Indian American human trafficking crusader honored with Human Rights Hero Award 2023


An Indian American was honored with Human Rights Hero Award 2023 during the 17th Annual International Human Rights Youth Summit at the United Nations headquarters in New York which brought together human rights groups from around the world.

Harold D’Souza, an Indian-American labor trafficking and debt bondage survivor, was honored with the Human Rights Hero Award 2023. Harold D’Souza, a native of Bajpe in Mangaluru, Karnataka, India is a resident of Cincinnati, Ohio, USA, and a global role model for victims, survivors, vulnerable populations, and community members.

Youth from around the world participated as delegates in the 17th International Human Rights Youth Summit, organized by Youth for Human Rights International (YHRI) at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

The award recognized D’Souza for his work and dedication to educating millions on human rights‌‌ and raising awareness to end human trafficking. D’Souza has formed his own non-government organization, Eyes Open International, and is on the Board of Justice at Last. He served on the Advisory Council for the Ohio Attorney General’s Trafficking Commission. In 2015, President Barack Obama appointed him to the United States Advisory Council on Human Trafficking, and he continued his service under President Trump through July 2020. He also serves as an expert consultant to the Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

While accepting the award, D’Souza recounted his story of traveling to the United States on an H-1B visa but getting caught in a human trafficking trap instead. He pointed at his ordeal and the significance of knowing his rights, especially Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which forbids all forms of slavery. He added that every child should be taught all 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“Black life matters, white life matters, brown life matters, but today in the history of not only America but in the universe, I am very proud to say that Youth for Human Rights International has proved to the world that victims’ life matter,” he said.

D’Souza’s profile on the website of the Combating Trafficking in Persons of the US Department of Defense recounts his terrifying trials and inspiring journey: “D’Souza was trafficked from his hometown in India to a restaurant in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he was forced to work 7 days a week, 14 to 16 hours a day. His trafficker charged him exorbitant fees for food, clothing, and shelter, so he never got paid. He was tricked into signing a loan from a bank which his trafficker pocketed, putting him in debt bondage. Desperate to escape in order to protect his wife and children, he bravely turned to law enforcement, even though his trafficker had threatened that he would be killed if he sought support. Since his rescue, he has become a survivor advocate and public speaker on human trafficking.”

In 2017, he was awarded the Liberator Award and the iCan Award for his activism and work with other survivors. In 2021 he was recognized with the “Rashtra Perna Award 2021” for service in India and Worldwide. He was also awarded the “HEART OF THE FATHER AWARDS 2022” in Los Angeles. As of spring 2022, two films are in production telling his story. The first, To Be Free is the debut feature documentary film produced and directed by Benjamin Ryan Nathan and executive produced by Martin Sheen. The film shines a light on the pervasiveness of labor trafficking in the United States, how we can spot it in our neighborhoods, and the steps we can take to eradicate this form of modern-day slavery on a systematic level.

The summit celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and featured international speakers, and panel discussions, workshops, and presentations from international delegates. The title of this year’s Summit was: Imagine: Equality, Dignity, Unity – Youth making it a Reality.

Chosen for their personal achievements in the field of human rights, delegates’ diverse languages and accents combined into a strong, unified voice as they called on member states of the United Nations to make human rights a global reality. Their “Human Rights Youth Declaration” included eight key areas such as climate change, conflict resolution, and government-NGO collaboration. Four areas focused on education, demanding that human rights be integrated into school curricula, higher education, and teacher training.

“Congratulations to one of our Human Rights Hero Awardees for 2023, Harold D’Souza. His story is an inspiration to many and he has an endless passion for ensuring everyone knows their human rights. We look forward to our continued work together to make human rights a reality for all,” Youth for Human Rights International, a non-profit organization based in California, said in a Facebook post.


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