Anne Gallagher

Dr. Anne Gallagher is a lawyer, legal scholar and adviser to the United Nations (UN). In the fall of 2014 she participated in a range of Kenan events as the 2014-2015 annual Visiting Human Rights Fellow.  In this interview, Dr. Gallagher answers questions about her personal background, the evolution of her interests, and her career in addressing human trafficking and migrant smuggling. DHRC at KIE Project Director Suzanne Katzenstein conducted this interview electronically.

Suzanne Katzenstein: Tell us a bit about where you come from; your family and your early years:

Anne Gallagher: I was born in Sydney, Australia, and lived there until my early twenties. Mine was as normal a childhood as was possible being in the middle of seven children. It was pretty chaotic actually, and very noisy but also a lot of fun. My brothers and sisters and I are still very close and family has stayed the most important constant in my life.

In Australia, one studies law as an undergraduate, usually in combination with a general arts degree. The whole thing takes five years with an extra six months of professional training. That means I began studying law just months after leaving high school. I’m not sure, in retrospect, if it is such a good system because I spent the first couple of years feeling pretty lost. Things did get better of course, but it took a while.

SK: How did you come to international law?

AG: Everything changed for me in my fourth year when a gentle, elderly professor introduced me to international law. It was like a light being switched on. I knew, absolutely and irrevocably, that this is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

My first international law teacher was not a famous scholar. In fact I don’t think he published much at all. But his passion for international law, his belief in the capacity of law to both empower and restrain, and his ability to light the fire of curiosity in his students lived much longer, and spread much wider, than pretty much anything he could have written.

I think there is an important lesson here – that teachers of law really, really matter. My experience was not unique. I’m sure most law graduates can point to a teacher, (or perhaps, if they are lucky, more than one teacher) who has profoundly influenced the choices they’ve made and direction of their professional career. So my message to students is to treasure your teachers. You’ll only come to understand over time how they have shaped your attitudes, built your confidence, inspired new thoughts and ideas and, by so doing, changed your lives.

SK: You taught international law for a few years after completing your Master’s degree. How did you get into the UN?

AG: For me the UN was an unattainable dream. I didn’t know anyone who had ever worked for the UN and I had no idea how one went about even trying to get in.

In the end (like so many things in life) it was all a matter of luck and timing. I accidentally found out, at the eleventh hour, that the UN was holding entry examinations for Australian professionals. That almost never happens and it’s still unbelievable to me that I met the pre-qualifications, managed to get my application in on time, passed the exams, scored an interview, and got through the final round. The offer came by telegram (yes, I am that old!), which I almost didn’t receive because it was accidentally delivered to the wrong address.

But somehow everything fell into place and I found myself walking into the Palais de Nations in Geneva, clutching my probationary contract of (permanent) employment. Unfortunately nobody seemed to have been told of my arrival and my boss was in Africa, so I spent the first week sitting at his desk, reading old reports and worrying that it was all a mistake and I’d be sent back to Australia. But things sorted themselves out and I settled into what became my home for the next twelve years.

SK: What did you do at the UN?

AG: My position was with the UN’s Human Rights Centre – which later became the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. During my first six or seven years there I did lots of different things – helping to set up national human rights institutions in different parts of the world; developing human rights training programs for criminal justice officials and UN peacekeepers; working on the human rights of women and integration of a gender perspective into the UN’s human rights system. That last task was a tricky one. Back then there was real resistance to the idea that ‘mainstream’ human rights issues like torture or racial discrimination had a gender dimension and required a response that recognized this.

SK: When did you first become interested in human trafficking and migrant smuggling?

AG: The important thing to emphasize is that trafficking and the issues that we commonly associate with it (sexual exploitation, forced labour, forced marriage, debt bondage, etc.) were really not on the radar of the international human rights system. There wasn’t even a legal definition. In fact nobody made a distinction between trafficking — which we now understand as moving or maintaining someone in a situation of exploitation from which they can’t escape — and migrant smuggling — which we now understand as the illegal movement of people across international borders for profit.

In 1998 Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland, became our new High Commissioner for Human Rights. Her appointment represented a clear break with the past practice of putting fonctionnaires in charge of human rights. Mary Robinson was the real deal: a highly trained lawyer, a long-standing women’s rights activist, and a skilled and clever politician.

It was around this time that the UN began receiving reports of what soon became recognized as the classic stereotype of ‘trafficking’: young girls being lured into sexual servitude in Western Europe and Southeast Asia. The trickle of reports of this and other forms of human exploitation, mostly perpetrated against migrants, quickly turned into a flood. The High Commissioner decided that she needed to do something, appointing me as her adviser on this issue. (Another example of luck and timing!)

Her instincts were spot-on. Within months of that decision the international community came together under the auspices of the UN’s Crime Commission to agree on a new legal framework around transnational organized crime. In addition to an umbrella treaty, States also decided to develop several mini-treaties, one on “trafficking in persons,” the other on “smuggling of migrants.” My job for the next two years was to make sure that those treaties, which were being negotiated well away from the UN’s human rights system, represented a net gain for victims and their rights. It was a heady time, and I have meticulously recorded my experiences in my books The International Law of Human Trafficking, which was published by Cambridge University Press in 2010 and The International Law of Migrant Smuggling (Cambridge 2014).

