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East: Experts Say Human Trafficking On The Rise

American law enforcement experts say one growing -- and profitable -- form of lawlessness in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union is the trafficking in women for prostitution. They testified at a hearing in Washington that the scope of this activity is hard to measure. But RFE/RL's Andrew F. Tully reports that one witness called the extent of human trafficking "horrendous."

Washington, 24 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. law enforcement experts say trafficking in human beings -- particularly women and children for prostitution -- is a growing problem in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

James Weber of the Federal Bureau of Investigation says he can only estimate the extent of the trafficking in humans, but he notes that it is a high-profit crime.

Weber was asked about the problem during a hearing on Thursday of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). The OSCE monitors European compliance with the Helsinki Accords on human rights and intergovernmental cooperation.

The CSCE chairman, Congressman Christopher Smith (R-New Jersey), asked the FBI official about a report that the price of a female slave from the former communist region runs around $20,000.

Weber replied that that this is consistent with the amount a procurer receives. And yet the procurer pays as little as 10 times less for the commodity.

"For example, we recently had an investigation in the Midwest [region] of the United States on some women who were basically imported into the United States for purposes of prostitution. And in that case, the procurer of these people paid $2,000 per woman."

Smith noted that when law enforcement agencies break such prostitution rings, it is difficult to prosecute the traffickers because the U.S. government quickly deports the women to their homelands. As a result, there are no witnesses against the traffickers, and prosecutions collapse.

Weber said the best way to fight human trafficking is to allow the women to stay in the U.S., at least temporarily. He pointed out that they are victims, not criminals, and their testimony can help put an end to these operations. Smith, the chairman of the CSCE, said legislation pending before the U.S. Congress would allow the women to stay in America -- at least long enough to help prosecute the traffickers.

The FBI official said it is difficult to give a concrete assessment of the scope of human trafficking in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. But Weber stressed that the problem in the region is "horrendous," as he put it. He said more will be learned through a program called the Southeast European Cooperative Initiative, or SECI. Under SECI, the U.S. and Southeastern European nations work together to identify and solve various problems. Besides the U.S., the participating countries are Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Moldova, Romania, Slovenia, Turkey, and Macedonia.

Weber said the SECI headquarters will be in Romania, and that Romanian police have been enthusiastic about cracking down on human traffickers. Another witness was Rob Boone, a law enforcement specialist at the U.S. State Department. He said corruption remains a problem in Romania, but stressed that the government in Bucharest is making major progress to fight corruption.

Boone said one way to prevent corruption among police is to pay them better so they are less susceptible to bribes. But even more important, he said, is to promote the rule of law in countries where black markets have been prevalent for decades.

Another witness at the hearing was Adrian Karatnycky, the president of Freedom House, a private agency that monitors human rights around the world. Karatnycky said corruption may be the most important enemy of freedom and democracy in Eastern Europe and the nations of the former Soviet Union. Primarily, he said, it erodes public confidence in a democratically elected government. He said corruption promotes unethical campaign contributions that make elected officials ignore the will of the people.