Congressional representatives, Dutch diplomats and survivors gathered Friday to heighten awareness of human trafficking during the annual Anne Frank Award ceremony. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof and human rights advocate Cindy McCain received the 2015 Anne Frank Award and the Anne Frank Special Recognition Award, respectively, for their work fighting human trafficking and human rights violations.
The award ceremony took place in the Members Room of the Library of Congress as part of the Royal Netherlands Embassy’s Holland on the Hill initiative. Holland on the Hill illustrates the longstanding relationship between the Netherlands and the United States and builds on the shared ties between the two nations in the economic, cultural and political arenas.
The Anne Frank Award is important, says H.E. Henne Schuwer, the Dutch ambassador to the United States, because it helps underscore what governments see as important. It is important to keep alive the memory of a small girl who wrote a diary that still resonates with all of us today, he said. And it also is important that we still observe the many other injustices in this world. One of the injustices, he says, is human trafficking of women and children which we must battle in the spirit and memory of Anne Frank.
Indifference is the biggest friend of our biggest enemy, the ambassador pointed out. It is a choice we have to make every day, to look the other way, to avoid acting when we see injustice. But we have found two people, H. E. Schuwer observed, who did not look the other way when confronted by injustice. He says he hopes we will follow in the footsteps of McCain and Kristof, choose a life of engagement and not indifference.
McCain, wife of Senator John McCain, expressed her frustration with human trafficking statics. The actual numbers are under-reported, and it is irrelevant, she observes, since even one victim is unacceptable. She shared with the audience the story that turned her into an advocate for human rights.
While in Kolkata, India, many years ago, she had been shopping in a kiosk. While inside she noticed knocking from floorboards when paying the shopkeeper for some goods. When she asked the shopkeeper what that was, he told her those were his family. But as she left his shop, in the cracks of the floorboards she saw the little eyes of many children, perhaps as many as 30, too many to be his family.
She did not do anything, she said. She walked out the door and left. But that experience set her on a journey. “Those children don’t haunt me, they educated me,” she said. Awareness and education are our tools to beat this problem, she points out. McCain is now the co-chair of the McCain Institute’s Human Trafficking Advisory Council.
Human trafficking knows no boundaries, be it geographical, age or gender. The International Labor Organization states there are more than 4.5 million people trapped in forced sexual exploitation around the world. In the United States alone, 20 percent of the 11,800 runaways reported last year were likely sex trafficking victims, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
The other award recipient, Kristof, a journalist with the New York Times since 1984, has written extensively on human rights issues. His reporting had exposed trafficking and calls on us to help victims and punish those responsible. His PBS documentary, “A Path Appears,” makes the viewer confront the devastating effects of human trafficking, as well as explores the role poverty and gender inequality play in facilitating trafficking.
Kristof received the Anne Frank Award for Human Dignity and Tolerance for his work to call attention to human trafficking and human rights violations around the world. He has written extensively on human rights issues, including the genocide in Darfur and China’s democratic movement in Tiananmen Square. His coverage of human trafficking of girls and women in the United States, Cambodia and Nepal confronts the public with this pervasive issue.
“I’m thrilled by the award and delighted that it shines a powerful light on issues like sex trafficking,” Kristof said. “Human trafficking is one of those problems that thrives when it’s ignored and the first step to addressing it is simply to rally attention, which the Anne Frank Award does.”
The Congressional Dutch Caucus, the Anne Frank Center USA, the Anne Frank House Amsterdam and the Royal Netherlands Embassy created the Anne Frank Award in 2014 to honor the legacy of Anne Frank and keep alive the lessons her life teaches us about tolerance and the importance of defending human rights. The award recognizes an American or an organization working to confront intolerance, anti-Semitism, racism or discrimination while upholding the principles of freedom and equal rights to promote the effective functioning of an open, pluralistic and democratic society.