Willow Creek Association UK & Ireland

WCA UK & Ireland

Calling for Justice – Gary Haugen

faculty_2017_gary_haugenWhile investigating the genocide in Rwanda for the United Nations in 1994, attorney Gary Haugen directed the exhumation of mass graves to collect evidence for the subsequent war-crimes tribunal. Then on loan from the Department of Justice, Haugen witnessed one of the 20th century’s bloodiest conflicts, and says he saw how evil triumphed when no one intervened to stop the slaughter of an estimated 800,000 Rwandans.

He returned to Washington, D.C. a changed man, and in the ensuing months, he realised more had to be done for people suffering in far-flung corners of the world. By 1997, he had left the federal government to found International Justice Mission (IJM), a Christian-based organisation, which has blossomed into one of the nation’s largest human-rights groups.

“If I left the Department of Justice, I knew there wasn’t going to be less justice in America,” says the former federal prosecutor. “But I knew there were places in the world [where], if I didn’t make an intentional decision to show up, there would be no one to provide a voice for those who are abused.”

Haugen has emerged as a leader in what many human-rights experts term the modern-day abolitionist movement (adherents also include feminists, Jews and evangelical Christians) who came together in the late 1990s to combat child prostitution, bonded labour and sex trafficking. “Gary is one of the anti-slavery heroes of the 21st century,” says U.S. ambassador-at-large John Miller, the Bush administration’s point man on slavery issues. “He has decided to go where no nongovernmental organisation has gone to focus on law enforcement, to cajole and work with foreign governments to rescue victims and throw the criminals in jail.”


Watch this three-minute video to learn more about IJM’s ground-breaking legal work fighting human trafficking and violence around the world.

A physician’s son, Haugen grew up comfortably in a family of eight in Sacramento, California. He says he was oblivious to the social problems of the nation and the world when he arrived in Cambridge in 1981, but his eyes were opened at meetings of the Harvard-Radcliffe Christian Fellowship (HRCF), where people spoke of the social implications of the Christian gospel. His interest in apartheid and its repercussions led him to spend the summer after graduation in South Africa, where he served on the executive committee of the National Initiative for Reconciliation, a movement of Christian leaders devoted to the cause of political reform and racial reconciliation.

After earning a law degree from the University of Chicago, Haugen worked for the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, investigating police misconduct in the Philippines. In 1991, he joined the Justice Department, where he was a prosecutor in the civil-rights division (working on domestic issues) before the Rwanda trip prompted him to create IJM.

His work is motivated by what he considers God’s call. “The God of justice is eager for his work of justice to go forth,” he explains. “And God does his work by creating us to do it.” Haugen, who calls himself “a bit of a Christian mutt,” doesn’t consider himself part of any denomination. He grew up Baptist, fell in love with the Anglican tradition while living in South Africa and speaks, often by invitation, at evangelical churches across the country. IJM’s full-time employees all profess their Christian faith, which Haugen says is a “matter of unity” in their workplace. But IJM serves victims of all religions and its employees do not proselytise. They let their work serve as a statement of their faith.

Unlike many human-rights groups, which often get results by publicising abuses and mobilising public opinion, IJM forms partnerships with local police and helps them prosecute the crimes. At times, because street-level officers may be corrupt themselves and protect the criminal enterprise, IJM collects evidence to present to upper-level authorities. “The crystal clarity of the information creates enormous pressure for that senior authority to do the right thing,” Haugen says. “You serve it up on a silver platter, let him or her take all the credit for it and if it works out well, you have a new friend.”

Many of IJM’s first cases were generated by information from Christian missionaries or relief groups who fed and housed the poor, but lacked the legal skills to defend victims. Now, IJM’s international staff has no problem finding its own assignments. “With individual cases, you get very concrete information about where the criminal justice system doesn’t work,” reports Haugen. “When you work the cases, you can find the choke points and show the national authorities why their system doesn’t…provide the outcome they want.”

To read the rest of this Harvard Magazine article, click here.

Gary Haugen will be speaking at the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit in August 2017. This event is then videocast across the UK and Ireland in OctoberNovember. Learn more.