Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

2006 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report Briefing and Hearing

As Chairman, Chris Smith (R-New Jersey) began the briefing by speaking about the efforts of the US Congress and State Department to not only end human trafficking abroad but also to curd its growth inside of this country. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act, first passed in 2000, was updated again in 2005 with an emphasis on reducing the demand for trafficked persons, mainly women and children. The renewal also offers an additional $361 million over the next two years to aid in international human trafficking prevention and prosecution.
Chairman Smith happily introduced the importance in the 2006 Trafficking In Persons Report on forced labor and modern-day slavery. This issue was the deciding factor for many countries' Tier 3 or Tier 2 (watch list) ranking. Despite this new emphasis, India received a better rating than it should have in light of the number issues with bonded labor within her borders. Chairman Smith, referencing India's Tier 2 (watch list) ranking, decried the introduction of politics into the ranking system, calling the “watch list” a place to “hide our friends.”
Germany's behavior prior to the FIFA World Cup is another example of Chairman Smith's political rankings. Germany has legalized prostitution with the intention of regulating it. According to statistics, over seventy-five percent of the “legal” prostitutes are induced into sexual exploitation and abused in their “jobs.” An estimated 40,000 women will be brought into Germany's large cities for the World Cup games, a number that can in no way claim to all be legal, willful participants. During the questioning of Ambassador Miller of the State Department, the issue of German prostitution became a hot topic of discussion.
After the introductions, Ms. Julia Ormond, an actress and human rights activist, spoke as the United Nations Goodwill ambassador for Human Trafficking. Ambassador Ormond thanked the United States for its recent contribution of $2 million to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime for the pursuit of traffickers. With this international law enforcement effort that has recently gained the world's attention, there is a great need to stop trafficking without disregard for cultural history and diversity, she emphasized.
The majority of Ambassador Ormond's speech revolved around adding a new “P” to the three “P’s” of the effort against trafficking in persons. Joining prosecution, protection, and prevention, she argued, must be prioritization. Only governments are able to really change the tide, because only they have the ability to prosecute the traffickers and change the situations that contribute to the growth of the industry. One example of the positive changes brought about by proper government priorities can be seen in Thailand. In an effort to slow the trafficking of poor, rural, uneducated girls, the Thai government has reached out and begun a better system of schooling for these girls. The results were almost immediate; trafficking numbers not only ceased to rise but began to fall as a result.
Ambassador Ormond emphasized the need to have a solid system to prosecute the traffickers that does not rely wholly on the survivors. There is a great amount of danger in such reliance, as the victims are intimidated and threatened into silence. Many countries also have a history of persecuting the victims for their role in prostitution or using forged documents, the result of which is only more severe damage to the survivors and no steps to end the real crime of human trafficking.
The education of both potential victims and survivors is a key issue in the battle against human trafficking. Secular and faith-based organizations have taken initiative in this field with good results stemming from both. Because of the circular pattern of victim-hood, outreach and rehabilitation for survivors is of the utmost important. There are many examples of formerly trafficked women returning to their homes only to “recruit” new girls for bonded work or prostitution.
Hagar, a Cambodian anti-trafficking NGO, is an example of a group that is making significant headway against trafficking in people. Ambassador Ormond praised their holistic approach to the issue. The NGO not only educates potential victims but also potential traffickers; for both segments of the population the introduction of other options is where a promising change is made. Hagar does not make recommendations and then move on; they visit and re-visit villages building and maintaining a relationship with both sides of the potential crime.
Ambassador Ormond finished her statements with a pointed request to the US government, saying that that UN wanted to work with the United States on the trafficking issue.
After Ambassador Ormond's testimony, Ambassador John Miller, the State Department's Ambassador at large for Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery, spoke and answered questions. In his introduction to the 2006 report, Ambassador Miller acknowledged the problem of human trafficking inside the US and focused on the issue of bonded labor, or modern-day slavery. He reiterated the point made by Chairman Smith that a few countries received lower ranking this year because of the new emphasis on bonded labor issues. Countries like the Czech Republic, who have worked on their anti-trafficking laws, did not make much progress at all in the bonded labor issue, and according to some reports, actually exacerbated the problem through a partnership with the North Korean government.
Another important aspect of the bonded labor issue involves trafficking of persons within a single country's borders. While it does not receive the same level of attention, countries like India and Jordan have very high rates of internal trafficking affecting tens of thousands of individuals. In India, generation after generation is often held in bonded servitude with no possibility of release. While there are laws against such confinement, there has been little prosecution of the slave masters.
The concern about forced labor was later echoed by Sharon Cohn of the International Justice Mission in her discussion of the manipulation of many trafficking victims. An overhauling of laws is not necessary, Ms. Cohn argued, because slavery is illegal in all forms. Unlike the abolitionist movements of two hundred years ago, there is not a legal change but a new level of enforcement necessary to help the victims around the world.
In order to properly rank countries, the ambassador went on, it is necessary to look not just at laws but at the rate of prosecution and the nature of sentences. Many countries have made progress in their written codes, but many traffickers who appear in court receive very light or suspended sentences for their severe crimes. Human trafficking, Ambassador Miller explained, is essentially just a euphemism for kidnapping, beating, false imprisonment, and rape, and these charges all deserve harsh judgments passed on the perpetrators.
Acknowledging the involvement of militaries in sexual exploitation and human trafficking, Ambassador Miller discussed the commitment made recently by the US military to a zero tolerance policy of involvement in prostitution. This change comes as there is significant evidence that the UN Peacekeepers are not only complacent but are actually encouraging and aiding in human trafficking. Prince Said of Jordan, who wrote an extensive report for the UN Secretary-General, is quoted saying that there is “zero compliance with [the] zero tolerance” policy in place for Peacekeepers. The Department of Defense is hoping to keep the same from being true of US forces and independent contractors through changes in the military codes of conduct and close policing.
The ambassador pointed out that the purpose of the TIP Report is not to punish those countries that are not doing enough in the modern day abolitionist movement but to bring about action. The threat of imposing sanctions is made intending to bring attention to the subject of human trafficking not in the hopes of following through with the sanctions. In some cases the threat of decreased economic aid has worked; the 2006 TIP Report shows that twenty-eight countries improved their rankings through stronger laws and policing efforts. On the other side, twenty-three countries fell in their rankings some of whom likely suffered from the stronger emphasis placed on bonded labor issues. As the issue of human trafficking is better understood, it is reasonable to expect greater levels of compliance and action.
The hearing next hears the stories of two educated Russian women who survived being trafficked for prostitution in Germany. Both women were lured to Western Europe by the offer of better-paying jobs; once there they were forced to prostitute themselves. One of the survivors escaped her imprisonment only to be detained by Dutch authorities for having a falsified passport. Both women escaped their ordeals and returned to Russia through the help of the Angel Coalition, a Russian NGO dedicated to aiding women who were victimized by human traffickers. Both women spoke strongly against legalized prostitution as it encourages trafficking of women and children. They also decried the on-going victimization of trafficked persons in the legal system that is ill-equipped to help survivors prosecute their abductors and then rehabilitate.


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