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World: U.S. Urges More Action On Human Trafficking

Secretary of State Rice at the June 5 presentation of the trafficking report (official site) WASHINGTON, June 6, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Iran, Uzbekistan, and Syria have joined the list of countries the U.S. State Department considers the worst in the world at confronting the trade in human lives.

The agency's annual survey of global antitrafficking efforts, which is mandated by the U.S. Congress, was released on June 5 in Washington. Nine other countries, including U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, were also cited as countries that have failed to do enough to try and stop the modern-day slave trade.

'A Great Moral Calling'

In releasing the report, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the fight against trafficking "a great moral calling of our time." She said the United States estimates that up to 800,000 people -- primarily women and children -- are forced each year into lives of "cruel and punishing degradation."

"By calling to account any nation, friend, or foe that can and should do more to confront human trafficking, we are pressing countries into action," Rice said. "With each year, more and more governments are increasing public awareness of the crime, targeting and prosecuting the perpetrators, and helping victims to rebuild their lives."

Punishing The Victims

Countries that have utterly failed to respond to their human-trafficking problems land in the State Department's worst ranking -- tier 3. U.S. Senior Adviser on Human Trafficking John Miller explained that Iran moved down in the rankings from tier 2 last year to tier 3 this year because it actually punishes trafficking victims.

"It's not easy to get information about Iran, but we have received a number of reports that Iran imprisons or executes a significant number of trafficking victims," Miller said. "And one of the criteria in the laws protection of victims and the law specifically says victims should not be punished for acts they commit after they have been trafficked, whether it's prostitution or anything else."

Uzbekistan also sunk to tier 3, from its previous position on the tier 2 watch list, in large part because it has failed to make progress in efforts to combat trafficking over the last year.

Four Countries To Watch

"A government that is on the watch list is barely on tier 2, and certainly without significant efforts will fall to tier 3," Miller explained. "And we see three major countries that are on the watch list again from previous years -- excuse me, four major countries -- India, Mexico, China, and Russia."

Although the report praised Russia for implementing a witness protection program to protect victims, for increasing investigations and prosecutions, and for improving local government cooperation with NGOs, the country remained on the watch list for a third straight year.

That's because the United States believes too much of its antitrafficking efforts are done on an ad-hoc basis. Russia's lack of comprehensive antitrafficking legislation and insufficient shelters for trafficking victims were also criticized.

Armenia also makes a repeat appearance on the watch list, for a second year. According to the State Department, Armenian authorities fail to impose "significant penalties" on convicted traffickers, and tend to blame the victims, most of whom are women and girls.

Ukraine was praised for creating a 500-person antitrafficking department and for strengthening its criminal code on trafficking crimes. For that, it was moved off the watch list and put in the tier 2 category, along with Afghanistan, Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Romania, and Tajikistan -- which were tier 2 countries last year, as well.

More Convictions

Miller said the new report does contain some good news, such as an increase in trafficking convictions.

"While several years ago there were just hundreds of convictions of traffickers, last year there were 3,000 convictions worldwide," Miller told journalists. "This year, it's up to around 4,700. That is sending a message -- or more of a message, anyway -- and that is a good sign."

Miller also noted in many countries, more victims' shelters are being built.

Rice agreed that progress, while slow, is being made. Each year, she said, "more and more governments are increasing public awareness of the crime, targeting and prosecuting the perpetrators, and helping victims to rebuild their lives."

A Bright Spot In A Dark Place

A Bright Spot In A Dark Place
Uzbek women detained in a sweep by police in Jakarta in 2004 (epa)

LOOKING FOR HEROES: The U.S. State Department report on human trafficking includes a section titled "Heroes Acting To End Modern-Day Slavery." Among the 10 heroes singled out for mention was Uzbek citizen NODIRA KARIMOVA, head of the Tashkent office of the International Organization for Migration and founder of the NGO Istiqbolli Avlod. Here is how the State Department described Karimova's contribution to the struggle against trafficking:

HOTLINES, SHELTERS, ADVOCACY: Nodira Karimova’s NGO Istiqbolli Avlod has assisted over 300 victims and is operating a shelter for returned trafficking victims. Before the shelter opened, Ms. Karimova and her associates took returned victims into their own homes or even rented apartments for them as they began the process of readjustment. In addition, she has worked to expand the number of trafficking hotlines to 10, receiving over 13,000 calls in the last year. Karimova developed a strong working relationship with the Uzbek consul in the United Arab Emirates that has facilitated the repatriation of many Uzbek women. Ms. Karimova also helped organize training for the Uzbek consular officials stationed overseas in January 2005, which spread awareness and made clear to the consular officials that trafficking is a serious problem that demands serious action. She was instrumental in the decision to open additional shelters, one for sexually exploited victims and another for labor trafficking victims, which will open in 2006.

MEET THE NEWSMAKER: To read an interview with Karimova, click here.


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