Uzbek women detained in Indonesia for prostitution in 2004. (epa)
Three countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region are singled out for particular attention in the U.S. State Department's "Trafficking In Persons Report 2007," released on June 12 in Washington. Uzbekistan and Iran are classified as Tier-3 countries, meaning they made little, if any, effort to combat trafficking, while Georgia was promoted to Tier 1, the best rating, for its considerable progress in a region "still struggling to strengthen the rule of law."
Georgia climbed to Tier 1 after making "considerable progress" in trafficking prevention, victim assistance, and trafficker prosecution and punishment. The report says Georgia is both a source and transit country for women trafficked into commercial sexual exploitation, while men are trafficked as laborers within Georgia and the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Georgia's recent adoption of comprehensive legislation establishes sufficiently harsh penalties for perpetrators of any type of human trafficking. Courts made 19 trafficking convictions in 2006, more than double the number of the previous year, with convicted traffickers receiving an average of 10 years in prison. The government investigated and prosecuted official corruption with ties to trafficking.
Victim assistance and protection services flourished, with a newly implemented referral mechanism coordinating state and NGO efforts to protect and rehabilitate victims of human trafficking. The government provided funding for myriad victim services, including counseling sessions and a trafficking shelter.
A concerted public-awareness campaign educated the general public about the dangers of trafficking, while the government provided specialized training to teachers, government officials, and hotline operators.
For the second consecutive year, the State Department report places Uzbekistan on Tier 3. Though more than 500,000 Uzbeks are estimated to be trafficked annually into sexual exploitation and forced labor (about 1.8 percent of the population), the Uzbek government has not made significant efforts to comply with the minimum standards for eliminating trafficking.
Weak, outdated legislation and penalties that guarantee even convicted traffickers serve no time in prison hindered effective prosecution of traffickers in Uzbekistan. Government officials were reportedly involved in trafficking-related bribery and fraud.
Victim protection, despite a few encouraging signs (such as police referring identified victims to shelters run by nongovernmental organizations), was nevertheless found wanting, with the government providing no victim or witness protection. This lack of provision for victims, combined with the absence of prison time for convicted traffickers, discouraged the vital cooperation of victims in legal proceedings.
The Uzbek government made modest attempts at trafficking prevention last year, airing antitrafficking information on state media. However, much remains to be done. Border personnel require additional training before they are adequately equipped to detect and prevent trafficking.
Iran remains on Tier 3 for the second year in a row. The report says traffickers continue to exploit Iranian and Afghan women and children, forcing them into servitude and commercial sex slavery. Iranian women and girls are also trafficked to a variety of countries for commercial sexual exploitation. The report cites a media estimate that 54 Iranian females are sold into slavery every day.
While lack of access hindered a comprehensive picture of the trafficking situation within Iran, credible reports cited unambiguous abuses, such as the execution of trafficking victims for activities performed as a direct result of forced servitude. There were no reported prosecutions or convictions of traffickers in 2006, despite the fact that Iranian legislation technically forbids human trafficking and mandates severe punishment for convicted traffickers.
The Iranian government offers no protection to victims of trafficking, but instead has removed some to countries in which they might face retribution, prosecuted others for crimes of morality, and funded welfare houses in which abuse is reportedly rife. Victims are not encouraged to cooperate in prosecution of trafficking cases.
The report says Iran should bolster its nonexistent trafficking-prevention program by instituting a public-awareness campaign, increasing border security, and following more closely the travel of Iranian women and girls into countries to which they are commonly trafficked.
(compiled by Alexandra Holachek)