The impact of rating countries on their anti-human trafficking policies was the topic of a hearing held April 29 by Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the House congressional panel that oversees global human rights and author of the landmark law, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA).
“There are more slaves in the world today than at any previous point of human history,” Smith said. “With the Trafficking in Persons report and tier rankings, the United States is ensuring more accountability and progress than ever before in the fight to rid the world of slavery. Each year, the trafficking office evaluates whether the government of a country is fully complying with the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking, or, if not, whether the government is making significant efforts to do so. The record is laid bare for the world to see and summarized in a tier ranking narrative.” Click here to read Smith’s opening statement.
TVPA created not only the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons at the State Department, but also its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, rating 187 nations.
Tier 1 countries fully meet minimum standards. Tier 2 countries do not meet the minimum standards but are making significant effort to do so. Tier 3 countries do not meet the standards and are not making significant effort to do so. Along with the embarrassment of being listed on Tier 3, such countries are open to sanction by the U.S. government. Over the last 14 years, more than 120 countries have enacted anti-trafficking laws and many countries have taken other steps required to significantly raise their tier rankings.
“Effective Accountability: Tier Rankings in the Fight Against Human Trafficking Lessons,” was the topic of the hearing Smith chaired featuring the former head the U.S. State Department’s anti-trafficking efforts, former Ambassador-at-Large for Trafficking in Persons at the U.S. Department of State, Mark Lagon. Lagon is now Chairman of Global Politics and Security, Master of Science in Foreign Service Program at Georgetown University.
China and Russia—which currently have the worst ratings assigned under the tier system, Tier 3—and Uzbekistan, Burma, Thailand and Malaysia were some of the key countries discussed. Lagon also talked about problems in Europe and other developed countries lesser known for human trafficking, such as Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, Brazil, Italy and others.
“In conducting oversight regarding key countries treated in the upcoming annual TIP Report (whether Thailand, Qatar, Afghanistan, Brazil, or Italy), Congress would do well to focus on these two particular priorities of U.S. policy worldwide: demand and survivor empowerment,” Lagon testified. “By focusing on them in oversight and in legislation, it will contribute to the actual contraction and eventual abolition of what amounts to the slavery of our time.”
The success of the TIP report and rankings is beyond anything Lagon said he could have hoped for when TVPA was first enacted into law. “From the halls of parliaments to police stations in remote corners of the world, this report focuses anti-trafficking work in 187 countries on the pivotal goals of prevention, prosecution, and protection,” he said. Click here to read his testimony.
Other witnesses on trafficking includedBrian Campbell, Director of Policy and Legal Programs, International Labor Rights Forum, Blair Burns, Vice President for Regional Operations, Southeast Asia Division, International Justice Mission; Wakar Uddin, Director General, Arakan Rohingya Union and; Natalie Lummert, Special Programs Director, Office of Migrant and Refugee Services, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. (Click on the names to read their statements or here to watch the hearing.)
“The issue of modern slavery is perhaps one of the most important human rights issue facing the global community today. The United States has taken significant steps to address this horrific problem, one of which includes the creation of the TIP Report,” said Lummert. “USCCB believes that the TIP Report reflects the U.S. Government’s commitment to global leadership on this key human rights issue, in part because the Report represents an updated, global look at the nature and scope of trafficking in persons and the broad range of government actions to confront and eliminate it… .The USCCB stands behind the efficacy of the TIP Report as a means to engage foreign governments in dialogues to advance anti-trafficking reforms and to combat trafficking and to target resources on prevention, protection and prosecution programs.”
Campbell spoke about Government of Uzbekistan’s forced labor system.
“Last year, the U.S. Department of State placed Uzbekistan in Tier 3 in the 2013 Global Trafficking in Persons Report,” Campbell said. “The placement reflected the fact that the government of Uzbekistan failed to meet the minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and continued to organize, orchestrate and benefit from forced labor on a massive scale. The U.S. government waived the restrictions on non-humanitarian, nontrade-related foreign assistance, as prescribed in the TVPA for Tier 3 countries.”
In citing a case of discernible progress, Burns told the panel that the State TIP Report at one point in 2002 ranked Cambodia on Tier 3, and appropriately so. But the situation began to change for the better the following year, when U.S. Ambassador Charles Ray made the issue a priority for the Embassy.
“Ambassador Ray engaged the Cambodian authorities at the highest level, exercising the leverage of the 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act which prohibited U.S. foreign aid to countries on Tier 3,” Burns said. “In 2003, Cambodian police and International Justice Mission (IJM) collaborated to identify and remove thirty-five minors from the neighborhood of Sway Pak, just outside Phnom Penh where child sexual exploitation was routine. Ten of the children were under the age of ten; the youngest was five.”
IJM established an office in Phnom Penh, Cambodia that year and another in Siem Reap in 2010 to provide on-going training to the Cambodian anti-trafficking police (AHTJP) force, and collaborated on hundreds of rescue operations to remove minor children from sex venues and to gather evidence and apprehend those engaged in their exploitation. Under the leadership of Gen. Bith Kim Hong, Burns said the AHTJP has performed with distinction and excellence. Over the course of the subsequent 10 years, IJM and Cambodian police partners saw fewer and fewer young children victimized. The annual TIP Report and tier ranking process was an important factor in the Cambodian Government’s continued attention to the issue, he said. Tier ranking has improved to Tier 2.
Uddin told the congressional panel that the alleged complicity of Thai government officials in the trafficking of vulnerable Rohingya refugees was extremely concerning. Rohingya, an ethnic minority in Burma, are one of the most persecuted people in the world, according to United Nations. According to eyewitness accounts, some Rohingya women and minors were sold to sex traders in Southern Thailand, Uddin said, and several hundred Rohingya refugees are currently held captives by shadowy gangs that have turned southern Thailand into a “human-trafficking superhighway.” A record 40,000 Rohingya victims have reported to pass through the trafficking camps in 2013.
“There are reports of serious physical and sexual abuse of the victims by Thai police,” Uddin testified. “The reports also allege that Thai officials collaborate with the traffickers by transferring Rohingya held in Thailand to the custody of the trafficking cartel. Thai officials reportedly adopted a secret policy, known as ‘option two,’ to expel Rohingya refugees using the smuggling cartels from Thailand.”
He said the United Nations has called for investigation into the reports. Unfortunately, Thailand has no refugee law and does not allow Rohingya to register as asylum seekers, and instead are treated as illegal migrants and do not receive protection as refugees under international law.