Hearing Examines World Efforts to Fight Scourge of Human Trafficking

By:  Chris Smith
Date: April 18, 2013
Location: Washington, DC

As the completion and release of the U.S. State Department's 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) draws near, efforts by Watch List governments to fight the modern day slavery of human trafficking were the topic of a hearing held today by Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the House panel that oversees global human rights.

In particular the status of Russia, China, Uzbekistan, Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Republic of Congo, which each must, under U.S. law, be moved off the Tier 2 Watch List in this year's TIP Report, and promoted or downgraded. Worldwide, the TIP Report has become the standard of anti-trafficking accountability and a powerful diplomatic tool. Smith maintains the continued credibility of the TIP Report and its impact to help trafficking victims is dependent on fair and accurate rankings of a government's actions to combat trafficking.

"This report is being used to focus anti-trafficking work in 186 countries on the key areas of prevention, prosecution, and protection," said Smith, chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations, as well as co-chairman of the Congressional Human Trafficking Caucus. "The fact that it has been so successful is a credit to the hard and careful work of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Each year, this 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."

The Trafficking Victims' Protection Act (TVPA), authored by Smith and enacted into law in 2000, created the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons at the Department of State, as well as the annual TIP Report. Under the TIP, Tier 1 countries are those which fully meet the 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. In addition to the stigma of being listed on Tier 3, Tier 3 countries are open to sanction by the U.S. government.

Countries like China and Russia have now passed the maximum four full years of warning that they would face downgrade to Tier 3 if they did not make significant efforts to prosecute traffickers, protect victims, and prevent trafficking. "Now their time on the Tier 2 Watch List is up," Smith said.

Former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Trafficking in Persons, Mark Lagon, was the lead witness.

"Mr. Chairman, you have played a central role in equipping the State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP) with the tools to elicit cooperation from other countries to fight the slavery of today -- a slavery characterized by deceit, psychological terror, violence, robbed autonomy, and coarse degradation, if not actual chains and shackles," Lagon said. "You deserve thanks from past victims, potential victims, and me, for that matter, as former chief U.S. diplomat for the function that legislation created.

"The TVPA works because of candor and tough love -- offering rankings of other governments based on their energy and success in attacking the problem of human trafficking," he said.

Lagon, indicated that Russia has "moved backward" in relation to compliance with minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking. He also raised the importance of accountability for government officials who may be involved in human trafficking, citing the ongoing situation in The Netherlands, where the government has since 2007 refused to investigate serious and apparently corroborated allegations of child sex trafficking by Joris Demmink, former Secretary General of the Dutch Ministry of Justice.

The other witnesses were:

Dr. Nguyen Dinh Thang, Ph.D., Executive Director, Boat People SOS
Suzanne Schulte, President, North Korea Freedom Coalition
Brian Campbell, Director of Policy and Legal Programs, International Labor Rights Forum
Suzanne Scholte, President, North Korea Freedom Coalition
Esther Choe, victim of human trafficking
David Abramowitz, Vice President, Policy & Government Relations, Humanity United
Carol Smolenski, Executive Director, End Child Prostitution and Child Trafficking-USA

Campbell noted that in Uzbekistan, the only change in the last year was the substitution of one form of government-sponsored human trafficking for another, as the government forced fewer elementary school age children and more elderly people into the fields to pick cotton. He noted that if the Government of Uzbekistan stopped trafficking, it would solve its current labor problem of emmigration from Uzbekistan.

Schulte and survivor Esther Choe described the extreme vulnerability of North Korean women and girls who escape to China, but whom the Government of China refuses to recognize as refugees. These women and girls are sold as "brides" to elderly and poor men in the countryside who have not been able to find wives due to the decimation of the female population in China since the institution of the one child policy in 1979.

Dr. Thang described the complicity of Russian officials in labor trafficking. Out of 300 Vietnamese victims Dr. Thang brought to the attention of Russian officials in 2012, none were recognized by Russia as victims. Many who ran away from the sweatshops were returned to their traffickers by Russian police.

Abramowitz, of Humanity United, noted that it is entirely possible that the buildings that will house American athletes at the Russian Olympics 2014 will have been constructed with trafficked labor.