Walking hand in hand — the work of International Justice Mission

Andrew Bevan

SLN assistant editor Kapil Summan met Andrew Bevan, from International Justice Mission (IJM), a global organisation protecting the poor from various forms of violence, including slavery, to learn more about its work.

It is estimated there are 35 million slaves in the world today despite the practice being almost universally illegal. And while there are many charities that combat slavery, IJM distinguishes itself by helping countries to fix their broken justice systems in an effort to bring those responsible to account and prevent re-enslavement.

Since its inception, and through partnership with local authorities, IJM has rescued more than 25,000 people.

The charity walks “hand-in-hand” with police and government officials to fulfil its aims, undertaking operations in 17 field offices in Latin America, Africa, South Asia and South East Asia.

Andrew, IJM’s Regional Development Executive for Scotland, has a background in law and previously worked with IJM in Washington D.C. and the United Nations Human Rights Committee in Geneva. His main job is to communicate the work IJM is doing in its field offices, to those across Scotland. As an expert in the area, he also helped bring the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015 to fruition in his capacity as secretary of the cross-party group on human trafficking at Holyrood.

He said: “The work in Scotland involves me connecting with a wide range of society, whether that’s community groups, faith communities, churches, the legal profession, the financial sector, students and the Parliament – it’s quite a broad remit really. We seek to raise awareness as to the issues that IJM addresses and mobilise people to get involved in our work.”

IJM was founded in 1997 in Washington D.C. by Gary Haugen, after he was seconded to Rwanda to head up the UN delegation of lawyers and investigators tasked with gathering evidence in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide. Haugen was “particularly struck” by the fact that “there was no one in Rwanda restraining the hand of the oppressor”, Andrew said. A number of factors led to the genocide but the lack of a functioning public justice system did not help matters. Haugen returned to the States with the vision of setting up an organisation that worked collaboratively with justice systems throughout the developing world.

“There are a lot of human rights organisations that exist in the world who stand at a distance, but we try to bring about positive change from within by walking the journey with them.” Andrew added.

On the domestic front, the charity has tackled the problem of British nationals travelling abroad to engage in the sex trade.

Andrew explained: “We’ve had a number of campaigns over the past couple of years focusing on different aspects of IJM’s work. One campaign called ‘Stop it Together’ looked at the issue of British nationals engaging in the sex industry abroad, often with minors, and coming back to the UK as if nothing had happened.

“The conviction rate for this extraterritorial crime is pretty poor, mainly because of resourcing – i.e. how do you begin gathering evidence for that type of thing? Nonetheless, our justice system and government need to do something.”

He cited a case from last year that saw prosecutors use the Sexual Offences Act 2003 for the first time in Africa. A British national, Simon Harris, who ran an NGO in Kenya, was found guilty of abusing vulnerable children. His case was heard at Birmingham Crown Court with a live video link between the court and the victims in Nairobi. “Our social workers and aftercare professionals represented some of those victims, and walked alongside them during the process as they gave live testimony from Kenya to the English court,” Andrew explained.

And, in February this year, IJM assisted in the rescue of 564 forced labourers from slavery in a brick kiln in India’s southern state of Chennai. Andrew said that families typically work in kilns, mills or factories, in order to repay a loan, but for such paltry remuneration that their debt escalates – with the result that generations are held in bondage.

This case exemplifies IJM’s practical, hand-in-hand approach, as Andrew explained: “This case was led by police rather than us sharing the intelligence with the police and encouraging them to act. But these police were trained by IJM staff in how to recognise cases of forced labour slavery and how to conduct rescue operations effectively.

“This type of police-led operation simply didn’t happen before IJM began training the police. Secondly, and more broadly, IJM provides hands-on training for not only the police but also government officials and partner organisations. In addition, we create social demand and advocate with state and national leaders to make ending slavery a top priority.”

The need to address problems within justice systems has now also been recognised by the United Nations, who added this priority to its latest set of ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ – the framework used to address poverty around the world. This milestone was a direct result of IJM and others’ advocacy on this point.

So what does 2016 hold for IJM? Andrew said this year includes plans for a campaign to raise awareness about the growing trend of traffickers, particularly in the Philippines, exploiting children via the ‘dark web’ for people around the world.

More locally, he also said he is in talks with the Tumbling Lassie Committee as to what the next steps might look like for Scotland’s home-grown effort to raise awareness and funds for victims of trafficking and slavery around the world. Last year’s highly successful seminar and ball raised £13,000.

Andrew added he would “love to develop a more tangible connection for members of Faculty and the wider legal profession in Scotland to IJM’s work.” In 2015, advocates Neil Mackenzie and Eric Robertson, solicitor advocate Brian Gilfedder and procurator fiscal Iain Graywent to IJM’s office in Kenyato provide advocacy training to prosecutors. IJM is the only NGO in Kenya entitled to train prosecutors.

Collectively, IJM’s teams make up the largest anti-slavery organisation in the world. If you would like more information about IJM’s work, please email Andrew at scotland@ijmuk.org.