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World: U.S. Diplomat Leads Charge Against Human Trafficking

  • Don Hill

The U.S. diplomat in charge of leading an American worldwide campaign against what is called "trafficking in people" says that no nation in the world -- including the United States itself -- is doing enough to combat the practice. Ambassador John Miller, senior State Department adviser on people trafficking, says the world must take a more serious stance on a crime that is enslaving more than 800,000 people a year -- mostly women and children. Miller is visiting the Czech Republic this week in connection with a move there to legalize prostitution.

Prague, 5 August 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Miller heads the U.S. State Department's office to combat "trafficking in persons," but the title, he says, is too mild for the crime it describes.

"What we're talking about," he said, "is human slavery."

A former congressman from the state of Washington, the ambassador speaks on his chosen topic in language atypical for politicians and diplomats. He told a press briefing today at RFE/RL's Prague headquarters that countries that treat people trafficking lightly are allowing abductions, beatings, and rapes by the thousands.

He said that he will urge the Czech government to move cautiously as it considers proposed new legislation to legalize and regulate prostitution.

"In our view, while it is important to treat the victims [prostitutes] humanely, and while a good case can be made, when you are talking about prostitution, for de-criminalizing when it comes to the women involved, the idea of legalizing the activities of the customers, the pimps, the brothel owners, regulating -- making the state the chief pimp -- our experience is that will just be throwing oil on the fire," Miller said.

Today marks the second day of Miller's three-day visit to the Czech Republic. The ambassador said that early in its transition from communism to a market economy, the Czech Republic was what he calls a "source country" for slaves -- women and children forced into prostitution, and men into factory and farm labor in other countries. But he said that has changed.
"We are not happy with what is going on in Russia. They took some steps, they passed a new law with some criminal provisions. They cooperated a little more with NGOs. But overall the effort was weak and we dropped Russia from Tier 2 to Tier on the watch list." -- Ambassador John Miller


"As the Czech economy has grown, the nature of the problem has changed," Miller said. "Today if we look at trafficking in persons, or slavery, in the Czech Republic, we are talking about the Czech Republic as a destination country. People coming from Eurasia, Eastern Europe to the Czech Republic, engaging, being forced, into the various types of slavery. Although, talking with the NGOs, it is clear that the leading form of slavery in the Czech Republic is sex slavery."

Miller said he will advise the Czech leadership that, in considering the legislation, they will be choosing what kind of tourism they want their country to be known for. He asked if Prague really wants to be famous for, in his phrase, "sex tourism."

The United States has announced a fund of $120 million for its antislavery program. And one of Miller's tasks is to travel the world applying grants, advice, pressure, and -- possibly -- threats of sanctions to get other countries to take the issue seriously also.

Already, he said, the campaign has scored successes. He said that Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia, Greece, Kazakhstan, Turkey, and Uzbekistan -- among others -- have taken actions that have moved them from his office's list of countries who ignore the problem to its list of countries that have taken significant steps against it.

He said that Russia has moved in the opposite direction and his office has re-listed it. He said his office now considers Russia as belonging to the tier -- or level -- of countries doing little or nothing to combat human slavery.

"This [human trafficking] is a serious problem in Russia. Russia is not only a destination country. Russia is a source country, too, and it's a transit country," Miller said. "We are not happy with what is going on in Russia. They took some steps, they passed a new law with some criminal provisions. They cooperated a little more with NGOs. But overall the effort was weak and we dropped Russia from Tier 2 to Tier on the watch list."

Miller said he wants to persuade countries to adopt stringent laws against abducting, smuggling, and enslaving people. He said he hopes for comprehensive antitrafficking programs including prohibiting, punishing, and preventing this crime. He also wants, he said, education to warn people of the dangers involved. And to make evident to governments that enslaving and trafficking human beings is a vile crime of major proportions.
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