Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Yesterday, Larry Martin, Vice President of the International Justice Mission (IJM), spoke about his organization’s humanitarian work abroad. IJM strives to help “people suffering from injustice and oppression who cannot rely on local authorities for relief.” By rigorously documenting these injustices, the group seeks unequivocal evidence that can lead to positive legal recourse through existing power-structures. Founded by Gary Haugen after his involvement in the 1994 UN investigation of genocide in Rwanda, IJM defines itself as “Christ-centered” and works through an international network of churches in a spirit of charity.
Martin began by discussing IJM’s work in thwarting Cambodia’s under-age sex industry. He described the initial situation in some detail, where foreign pedophiles could buy 5 to 14-year-old girls for as little as twenty dollars a night. The enslaved children were mostly Vietnamese, sold by poverty-stricken parents. IJM began its work there in May of 2001 and completed no satisfying improvement until March of 2003; Martin described the long, difficult process of working for improvement as a journey in “darkness” where workers needed much courage to persist without losing hope. He quoted a passage from the Bible, Luke 10: 25-37, as a source of IJM’s inspiration. The text proposes an ethic of impartial mercy and charity, which, he said, is natural when one confronts injustice directly and personally. To succeed in thwarting the Cambodian sex-trade, the group used video documentation to influence the US government’s Human Trafficking report to acknowledge flagrant negligence and complicity on the part of the Cambodian government, worked with NBC to publicize the issue as an investigative report, and finally achieved a measure of cooperation with Cambodian authorities. Today, the sex industry is unprofitable and dangerous for its customers.
IJM defines its success by four criteria of which only the first is stopping injustice. It also is concerned with caring for victims, making perpetrators accountable, and structurally preventing future injustices from reoccurring. In Cambodia, for instance, the group is working with other humanitarian groups to insure the psychological well-being, education, and heath of the girls it helped rescue. At IJM’s suggestion, a new US Ambassador to Cambodia with commitment to long-lasting change was appointed, and the group also helped train a special police unit created specifically for the fight against sex-trafficking.
IJM has over 150 full-time paid staff-members, at offices in Washington and over the world, including Bombay, Chennai, Thailand, Kenya, Zambia, Uganda, the Philippines, Peru, and Honduras. It works, in addition to stopping under-age sex-traffic, to combat slavery, indentured servitude, the exploitation of ethnic minorities, sexual assault, the spread of AIDS, and the exploitation of women and children. Martin defined injustice generally as the abuse of power through coercion and deception to oppress marginalized social groups. As an example, he gave India’s caste system, which he said was supported by lies and religious fatalism; he compared it to injustices perpetrated through Christianity, especially in the African slave-trade. He invited interested students of Swarthmore to apply for internships and to help fundraise for the IJM. Eighty-five percent of the organization’s operating budget is funded by individuals and small foundations. As educated Americans, he said, we have a duty to use our power to improve the world. More information can be found at the group’s website: http://www.ijm.org.