The horrors of the past are very much a part of the present. Why are we ignoring them?

Most people think the Holocaust was a one-time, unthinkably tragic sequence of events that we would never let happen again.

Most people think that slavery ended decades ago – and was a horrendously barbaric practice that has no place in the modern world.

Most people are mistaken.

Our world continues to condone slavery and genocide.  They’re more clandestine, more under the radar, than their historical predecessors, but they’re very real and very 21st century. 

Instead of assuming that the present must be different because the past was so horrible, we need to open our eyes to the moral reality of the world we live in.

The International Labor Organization estimates (PDF) that 12.3 million people in the world continue to be enslaved through bonded and forced labor, forced child labor, sexual servitude, and other practices. The State Department of the United States estimates that 800,00-900,00 people are trafficked across international borders each year; eighty percent of which are girls and women who are trafficked into commercial sexual exploitation. Globally, two million women are sexually exploited via human trafficking.

The international community turned a blind eye in 1994 when genocide in Rwanda killed between 800,000 and one million people over just 100 days. Fast forward 15 years, and today we face real threats of the world’s next genocide. This round: The Congo. It’s toll? 5.4 million civilians since 1996. Next up: Somalia. Why? Deliberate targeting of civilians by insurgents.

People claim not to know about these things, although the information is out there:  but now you have no such excuse.  Now you know. 

So what are we going to do about it?

In the book Preventing Genocide: A blueprint for U.S. policymakers, Madeleine K. Albright and William S. Cohen provide realistic and informative information on genocide prevention and trafficking in and outside the borders of the United States.

They recommend the following steps:

1)  Increase money for crisis prevention and response initiatives for emerging crises with potential genocidal and/or human trafficking qualities.  Saying we can’t afford to do this is to become complicit in the blind eye turned to these crimes.

2)  The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission needs to re-prioritize and make genocide prevention, involuntary servitude and mass atrocities to human life of central importance.

3)  The director of national intelligence needs to begin to include genocide and potential genocide crises in his testimony to Congress, and call them threats to national security.

4)  A permanent constituency within the government should be legislated for the prevention and awareness of genocide and human trafficking; both nationally and internationally.

5)  The state department and all intelligence communities should incorporate genocide detection and early warning signs into trainings for foreign service and all national security personnel.

6)  American aid and attention should focus on early prevent strategies that support the economic and social development of nations and areas of the world at high risk for genocide or human trafficking. This can be accomplished by the support of democratic principles in foreign countries that seek to address injustice and reform security within their particular country.

Ralph Waldo Emerson captured the spirit of this endeavor, saying: “The real and last victories are those of peace, and not of war.”

It is the job of everyone, you and me, rich or poor, to work toward justice and freedom for all. We need to keep educated. We need to keep informing those around us. Most importantly, we need to keep petitioning Congress to act on these grave injustices to human life around the globe.

Social amnesia is not an option.

— Liz Schreiber

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