SK: How have your views about human trafficking evolved over time? What are the main challenges that you see?

AG: On good days I am optimistic that we are making progress. We now have a robust legal framework that reflects the centrality of human rights – giving us a better chance than ever before to use law to promote and sustain real change. Public awareness of trafficking is much greater than even a few years ago. More victims are being identified and more exploiters are being prosecuted. Most countries feel some compulsion to show that they are doing something.

But I’ve also come to understand that the battle against trafficking is much bigger than the drafters of the new laws ever imagined. Human exploitation has built our world and continues to drive global economic growth. Cheap labor, cheap sex, and cheap goods are woven into the fabric of our national economies, our communities and our individual lives. We might wish for a slave-free world but it’s very unlikely that we are prepared to bear the heavy cost.  And governments often have agendas that conflict with their professed commitments to ending trafficking and related exploitation. Many countries derive great benefit from cheap foreign labor that, deliberately unprotected by law, can be criminalized or shoved aside when circumstances require. Some countries that maintain a strong policy position against prostitution are nevertheless comfortable with a marginalized and closeted sex industry comprised principally of exploited foreigners. Countries that rely heavily on the remittances of their overseas workers may be reluctant to interfere with a system that brings economic benefits—even if it is clear that some of their citizens are being harmed. It is these more fundamental challenges that we will have to grapple with over the next few years if the ‘war against trafficking’ is to have any chance of succeeding.

SK: And what about migrant smuggling?

AG: Migrant smuggling is very tricky. Unlike trafficking, which affects all countries one way or another, international concern around smuggling is quite uneven. Wealthy countries of destination like the US and Australia have long been anxious about irregular migration. The involvement of facilitators, with its implication of increased efficiency in approaching and evading fortified borders, is widely viewed as presenting an additional and serious threat.

But the strengthening of migration controls in these same countries has also had the effect of pushing individuals who want or need to cross international borders – including asylum seekers  ̶  into the hands of smugglers. Many advocates have argued that criminalizing smuggling increases the human and financial costs of the migration services that are critical to the survival or wellbeing of many of the world’s poor and persecuted.

I’ve wrestled endlessly with this dilemma (see for example “Human Rights and Human Trafficking: Quagmire or Firm Ground?” from the Virginia Journal of International Law). Over time I’ve come to accept that migrant smuggling is inevitable – that it is a predictable outcome of global migration regimes that restrict the ability of individuals to secure legal access to preferred destinations and the consequent need for support in circumventing ever-increasing controls.

But the inevitability of smuggling is a poor excuse for inaction. I believe that the international community – and individual states – must respond to and prevent its worst excesses: to the corruption and profiteering of individuals and criminal groups that places lives and wellbeing at serious risk. States also need to acknowledge and take responsibility for their own contribution to smuggling-related harm.

SK: You are in a rather unique position of having worked on the same set of issues from different vantage points, as a UN official, as a scholar, and as a practitioner. How do these compare? What is your view on the academic-policy divide in your areas of work?

AG: I feel very privileged to have been able to work in my chosen field from so many different perspectives. I have no doubt that this has profoundly influenced not just what I think but also how I think. My time at the UN taught me valuable lessons in international law making. It helped to confirm for me that the dividing line between law and politics is much more blurred than many scholars imagine. The act of making international laws is supremely political, as is everything that comes afterwards. Understanding that simple reality helped me to appreciate law not as a good in itself but as a means to an end.

Being a practitioner has forced me to put my theories and assumptions about international law and human rights to the test in the ‘real world’. That has been confronting, challenging and immensely rewarding. I think it has made me more careful about jumping to conclusions, more appreciative of the critical role that non-lawyers (such as police) must play in protecting rights, and more open to the views and experiences of others.

I am a much better scholar because of my experiences as an international civil servant and as a front-line practitioner. I value theory but am no longer intimidated by it and will interrogate accepted wisdoms with much more vigor and confidence. I have no time for obscure or overly complex legal writing. For me, good scholarship must be accessible. If the averagely smart law student cannot understand everything I write then I have failed.  My last book, on migrant smuggling, was more than 800 pages and had thousands of footnotes. But I hope it was also clear and straightforward, because I don’t want it to sit on the shelf of the law library. Its true value, at least to me, will lie in the extent to which it is used by those who are making and implementing laws and policies around migrant smuggling.

I would love to see much more crossover between the policy and academic worlds. In my experience, those with the most to say often don’t have the confidence to communicate their ideas to the broader world. That is one of the reasons I helped start the Anti-Trafficking Reviewwhich is aimed at trying to bridge the gap between practitioners and scholars in this area. It’s early days but I am hopeful!

SK: What advice do you have for undergraduate and graduate students who want to work on human trafficking?

AG: If you are interested in issues around human rights and human exploitation then you are fortunate. There are more opportunities available than ever before to increase your knowledge, to engage in advocacy, to volunteer, and to develop a strong foundation from which to take flight. But beware focusing too narrowly or too soon – there’s plenty of time to develop a specialization. And don’t forget that life has a way of throwing curve balls: learn to be open to risk and tolerant of failure.