Liezl Tomas Rebugio

Fighting for human rights

By Elizabeth Barajas-Roman Jan 06, 2009

According to human rights advocate Liezl Tomas Rebugio, Asian and Pacific Islander women are deeply impacted by human trafficking because they are commodified, hypersexualized and stereotyped as submissive people who will not stand up for themselves. But she says organizations like the National Asian Pacific American Woman’s Forum, “especially our founding sisters, prove that we cannot be contained to the traditional stereotype of an API woman. We are not submissive—we are fierce.”

Rebugio, the daughter of Filipino immigrants, was the organization’s anti-trafficking program director until last year and is known as a fierce leader in her own right. This January, she took a new post as the field director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Washington state, where she’ll be expanding her human rights work to include immigration and police brutality.

At the National Asian Pacific American Woman’s Forum, Rebugio’s program focused on all forms of forced labor, including domestic servitude, sweatshop labor, servile marriages and forced sex work. “Our analysis on human trafficking is that it is a very complex issue created by multiple causes,” says Rebugio. “These reasons include abject poverty, gender-based oppression, lack of economic and educational opportunities, militarism and  civil unrest—all of which greatly impact Asian and Pacific Islander countries.”

The National Asian Pacific American Woman’s Forum is building the leadership of their chapter members, Rebugio says. They want them to “develop expertise in this issue so they can be anti-trafficking leaders in their own right…The national office can’t do this on its own. We really need a critical mass of progressive anti-trafficking activists in our communities to move our progressive agenda forward.”

In her new work at the ACLU, Rebugio will be working to counter the “school-to-prison pipeline” and to investigate incidents of police abuse, among many other duties. “It’s a continuation of the human rights work I did with the National Asian Pacific American Woman’s Forum,” she says.