Friday, June 19, 2009

Countries respond to U.S. Trafficking Report

It didn't take long for countries about the world to begin responding to the U.S. report on human trafficking. Though I can't possibly mention every story out there, here are some of the highlights:


The Philippine government called its country's Tier 2 Watch List status "demoralizing" and said it plans to submit a letter to the U.S. government. Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the letter would not be a protest but an explanation. According to Ermita, the Philippines currently has over 250 human trafficking cases pending, and intends to explain to the U.S. why the cases have not yet been settled. Justice Undersecretary Ric Blancaflor, head of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking said their biggest challenge is getting victims to testify.


A story out of Tel Aviv focused on the report's assessment of Israel, which is still considered a destination country for men and women who are trafficked for forced labor and sexual exploitation. In 2008, the Israeli government invested over $1m in an NGO that provides shelter for sex trafficking victims. Israel does not currently have shelters for victims of labor trafficking, however, and this was mentioned in the report. Director-general of the Ministry of Justice, Moshe Shilo said he was satisfied with the report and an attorney from the Hotline for Migrant Workers acknowledged "the great progress the government has made in the past three years..." while also acknowledging that they have a long way to go.


The Times of India also ran a story on that country's listing which, unfortunately, was not good. Having been placed on the Tier 2 Watch list, India now has a limited window during which to make improvements before it is automatically moved to Tier 3.


Two of the more negative responses to the U.S. report came from the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia.

The U.A.E. Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, said the government is "deeply disappointed" at being put back on the Tier 2 Watch List, calling it a "subjective and inaccurate" report. According to the story, which appeared on the Maktoob Business website, the U.A.E. recently passed numerous measures intended to clamp down on human trafficking, but there are doubts as to how well those measures are being enforced. The main point of contention seems to be related to forced labor. The U.A.E sees no correlation between what it calls "labor rights violations" and human trafficking. As such, it does little to curb forced labor, as cited by the U.S. report.


The other cry of "foul" comes from the government in Malaysia, which has done more than just protest the country's Tier 3 rank, it is asking the United States for an explanation. Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein said the purpose of the request is to "identify the real allegations and claims" that caused Malaysia to be ranked in the bottom tier. While he says the government is willing to do whatever it can, he also warns that some border security issues are out of their control. One government deputy speaker called the U.S. report's Tier 3 ranking of Malaysia a "political ploy."

More stories are likely to emerge as countries review their rankings and the reasons for them. The good news is that countries are paying attention to this annual assessment, and most seem to be taking it seriously, seeking to address any issues outlined in the report and improve their overall strategies in the fight against human trafficking.

You can read the full Trafficking in Persons Report, including a country-by-country assessment, here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"So.. how are we doing?"

That's the question that ran through my mind as I started sifting through the U.S. State Department's annual Trafficking in Persons Report.

The TIP Report is one of the most comprehensive available on the state of human trafficking around the world. It is a country-by-country assessment of laws, prosecutions, rescues and other efforts being undertaken by the world's governments and NGOs in order combat and end human trafficking.

It's a thick report (over 300 pages) and some of the information is unpleasant. But it's true that knowledge is power, and the more we understand the better equipped we are to fight.

The TIP report ranks countries by Tiers; Tiers 1, 2, and 3, based on requirements laid out in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

Tier 1 countries are doing well. Tier 2 are making a significant effort but aren't quite there yet and, Tier 3 countries are making no effort. In addition, there is a Tier 2 Watch List which indicates that a country appears to be making an effort but still has high instances of trafficking. Or perhaps they're efforts are dwindling.

Though I couldn't find this link myself, Diana Scimone has - on her blog - a link which lists countries by Tier. You can also read through the entire report - section by section - here.

Though I still have a lot of information to sift through, there are a couple of things that I want to comment on right away.

First, there are still - around the world - so many instances of trafficking victims being treated like criminals. Some of them seek help, only to be arrested because they're lacking identification, a passport or visa. Others try to escape and are arrested. They may be returned to their slave owner, or possibly deported, shipped back to their home country where they may or may not have a home to which they can return. And where they certainly won't receive the aftercare necessary for physical, psychological and emotional healing.

The training of law enforcement officials is vital to the effective eradication of human trafficking. Victims need to know that they will be protected and that every effort will be made to help them heal, and live productive lives.

Second, cultural stigma is a significant obstacle which many women and girls must face if they've been victims of sex trafficking. In many countries, women or girls who are raped are not viewed as victims who need help. Instead, they are told they have brought shame on their families, and they are likely to be ostracized by the very communities from which they need support.

These stigmas prevent women and girls from asking for help. Some will not admit that they've been trafficked, as they don't want to face the prospect of returning home. Ambassador DeBaca put it best when he said that "culturally, we need to see through to each individual's humanity and recognize how traffickers exploit their victims..." I don't know how we overcome decades, or centuries, of cultural beliefs, but for the sake of these women and girls we need to figure it out.

In her comments about the Trafficking in Persons Report, Diana closes with the same quote that I had planned to use. Because she posted her comments before I posted mine, I can't say that she stole my ending :)

Rather than trying to write an alternate closing - and because I believe these words are worth repeating - I'm also going to quote Ambassador deBaca:

"This report is their [trafficking victims'] story," he writes. "It is the story of governments, organizations, and individuals who give such survivors a chance for freedom. It is on their behalf, and in the spirit of a common humanity, that we seek a global partnership for the abolition of modern slavery."

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Smuggled or trafficked?

Over the past week, I've read several news stories that use the phrases "human smuggling" and "human trafficking" interchangeably, and it has concerned me. I'm not alone. Several people and organizations have contacted me or commented about it on blogs, and even on Twitter.

I emailed those who published the stories, and offered definitions for the two phrases, pointing out why it's so important that a distinction be made between them.

People who are smuggled across borders typically pay someone to take them. They go willingly. Someone, however, who is trafficked doesn't have a choice, and typically ends up working as a slave either in manual labor, a retail establishment, someone's home, or a brothel. Referring to someone who's been trafficked as someone who's been smuggled turns a victim into a criminal. It's these types of misunderstandings that hinder the aide and rescue of trafficking victims.

The co-founder of Project Exodus, Mike Masten, wrote a fantastic letter to the Associated Press and included additional resources that explain the differences between human smuggling and human trafficking. I encourage you to read them. The better educated we are, the more progress we can make in ending this horrific crime.

Monday, June 1, 2009

500 Miles in Chains

I love running. I know. I'm crazy.... people have already told me that. :) But it's true. There's something about it that fills me with energy... just makes me feel good.

But the thought of running 500 miles does NOT fill me with energy. And running 500 miles in CHAINS? No thank you.

But that's exactly what a man named Eric Proffitt is doing. Beginning August 1st, Eric is running 500 miles across the United Kingdom, and he's doing it with chains on his hands and feet.


Here's his reason, in his own words:
"My intention for this extreme run from London, to Bristol, to Liverpool, to this year's FREEDOM FESTIVAL in Kingston-Upon-Hull is to help rescue victims of trafficking, prevent future exploitation, and to stop the demand for Modern slavery.

This extreme marathon event is about awareness, consumer responsibility, and of course funding!

It is about triggering a tipping point whereby people all over the world become involved in the abolition of modern slavery."

Watch his video on YouTube. Check out his website. Get some friends together to sponsor a day or two of his run. He's doing something big, something radical, to raise awareness and put an end to human trafficking. Let's all commit to doing something small: give some money, forward this blog post to friends, buy his song "500 Miles"... to support him.