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World: U.S. Says 23 Nations Lag In Fight On Human Trafficking

Washington, 13 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. says 23 nations are doing too little to fight international trafficking in human beings.

The U.S. State Department said in a report issued today in Washington that every year, 700,000 individuals -- mostly women and children -- are illegally transported over international frontiers to work in brothels, at construction sites, in sweatshops, and on farms.

The report was ordered by the Victims in Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000. The legislation, passed by the U.S. Congress in October, would impose sanctions on countries whose governments do not make what it calls a "significant effort" to protect their citizens who are victimized by traffickers, or to keep traffickers from using their countries as transit points or destinations.

According to the State Department report, 23 countries are making no such "significant effort" against human trafficking. They include close American allies -- Turkey, Greece, Israel and South Korea. Also named are Albania, Belarus, Bosnia, Kazakhstan, Romania, Russia, and Yugoslavia.

The report says the governments of 47 countries do not fully comply with standards for fighting human trafficking, but are making the "significant effort" to do so. They include Bulgaria, China, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Hungary, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Poland, Slovenia, and Ukraine.

The report was issued at a press conference attended by Secretary of State Colin Powell. He said the State Department and other U.S. agencies are setting up a special task force to address the issue.

"The task force will use this report and other tools -- including those provided for in the Victims in Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 -- use these tools and the act to identify what more needs to be done to safeguard the vulnerable, to punish the traffickers, to care for their victims and to prevent future trafficking. The United States will work closely with other governments, organizations, and concerned people throughout the world to put an end to this abomination against humanity."

Also attending the news briefing was Paula Dobriansky, the undersecretary of state for global affairs; Rand Beers, the assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs; and Margot Sullivan, the acting principal deputy assistant secretary for democracy, human rights, and labor.

All three emphasized that the report should not be viewed as a scorecard of countries' fight against human trafficking. Rather, they said, it is meant to prompt dialogue among nations on how best to deal with the problem. Beers put it this way:

"This report is about trying to raise awareness around the world and get nations together to have dialog to work to resolve this problem. This is not intended -- although there will always be that aspect of it -- to point fingers, but it's to start the dialogue."

And Dobriansky noted that the sanctions called for in the antitrafficking U.S. legislation could not be imposed until 2003. She said this gives countries time to make the efforts necessary to take appropriate action.

Beers said virtually all countries are directly affected by human trafficking, either as sources, transit regions, or destinations of the victims. And some, he said, are affected in all three ways.

According to Beers, victims -- often in poorer countries -- are approached by traffickers or drawn to them by advertisements with promises of glamorous jobs in the U.S. or other prosperous nations. The traffickers offer to arrange and even pay for transportation and passports. He noted that the passports are never acquired.

This, he said, immediately puts the victims under the traffickers' control. According to Beers, the traffickers maintain control because victims fear alerting police in the country where they have been transported because they are illegal aliens. As a result, the victims believe they have no choice but to continue the work for which they were recruited.

Sullivan described the shattered hopes of the victims:

"The type of people that are susceptible to trafficking are often people who are in the worst-case situation either economically or for a range of issues. They basically want to leave a country. They're looking for a better life. And in their desperation to leave a country, they may fall prey to unscrupulous individuals who, of course, involve them in trafficking of heinous proportions. So we are basically dealing with a problem where people are suffering, and they're put into bondage and forced, basically, to not have a free will."

The U.S. is not listed in the report, but Dobriansky said there are now as many as 50,000 victims of human trafficking in America, which is either their destination or a transit point.