Ghanaian investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas, whose human rights work has been previously lauded by President Obama, was given a 2010 Excellence in Journalism Award this week. The award recognized his efforts to investigate and bring to justice some of the worst forms of human trafficking taking place in West Africa. And his job might be too tough and dirty for even Mike Rowe.
For more a decade, Anas has gone undercover to investigate human trafficking — in brothels, in fields, and anywhere else people are suspected of being falsely imprisoned. He is generally credited with ousting two major trafficking rings which were forcing young Ghanaian girls into prostitution in Europe. He was even able to record most of his interactions with the traffickers, so authorities could learn exactly how they made fake documents, which routes they used, and how they recruited girls. He has also gone undercover in the cocoa industry, which is notorious for its use of child and slave labor in West Africa. It’s all work Anas calls his “quest to save humanity.”
In a previous job, I provided technical support for someone doing exactly what Anas does — investigating human trafficking in some of the darkest and most dangerous places in the world. Calling these sorts of operations “investigative journalism” sometimes feels a little like calling a 50 foot cliff dive “jumping into a lake.” Investigating human trafficking is dangerous and extreme. The man I was supporting had at least one hit (that we found out about) out on his life from the mob in an area where he’d broken up a brothel filled with children. And when you’re undercover in a brothel or meeting of business executives, there is nothing between you and a group of people often willing to kill to protect their investment in slavery. It’s a dangerous job, and thank goodness there are people like Anas willing to do it.
Anas accepted his prize wearing a mask, to protect his identity. It’s a cautionary measure that may seem extreme to those who have never been in his line of work. Human trafficking is about money, and investigators like Anas often run the traffickers out of business by reporting their abuses to the authorities. Too often, investigative journalists like Pakistani Ghulam Rasool Birhamani end up dead after exposing human trafficking in their country. And we certainly need folks like Anas around to continue fighting against human trafficking at its source.
Photo credit: Billy A Chant