Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Thursday, June 14, 2007

State Department briefs NGOs on human trafficking report

As State Department officials held a briefing Wednesday on a just-released annual report on global human trafficking that, compared to past editions, contains less evidence of perpetrators being punished for their crimes, they said that government complicity abroad is undermining efforts to document and combat this modern-day form of slavery.

Ambassador Mark P. Logan, the State Department’s senior advisor on trafficking in persons, and his colleague Mark Taylor spoke with representatives of nongovernmental organizations, outlining this year’s Trafficking in Persons Report – a document Logan described as a “diplomatic tool to incentivize other countries to work with [the U.S.]” to eradicate sexual servitude and forced labor. Sixteen countries were given “Tier 3”
status this year as egregious violators, a designation that brings the threat of sanctions. Among them were several Middle Eastern nations such as Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, that Logan said have the economic capacity to stem trafficking, but lack the political will to do so.

Taylor said that the burdensome debts assumed by trafficking victims are, together with cultural indifference and insufficient government efforts, helping to sustain this global problem. In many countries, poor individuals pay exorbitant fees to purported labor recruiters as part of contracts that are radically altered once the unwitting victims arrive in their place of employment. Taylor said that women, children, and ethnic minorities are often the most vulnerable to entanglement in such schemes. He also noted that the citizens of Burma and India are at particular risk. In Burma, which is under Tier 3 status, a military regime oversees state-sanctioned forced labor. India, which is afforded less-harsh Tier 2 watch list status, has more trafficking victims than any other country, but, according to Logan, has “no national anti-trafficking in persons law enforcement whatsoever.” Corruption also seems to be a large exacerbating factor in the subcontinent. Taylor noted that 68 percent of Indian traffickers polled in a recent study claimed to rely upon police for protection, while 58 percent said they could depend on politicians for help.

Logan said U.S. businesses operating in India can play a role in fighting trafficking. He also called on the U.S. to go farther with the leverage inherent in transnational alliances predicated on counterterrorism, and said that expanded initiatives are needed to address the impact of the practice on victims’ health. Taylor, meanwhile, cited the importance of putting the onus on source countries and highlighted the need for parity in punishment of traffickers.

After addressing the report, Logan fielded questions on other areas of concern. One inquiry concerned allegations of forced labor by government contractors in Iraq, and Logan, while contending that the U.S. Department of Defense established guidelines last year to address the issue, acknowledged the importance of investigating claims that a Kuwaiti construction company has used trafficked labor to build the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

Logan also addressed the case of Sigma Huda, a trafficking expert whom the Bangladeshi government has kept from traveling to a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Logan said the State Department was pressing Bangladesh for an explanation.


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