Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Thursday, June 22, 2006

DoD Zero Tolerance on Prostitution/Trafficking Hearing

House Armed Services Committee and House International Relations Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations and Subcommittee on Military Personnel

Joint hearing on the Department of Defense Implementation of Zero-Tolerance for Human Trafficking

This hearing was co-chaired by Congressmen John McHugh (R-New York) and Chris Smith (R-New Jersey).

The military and prostitution share a long history, and no country's armed services are exempt. Women, children, and men have long been trafficking victims, forced into prostitution for the gratification and “comfort” of soldiers during times of peace and war. Since 2002, the United States military worked initially to stop American soldiers from creating a demand for trafficking persons, and now to end all engagement in sexual exploitation of any kind.
In 2002 Congressman Chris Smith began talking about issues of prostitution and trafficked women surrounding American military bases in South Korea. Through the efforts of Congressman Smith, high-ranking officers in South Korea, and the Bush Administration, great strides were made to keep American servicemen from encouraging the human trade. After sowing the seeds of success there, the U.S. military had to deal with military contractors in Bosnia purchasing women and children for sexual exploitation. This past spring issues of private contractors in Iraq using trafficked laborers surfaced when twelve trafficked Nepalese men died while working for private contractors.
The panel for the hearing included Ambassador John Miller, director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Human Trafficking at the State Department, Thomas Gimble, Inspector General, Gail McGinn, Acting Principle Deputy Under Secretary of Defense of Personnel and Readiness, and USAF Colonel Robert Boyle, former Principle Assistant Responsible for Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, all from the Department of Defense.
Ambassador Miller's opening statement touched on some of the issues that are raised by the crime of trafficking: human rights, health and safety, security. He insisted on strict policies by the Defense Department because of the long history of prostitution connected with military deployments. While the military made a big step when it made participation in trafficking a crime, it is not reasonable to expect a soldier or sailor to be able to distinguish a trafficked prostitute from a “legal” participant. Ambassador Miller applauded the newest step by the DOD in criminalizing any participation in sexual exploitation, thus removing the onus of recognizing trafficking victims. With upwards of ninety percent of prostitutes preferring another vocation, even “willing” workers in the flesh trade are likely victims in some form. The military recognized this, Ambassador Miller said, and made a powerful statement to our troops and militaries across the globe.
Ms. McGinn spoke to the new training modules that are used with members of the U.S. military to recognize and help trafficking victims. The next step includes human trafficking-specific training for commanders and criminal investigation personnel. These and other new tools will help stop abuses by private contractors in places like Iraq as well as with servicemen and women. In a powerful statement about how serious they are about trafficking and prostitution, the Unified Code of Military Justice has been updated to include the act of patronizing a prostitute as a chargeable offense.
Mr. Gimble spoke a little about the efforts of the past four years to curb military involvement and support of human trafficking in South Korea, Bosnia, and Kosovo. It has been necessary to “foster behavioral changes” in military personnel and contractors because of the long held belief that “boys will be boys.”
Both Mr. Gimble and Colonel Boyle spoke to the new requirements in all private contracts paid for by U.S. taxpayers. Third country nationals (TCN) employed by private contractors must be allowed to hold their own passports (common practice is to collect and hold them for “safe-keeping”), may terminate their work contracts with no penalty, be given a copy of employment contracts which include compensation, and, in an unprecedented step, be housed in quarters with no less than fifty square feet per person. Additionally, all contractors must comply with the host country's entry and exit rules for foreign nationals. While these may sound like rudimentary requirements, many TCN's are not given any of these things when they work in foreign lands.
Not only do all new contracts include these requirements, but many existing ones have been modified to do so. When contractors fail to meet these requirements or do not agree to the new conditions, the Defense Department has threatened to terminate existing projects and not use specific contractors again. These threats have encouraged private contractors to comply, at least in writing, to the DOD's new rules.
The key to enforcement of all contracts is constant inspection. It is necessary to check up on contractors in order to make sure of compliance. While no one went so far as to say that our contractors are “bad actors” (as called by Congressman Snyder (D-Arkansas) in his question), the witnesses acknowledged the need to force contractors to look out for TCN workers' rights.
Although the witnesses from the Defense Department were commended for their new policies, the Congressmen and women at the hearing pointed out holes in the current systems. Many questions about exact numbers of prosecutions and the ability to prosecute were left unanswered due to a lack of knowledge. Congressman McHugh said that a strong message must be sent through prosecutions of infractions; Colonel Boyle acknowledged that contractors in Iraq have not been prosecuted, only threatened with termination of contracts, and there are no numbers available for prosecutions of military personnel for consortium with prostitutes. Congressman Smith pointed out that new laws make offenders eligible for life sentences if convicted of trafficking offenses, but again there has not been any kind of prosecution despite the DOD's supposedly hardline stance.
Everyone present commented on the groundbreaking changes that the U.S. military is making in combating trafficking. Many other militaries around the world have only laughed at such changes; U.N. Peacekeepers have been at the heart of trafficking and prostitution scandals for a few years with little change made due to bureaucracy. Congressman Smith asked directly for help form the Pentagon in encouraging other militaries to take a stronger stance against prostitution and the natural byproduct, human trafficking.
Congresswoman Davis (California) asked hard questions about the new training modules for military personnel. As of now, Ms. McGinn reported, only troops preparing to deploy are receiving training in anti-trafficking/anti-prostitution sensitivity. Considering the problems within this country and that Mexico is a Tier 2 (watch list) country in the State Department's 2006 Trafficking In Persons Report, Congresswoman Davis pushed for a shorter time line in implementing training for all troops.
All Representatives at the hearing congratulated the Defense Department for their strides in stopping modern-day slavery. There is no doubt that our military is years ahead of most of the rest of the world, but there are still many holes to patch. Reporting mechanisms are not in place and, despite the sincere new laws, there seems to be a hesitation to aggressively prosecute under them.


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