State Dept. Faces Bipartisan Grilling on Trafficking GradesAuthor of U.S. Human Trafficking Laws Demands End to Politicized Tier Rankings in Trafficking Report
Chairman Smith Slams Obama Administration for Turning a ‘Blind Eye’ to Victims of Modern Day Slavery
The State Department’s use of “grade inflation” for governments known to be complicit in human trafficking abuse—i.e. countries such as China, Malaysia, Vietnam Cuba, and Uzbekistan—was examined and received widespread rebuke at a hearing today held by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the House congressional panel that oversees global human rights issues.
Smith is the author of the landmark Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a law which among other significant provisions mandates the State Department’s comprehensive assessment of countries in the annual Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP).
“We must get the Report right–no fudging; no favors to nations based on other agendas – or we risk losing the most effective tool we have to help the more than 20 million victims of trafficking enslaved around the world today,” said Smith.
“From the very beginning, the State Department objected to singling out and sanctioning nations with poor records on trafficking,” Smith said pointing to testimony from 1999 prior to his human trafficking bill becoming law. “In testimony of then President Clinton’s Assistant Secretary for Human Rights, Harold Koh, he argued that no TIP office, no TIP report, and no TIP sanctions were needed to combat human trafficking. He was wrong, we know now that these efforts bring results. We have seen countries turn 180 degrees and begin truly fighting trafficking after the TIP Report and tier ranking accurately exposed each country’s failures.” Click here for chairman’s opening remarks.
In today’s hearing entitled “Demanding Accountability: Evaluating the 2015 “Trafficking in Persons Report,” the House Foreign Affairs Committee subcommittee on global human rights focused on the State Department’s 2015 TIP report and the process behind the required “tier ranking” of countries highlighting China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cuba, and Uzbekistan, among others.
“The tier ranking decisions made by the State Department were clearly politicized, raising the bar for some countries and lowering it for others,” said Smith. “If you want proof these decisions were politicized just look at the numbers…China convicted 35 traffickers, Malaysia 3, and Thailand 151--but only Thailand is Tier 3. What message does that send?
“Grade inflation for certain favored countries undermines accuracy and accountability, and demoralizes countries that actually made significant progress last year. When we engage in this type of trafficking ranking— a cronyism where new friends and economic partners are given a free pass, for reasons unrelated to the suffering of trafficking victims—U.S. credibility is harmed, U.S. leadership is undermined, and the trafficking victims are left helpless and alone,” said Smith, who after the delayed release of the TIP report in July promptly teamed up in a bipartisan press conference with Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-MI), Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY), and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) to criticize the Obama Administration for politicizing the TIP ratings.
The State Department’s position was defended by Dr. Kari Johnstone, Principal Deputy Director in the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons; James Carouso, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs and; Alex Lee, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, U.S. Department of State. None of the three submitted written testimony.
In a joint statement submitted to the House human rights panel, Johnstone, Lee, and Carouso acknowledged that the TIP Report is, “The most effective diplomatic tools our government has for encouraging a foreign government to take action and make progress in combating modern slavery.”
Also testifying was Mark Lagon, a former Ambassador-at-Large for Trafficking in Persons Office at the Department of State and current President of Freedom House. Founded in 1941 as the first American organization to advocate the advancement of freedom around the world, Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization also dedicated to promoting democracy and fundamental human rights.
“The grounds for the upgrade are deeply questionable,” said Lagon regarding Cuba, referencing the “burgeoning sex industry” and that Cuba does not claim “any efforts to prevent forced labor” nor “any trafficking specific shelters.” Click here to read Lagon’s testimony. Lagon also called “the upgrade of Vietnam to Tier 2 bewildering” and noted that India is “demographically the country with the largest trafficking problem.” India is ranked at Tier 2 despite the fact that the country provides no useable data on prosecution of traffickers or protection of victims. Moreover, in 2014, India refused to allow trafficking victims and their families to leave India for the U.S. on U.S. granted trafficking visas, putting the citizens and U.S. prosecution of traffickers at risk.
Smith also stated that China’s ranking should place it among the world’s worst. “China still forces prisoners to perform manual labor. It forcibly repatriates trafficked North Korean refugees, knowing they will be imprisoned, tortured, or killed. And China’s coercive population control program, in combination with a cultural preference for boys, has resulted in tens of millions of women and girls missing from the population—making China the sex-trafficking magnet of the world. Ignoring this fact does little to save innocent victims,” he said.
On Malaysia’s downgrade in the tier rankings to allow its entrance into the TPP, Congressman Smith said, “We can’t turn a blind eye to the inconvenient truth that modern slavery is prevalent in Malaysia. The Administration’s decision is clearly about TPP dollars. Instead of demanding change from Malaysia, the Administration changed our standard to give Malaysia a pass. President Obama made a commitment to fight modern slavery, but the Malaysia decision prioritizes trade over trafficking victims and may put millions of U.S. dollars in the pockets of traffickers.”
"More than ‘bad optics,’ more than flouting the will of Congress, such circumventing of accountability is disastrous for the labor trafficking victims,” he added.