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Inter Press Service: More Nations Crack Down on Human Trafficking

by Jim LobeInter Press News Service (IPS)
June 5th, 2006

More countries are taking action to discourage the annual trafficking of as many as 800,000 humans across international borders, according to the State Department's 2006 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, released here Monday.

The report, the sixth in an annual series, found that nearly 5,000 individuals were convicted of trafficking offences worldwide over the past year -- up from around 3,000 convictions the previous year -- and that 41 governments passed new anti-trafficking legislation.

The report, which this year covered a record 149 countries, accused 12 nations -- almost all of which are currently considered hostile to the United States -- of doing virtually nothing to stop trafficking, and thus deserving of "Tier 3" status.

Among those accused are Burma, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe. Others cited in the worst category included Belize, Laos and Saudi Arabia.

The Venezuelan Embassy here swiftly released a statement charging that its Tier 3 designation was "politically motivated, part of a larger campaign to discredit the actions and efforts of President (Hugo) Chavez and his government".

In addition to the Tier 3 list, another 32 countries were placed on the "Tier 2 Watch List", among them several major powers, such as Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, and South Africa. Israel, a staunch U.S. ally, was also included on the list.

Watch List countries, according to the report's classification system, include those where the number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or significantly increasing; or that governments have failed to step up efforts halt those abuses.

Best performers, according to the report included 26 countries, consisted almost entirely of wealthy members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), as well as Colombia, Morocco, and the only African nation on the list, Malawi, which was hailed for prosecuting traffickers and public education efforts.

The 79 others covered by the report were placed in the "Tier 2" category for countries whose governments do not comply with "minimum standards" set forth in the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) but which are making "significant efforts" to bring themselves into compliance.

Minimum standards for assessing a government's performance and classification include a ban on severe forms of trafficking, prosecution of traffickers, and penalties designed to deter others from committing similar crimes. The State Department also considers the degree to which victims receive aid and protection from the state.

The State Department also expressed concern that Germany, while getting high ratings for its efforts to combat trafficking, has legalised prostitution and could see an upsurge in sexual exploitation during the World Cup next week.

"(D)ue to the sheer size of the event, the potential for increased human trafficking during the games remains a concern," the report said.

The annual TIP report, as well as the TVPA on which it is based, came out of a coalition of traditional human rights activists and Christian Right groups that have become increasingly interested in foreign policy over the past decade.

Both kinds of groups were particularly affected by the sharp rise in sex trafficking during the 1990s when the collapse of economies throughout the former Eastern bloc nations resulted in widespread poverty and a loss of status and security for women and girls. Many were trafficked across borders into Western Europe, the U.S. and Japan, which remains the wealthiest nation classified as Tier Two country.

Under the TVPA, the State Department is required to file a report on countries of origin, transit or destination for a "significant number of victims", defined as 100 or more. The victims must also be subject to "severe forms of trafficking", meaning involuntary servitude through the use of force, fraud or coercion. Inducing a minor to perform a commercial sex act also constitutes a "severe form of trafficking" under the law.

According to the 2004 TIP, about 80 percent of the 600,000-800,000 annual trans-border trafficking victims are female, and one-half are children. About 70 percent of all female victims, according to the report, are trafficked for sexual exploitation. Transnational human trafficking generates nearly 10 billion dollars in annual revenue worldwide, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

At the same time, slavery or forced labour within countries is a much bigger problem, according to the report. The International Labour Organisation (ILO), for example, estimates that 12.3 million people are victims of forced labour, bonded labour, and sexual servitude at any given time.

"Defeating human trafficking is a great moral calling of our time," said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as she introduced the report Monday. "Under President Bush's leadership, the United States is leading a new abolitionist movement to end the sordid trade in human beings."

Washington, she said, has spent nearly 400 million dollars to support global anti-trafficking efforts since Congress passed the TVPA.

In his remarks, Amb. John Miller, the Department's top official dealing with human trafficking, said his office had seen "the start of progress" in serious efforts to fight trafficking over the past year.

In addition to the increased number of convictions and anti-trafficking legislation approved during 2005, he noted "more and more shelters are opening up to care for trafficking victims". He singled out efforts by Ecuador, which was moved from Tier 3 last year to Tier 2 in the latest report, for special praise in that regard.

Bolivia, Cambodia, Jamaica, Kuwait, Qatar, Togo, Ukraine, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) also made progress, moving from Tier 3 to the Tier 2 Watch List.

On the other hand, Iran, a Tier 2 country in last year's list, fell to Tier 3; while Syria, which had not been previously assessed, was also listed as Tier 3. Miller said Iran's fall was due to "reports that (it) imprisons or executes a significant number of trafficking victims" when the TVPA calls for victim protection. He added that Damascus had failed to prosecute traffickers, although he noted that it had begun to work with the International Organisation on Migration (IOM) on training.

Other countries that fell into Tier 3 included Belize, Laos, and Uzbekistan.

Under the law, the president is authorised to cut U.S. economic and military aid to Tier 3 countries if they do not improve their performance within three months. So far, however, only three countries -- Venezuela, Cambodia and Equatorial Guinea -- have been sanctioned under the law.

Miller also noted that four countries -- Malaysia, South Africa, Indonesia, and Brazil -- had moved from Tier 2 to the Watch List.

The report noted that reports last year of labour trafficking in U.S.-occupied Iraq had prompted a Pentagon investigation of the possible abuse by some of its contractors and subcontractors of foreign third-country workers in Iraq and the issuance of new regulations to ensure compliance with international labour standards.

But Washington's failure to date to pursue prosecutions of U.S. companies for labour abuses was criticised by Pratap Chatterjee, director of San Francisco-based CorpWatch and author of "Iraq Inc", a book about contractor abuses in occupied Iraq.

"The United States needs to put its own house in order before casting the first stone condemning others for trafficking," he said. "The military bases throughout Iraq depend on tens of thousands of low-wage labourers from Asia, many of whom have been trafficked and are forced to work hundred-hour work weeks." 



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