Police, Lawmakers Targeting Human Trafficking Worldwide

By Charlene Porter
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - More nations around the world are enacting laws to prevent human trafficking and prosecuting people who engage in this form of 21st century slavery, according to Trafficking in Persons Report released by the U.S. State Department June 5.

The world’s most comprehensive survey on human-trafficking activities found that courts handed down more than 4,700 convictions for trafficking-related crimes in 2005, increasing from about 3,000 the year before.

Director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons John Miller interprets the increase as a sign of progress against these human rights crimes.

“We know that 41 governments passed new trafficking-in-persons legislation,” said Miller who detailed the report at a State Department briefing. “That’s a good sign too.”

Miller also focused particular attention on the positive actions taken by determined governments. He cited Malawi, for instance, which rose to the top ranking in the 2006 report, indicating that the government of this sub-Saharan African nation has met international standards for contending with trafficking and is vigorously addressing the problem.

“Fifteen convictions of traffickers, countrywide programs to alert people, [Malawi is] really stepping up,” said Miller, “a tropical African country with limited resources moving into Tier 1.”

Compiled annually by law, the report concludes that about 800,000 persons were coerced into a human trafficking scheme over the last year, about the same number estimated in the 2005 report. That said, officials freely acknowledge that numbers are always uncertain in a shadowy underground activity such as trafficking.

”Slaves don’t stand in line and raise their hands to be counted,” Miller said.


More countries – 149 - are included in the sixth annual report than in any prior report. Countries are omitted only for a lack of reliable information, and not because human trafficking does not occur within their borders. Whether a nation supplies the victims, or creates the demand that motivates their trafficking, experts say all the world’s nations are involved in this 21st century form of slavery.

The report places nations in one of four categories based on their efforts to control human trafficking, prosecute those involved, and support and assist victims of these crimes.

Countries doing the best job are in Tier 1. Tier 2 comprises countries that are demonstrating commitment to address their problems but have not yet achieved international standards. Tier 2 “Watch List” includes countries that show signs of falling backwards, but Miller says that “W” also stands for “worry” and “warning.”

Four major nations are on the “watch list” for at least the second year in a row – China, India, Mexico and Russia.

“This has to be a source of concern,” Miller said, predicting that the four nations could well slip to the least favorable rating, Tier 3, by 2007.

Twelve nations are ranked in the Tier 3 category in the 2006 assessment. They are Belize, Burma, Cuba, Iran, Laos, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Uzbekistan, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

Fourteen countries were cast in the lowest ranking in 2005. After the release of the report, U.S. law allows 90 days for governments to demonstrate some action toward addressing their problems. If they do not, sanctions on nonhumanitarian U.S. economic assistance may be imposed.


The 2006 report focuses more attention than previous editions on slave-labor practices that begin with a legal employment recruitment.

Global economic forces have caused significant waves of labor migration, involving as many as 120 million people, according to the International Labor Organization, as quoted in the report.

The report finds no inherent fault with the transcontinental movement of workers in the laws of supply and demand, but cautions that, in practice, abuses occur. Foreign workers lacking communication skills, knowledge of the society or a social support system too easily are exploited, according to the report.

“When protections and regulations are insufficient to deter abuses, unscrupulous employers look for the most vulnerable groups of foreign workers to prey on and exploit,” according to the report.

The U.S. Congress ordered the State Department to apply greater scrutiny to the forced labor issue, and the report says that focus will be maintained in the year ahead.

India has been placed on the Tier 2 Watch list, Miller said, because of its bonded labor practices, that is, when a family is indebted to an employer generation after generation. He estimated that hundreds of thousands of Indians are victims of that form of slavery.


Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke briefly to introduce the report, calling the defeat of human trafficking “the great moral calling of our time.”  She said the United States has distributed $400 million in assistance to other nations in recent years, helping them improve systems to combat human trafficking and provide more support for victims.

“All nations that are resolute in the fight to end human trafficking have a partner in the United States,” Rice said.  “Together we will continue to affirm that no human life can be devalued or discounted.  Together we will stop at nothing to end the debasement of our fellow men and women.”

The transcript of Secretary Rice’s remarks is available on the State Department Web site, as is the full text of the report.

For additional information, see Human Trafficking.