The U.S. State Department has issued its second annual report on the international trafficking of human beings. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell equates the problem with slavery and says he hopes the report will galvanize countries to work to eliminate the scourge.
Washington, 6 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- A new report by the U.S. State Department says that up to 4 million people worldwide are smuggled into slave-like conditions each year and singles out 19 nations that could face sanctions unless they do more to combat the problem.
Among the 19 nations identified in "Tier 3" -- the report's worst level, where countries are seen as failing to meet minimum standards and do nothing to remedy the problem -- are Afghanistan, Armenia, Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan.
The second annual "Trafficking in Persons Report," released on 5 June, also says that another 52 countries in "Tier 2" do no meet minimum standards but are making efforts to do so. They include Bulgaria, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Moldova, Romania, Slovenia, Ukraine, and Yugoslavia.
Some countries did not figure in the report at all because the State Department lacked the necessary data. But the report insists that exclusion is not necessarily positive as some of those countries -- such as Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Croatia -- appear to have significant trafficking problems.
Presenting the report, mandated under a 2000 antitrafficking law, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said that every year 700,000 to 4 million people are victimized by traffickers around the world through fraud, coercion, and outright kidnapping.
Powell told reporters that women and children are the most common victims, "Traffickers prey on the most vulnerable members of our human family, violating their most basic rights, subjecting them to degradation and misery."
And Powell added that most victims end up exploited by the sex trade, "Traffickers often force them [women and children] into pornography and prostitution, subjecting them to terrible mental and physical abuse and putting them at risk from devastating diseases such as HIV/AIDS."
Because they made significant efforts to address their human-trafficking problems, some countries moved from Tier 3 to Tier 2 in the last year. They include Albania, Israel, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Romania, and Yugoslavia.
South Korea, because of "extraordinary strides" involving "a wide range of activities to combat the problem," was the only country to move from Tier 3 to Tier 1.
The report says it is to be used as a diplomatic tool by the U.S. government to push for change and help governments around the world to develop policies to tackle human trafficking.
The U.S. official in charge of the report, Ambassador Nancy Ely-Raphel, says she hopes it will shine a light on modern-day "slavery": "As we enter the 21st century, trafficking must be challenged worldwide. Trafficking must end. This report is intended to empower everyone fighting to stop slavery in the 21st century."
Ely-Raphel says the U.S. also has a trafficking problem, being the destination of some 50,000 smuggled people each year. But according to its own criteria, the U.S. meets the minimum standards because it has passed an antitrafficking law and is making an effort to battle the problem.
Countries that fail to do so will be subject to U.S. sanctions, Ely-Raphel said. The sanctions could come in the form of an end to nonhumanitarian, non-trade-related assistance from Washington. Also, the U.S. could withdraw support for loans and other financial assistance to countries from the World Bank or International Monetary Fund.
Ely-Raphel says the Tier 3 countries tend to share one characteristic: "The countries that I think of as on the bottom are the ones that don't acknowledge they have a trafficking problem." However, she excluded Russia from this group, even if Moscow figured in Tier 3. She says Russia acknowledges it has a problem and is starting to work on it, even if it still lacks an antitrafficking law and only rarely are smuggling cases probed.
Ely-Raphel rejected suggestions that some countries received favorable treatment in the report due to political reasons. One reporter mentioned India, which is seen as having a significant trafficking problem but was placed only in Tier 2. "This is, I think, the most objective report we could issue. There were absolutely no political considerations entering into this. Some of our closest allies are on Tier 3, and they were on Tier 3 last year."
She may have been referring to Saudi Arabia, a country Ely-Raphel says is a key destination point for many trafficked workers and women, especially from South Asia. She says U.S. officials will press the "serious problem" with Riyadh, which offers no protections to undocumented workers.
The report was compiled with the help of U.S. embassies worldwide as well as reports from the media and nongovernmental organizations such as the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund, the U.S. High Commission for Refugees, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch.
For inclusion in the report, a country had to be shown to be a point of origin, transit, or destination for at least 100 trafficking victims. The ranking system is based on efforts by countries to combat the problem.
Tier 1 countries are seen as fully complying with the primary American law on the matter, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of October 2000. Among the criteria for compliance are criminalization of trafficking, successful prosecution of traffickers, and the existence of protection programs and the non-punishment of trafficking victims.
Among the 18 nations in Tier 1 are the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Macedonia, and Poland.
(The full report can be found at http://www.state.gov/.)