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U.S.: Human-Trafficking Report Finds Key Criminals Often Go Unpunished

  • Andrew Tully

"Sveta," a victim of human trafficking in Moldova, cited as having one of the worst records in fighting the problem (file photo) (RFE/RL) The U.S. State Department has issued its annual report on human trafficking in 170 countries, citing Iran and Moldova as among those with the worst records of fighting the problem.


The report helps determine whether the United States imposes sanctions or other punishments on countries that are seen as not doing enough to fight the practice. The report puts countries in one of three levels, or "tiers," that represent how well the United States views such efforts: Tier 1 for those doing a good job, down to Tier 3 for those doing an unacceptable job.


Virtually all of the nations of Eastern, Central, and Southeastern Europe are in Tier 2, while Russia and Tajikistan are on the so-called "watch list" of Tier-2 countries because they could slip to Tier 3. Uzbekistan is among four countries that have moved up. It used to be designated as a Tier-3 country, and now is on the Tier-2 "watch list." Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are in Tier 2, except for Turkmenistan, which is listed as a "special case" because of the lack of information from the country.


Georgia in classified as Tier 1, while Armenia and Azerbaijan are on Tier-2 "watch lists."


Afghanistan is classified as Tier 2.


Iraq and Kosovo are listed as "special cases" due to their political transitions.


On May 29, the UN issued a report declaring that the rate of crimes against people and property in the Balkans has improved to the point that the Balkans are considered safer than Western Europe. But the State Department report says human trafficking remains a problem in the Balkans, particularly in Moldova.


"Moldova fell to Tier 3 for the first time, reflecting its government's failure to tackle trafficking-related corruption, as reflected in the handling of several high-profile cases of complicity by government officials in trafficking," said Mark Lagon, the State Department's senior adviser on trafficking in persons. "This failure created a significant impediment to the government's ability to fight trafficking overall."


May Lose Financial Assistance


Lagon said the State Department hopes the new government in Moldova will root out corrupt officials, improve the country's weak law enforcement, and make other efforts to protect victims of human trafficking.


Until then, Moldova -- along with Fiji and Papua New Guinea -- may lose some U.S. financial assistance that isn't involved in trade or humanitarian aid.


In releasing the report, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice noted that since the United States began issuing the annual reports in 2000, an increasing number of governments around the world have given greater attention the problem of human trafficking.


"Today -- because of our efforts, the efforts of our allies, and reports like the one we are releasing today -- there is much greater global awareness about the brutality of human trafficking," she said. "Globally, human trafficking is a multidimensional threat. It deprives people of their human rights and dignity, it increases global health risks, it bankrolls the growth of organized crime, and it undermines the rule of law."


But Rice said the more governments delve into the problem, the more trouble they find. Certainly, she said, traffickers have always found ways to kidnap and transport people for labor and prostitution, and there's never been a shortage of victims in regions such as Southeastern Europe, India, China, and the Philippines.


But Rice said that even in countries where such practices are uncovered, the people responsible for this 21st-century slavery too often go free.


"For the first time, in this year's report we closely examined prosecution data and made a disturbing discovery," Rice said. "Although more countries are addressing sex trafficking through prosecution and convictions, the petty tyrants who exploit their laborers rarely receive serious punishment. We see this as a serious shortcoming, and as we move our efforts forward, we and our allies must remember that a robust law enforcement response is essential."


NGOs Not Properly Trained


What's equally disturbing is that nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) -- which frequently offer the first refuge for victims who manage to escape the traffickers -- aren't trained or otherwise equipped to handle the victims.


Lagon said that last winter he met two young Romanian women at a shelter in Bucharest for survivors of sex trafficking in Western Europe. They finally escaped to the care of an NGO in the West, then were repatriated to the Bucharest shelter. But Lagon said that once the two women were back in their native country, one was eventually found to have an advanced case of tuberculosis, and the other was suffering from severe syphilis.


"Why weren't these women given proper medical attention before they were repatriated? The time loss made their conditions immensely worse," Lagon said. "Despite increased attention by law enforcement to sex trafficking, we are not seeing -- as the findings of this report [show] -- significant victim protection and victim services provided. This trend has to be reversed or we'll never be able to help significant numbers of victims become survivors. The dehumanized must be restored to their full humanity."


Lagon said the purpose of the report is to diagnose the problem of human trafficking and, from year to year, to track progress -- or lack thereof -- in combating it. In compiling the report, he said, he's highlighted five trends in worldwide human trafficking that need special attention by governments.


"Weak prosecution of labor-trafficking offenses. Secondly, weak trafficking-victim protection. Third, forced labor creeping into new growth industries. Fourth, domestic servitude, and luckily problems there are gaining recognition," Lagon said. "And fifth, closing a window of vulnerability for migrant workers is an imperative."


But Lagon said the thread that unites these five trends is something even more disturbing -- the demand for slave laborers and sex workers.

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