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U.S. Human Trafficking Report Cites Progress, Persistent Challenges

  • RFE/RL

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unveils the 2010 U.S. report on human trafficking in Washington.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unveils the 2010 U.S. report on human trafficking in Washington.

WASHINGTON -- The United States has released its 2010 report on human trafficking in the world, citing both progress and persistent challenges in the fight against modern-day slavery.

The survey offers assessments of 177 countries along with recommendations for combating forced labor, involuntary domestic servitude, sex slavery, and other forms of bondage resulting from human trafficking.

"Behind these statistics on the pages are the struggles of real human beings -- the tears of families who may never see their children again, the despair and indignity of those suffering under the worst forms of exploitation," said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who unveiled the report in Washington on June 14.

"Through this report, we bear witness to their experience and commit ourselves to abolishing this horrible crime," she said.

The report classifies countries into tiers based on data compiled from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, other branches of the U.S. government, international NGOs, and foreign governments.

Tier 1 countries, such as Poland, Croatia, and Georgia, seriously punish traffickers, actively protect victims, vigorously investigate potential cases, and meet other minimum standards prescribed by the United States.

Governments of Tier 2 countries do not fully comply with the minimum standards set out by the U.S. but are making significant steps toward meeting those standards, while countries on the so-called Tier 2 "watch list" are singled out for special attention due to the sheer number of victims or a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking versus the previous year.

At the other end of the spectrum are Tier 3 countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, which do not meet minimum standards and are not seen as making concerted efforts to do so.

Nineteen countries in this year's report suffered downgraded placements, including Afghanistan, which remains a source, transit, and destination country for the trafficking of men, women, and children.

Forced begging organized by mafia groups is a growing problem, and women from Tajikistan and Iran are brought into the country as sex slaves. The report found that offenders were not adequately prosecuted and that victims of sex trafficking continued to be punished for adultery or prostitution.

Macedonia, Pakistan, and Kazakhstan were also downgraded in this year's report.

'Sea Change' In Bosnia

But 22 countries earned improved ratings this year, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, which had long held a place on the survey's lowest tier. It is now ranked a Tier 1 country.

"This is something that we've seen on the part of the Bosnian government -- clear progress, especially over the last year: significantly reducing its use of suspended sentences, imposing stronger penalties for convicted traffickers, partnering with nongovernmental organizations on victim protection, and employing proactive procedures to go out and identify and help victims," said U.S. Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, who oversees Washington's efforts to monitor and combat human trafficking.

"It is a sea change if you look at the trafficking issue over the course of the last decade that Bosnia would be ranked within the first tier," he added.

CdeBaca also said that around the world, more people are working to stop human trafficking than ever before.

Among them is Uzbekistan's Natalia Abdullayeva, one of the report's "heroes," who has worked since 2003 to prevent trafficking in the country's northwest by handing out anti-trafficking flyers on buses headed for Kazakhstan, a key destination.

Persistent Problems

But while the report acknowledged progress made in the decade since the United States and the United Nations first enacted comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation, challenges remain.

In Uzbekistan, adults and children are often forced to pick cotton during the harvest season.
Iran remains in the report's lowest tier with "extensive" trafficking within, to, and from the country. The report notes that the majority of victims are forced laborers in the construction and agricultural sectors, although the country's unwillingness to share its human rights information impedes data collection.

The Iranian government has also objected to the principle that victims of trafficking should not be punished for crimes committed as a result of being trafficked.

Human trafficking also remains a sharp problem in Russia, where men from the country's Far East are subjected to debt bondage and women forced into sex slavery are trafficked as far as South Africa and Australia. The report acknowledges Russia's progress in battling child sex tourism, but says the government has not developed a comprehensive strategy for dealing with trafficking in all its forms.

Georgia and Lithuania, on the report's top tier, have the best trafficking records in the post-Soviet sphere.

To make further progress, Clinton called for a broader recognition of responsibility.

"Traffickers must be brought to justice. And we can't just blame international organized crime and rely on law enforcement to pursue them," she said. "It is everyone's responsibility: businesses that knowingly profit [from] or exhibit reckless disregard about their supply chains, governments that turn a blind eye or do not devote serious resources to addressing the problem. All of us have to speak out and act forcefully."

In that vein, she said, the United States has included itself in the report for the first time. It is ranked in the top tier.

But with more than 12 million victims of forced labor, forced prostitution, or other slavery-like conditions in the world today, the report acknowledges that "no country has yet attained a truly comprehensive response to this massive, ever increasing, ever changing crime."

written by Richard Solash