete with myriad opportunities available to our nation’s young men and women. In taking on this challenge, our highly-trained, professional recruiters serve as military ambassadors in their communities, and their integrity and demeanor are of great importance to the Department of Defense. Through clear rules, training, and rigorous oversight mechanisms, we have been successful in implementing our prohibition on the entry into the U.S. Armed Forces of any person under the age of 17.
In fact, the overwhelming majority of new recruits have attained 18 years of age, and most have at least a high school diploma. As young people in the United States typically begin to consider career options during their final years of high school, recruiters offer them information about serving in the military, including information about additional educational opportunities and other lifelong benefits of service.
The Department of Defense and each military service has policies in place to ensure that all feasible measures are taken that no one under the age of 18 engages directly in hostilities, and the military departments have checks in their personnel systems to ensure adherence to the provisions of those service policies.
We look forward to our conversation this morning on our implementation of this important Optional Protocol and our shared goal of protecting children from the scourges of war. With that, I will turn it over to my colleague from the Justice Department. Thank you.
Opening Remarks of Alexandra Gelber, National Coordinator for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction at the Department of Justice
May 16, 2017
Madam Chair and Committee Members, my name is Alexandra Gelber. I am the National Coordinator for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction at the Department of Justice. Thank you for the opportunity to highlight several accomplishments in our work to protect children.
In 2016, the Department released the second National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction. The Strategy highlights emerging threats against children, and sets forth a response that addresses investigations and prosecutions, victim services, outreach and education, and policy and legislation.
Next month, the Department is hosting the National Law Enforcement Training on Child Exploitation, which will be attended by over 1300 federal, state, tribal, and local law enforcement, prosecutors, digital investigative analysts, and victim service providers. The specialized training focuses on technology-facilitated crimes against children, as well as best practices for working with victims and for prevention.
Among its many programs to enhance victim services, DOJ has allocated $2 million for grants to provide services for child pornography victims, and $4.75 million to fund a solicitation to improve Outcomes for Child and Youth Victims of Human Trafficking.
The Department brings high-impact prosecutions against the most serious offenders. In a recent case, the Department obtained a 30-year sentence against an individual who created and administered a website called Playpen that was only accessible on the Tor anonymity network. In the U.S., this investigation has led to the arrest of at least 350 defendants, including 25 producers of child pornography and 51 molesters, and the identification or rescue of 55 children. International leads have yielded at least 548 arrests and identification or rescue of at least 296 children.
The Department of Justice remains deeply committed to domestic and international efforts to prevent child exploitation.
Now I would like to turn it over to my colleague from the Department of Homeland Security.
Opening Remarks of Jeffrey Rezmovic, Acting Deputy Chief of Staff at the United States Department of Homeland Security
May 16, 2017
Good morning Madame Chair, and good morning Members of the Committee. My name is Jeff Rezmovic, and I am the Acting Deputy Chief of Staff at the United States Department of Homeland Security.
I am honored to be here today before this distinguished Committee.
The mission of the United States Department of Homeland Security is a simple one: to safeguard the American people, our homeland, and our values.
And a key aspect of implementing our homeland security mission set in keeping with those values is combating the exploitation of children.
Our Department and its 240,000 employees recognize that we have an important role to play in preventing the exploitation of children, whether it is at an airport, along our land or maritime borders, in the aftermath of a disaster, in the administration of our immigration system, or online.
For that reason, we take seriously our responsibility to ensure that our personnel are properly trained on the crime of human trafficking.
This includes, of course, the unique vulnerabilities faced by children.
Our law enforcement personnel also work each and every day to combat human trafficking. Last year alone, they initiated over 1,000 cases and connected over 400 victims to the resources that they would need for a safe and stable recovery.
They are able to do this work successfully for two main reasons:
Number one, because they work closely with communities, participating in 91 human trafficking task forces across the country.
And number two, because they take a victim-centered approach to combating human trafficking, ensuring that victims have the resources that they need for a safe and stable recovery.
On behalf of the United States Department of Homeland Security, thank you for what you do and we look forward to working with you on this important issue.
Having concluded my remarks, I’m pleased to re-introduce Mr. Visek.