Public Awareness of Human Trafficking Increasing, Rice Says

By Eric Green
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington - U.S. efforts to raise awareness of trafficking in persons are paying off, and now millions more people know about the global problem, says Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

In introducing the State Department’s seventh annual Trafficking in Persons Report on June 12, Rice said human trafficking until recently was “akin to a global family secret.  It was known but not often discussed publicly.”

Rice said that in her travels around the world, she has noticed “a greater desire by our partners to fight this crime and protect its victims.”  The United States, she said, is helping to lead a global movement “not just to confront this crime, but to abolish it.  More and more countries are coming to see human trafficking for what it is - a modern-day form of slavery that devastates families and communities around the world.”

Mark Lagon, the new director of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Human Trafficking in Persons, said in detailing the 236-page report that Georgia merited special praise in its trafficking efforts.  That nation, he said, has shown “admirable political commitment” to confront the problem.  Georgia’s improvement, Lagon said, includes efforts to prevent girls and women from being lured into the global sex trade, where employers turn them into “mere commodities, with their bodies for sale.”

The report, mandated by the U.S. Congress, grouped Georgia for the first time with what is called the “Tier 1” countries - those doing the best job of controlling human trafficking, prosecuting those involved, and supporting and assisting trafficking victims.  Hungary, Slovenia and the Czech Republic are also newcomers to the Tier 1 group.

The report lists 75 countries in an intermediate Tier 2 group - those that are demonstrating a “significant” commitment to address their trafficking problems but have not yet achieved international standards - while 32 countries are on a Tier 2 “watch list” for having shown signs of failing to make improvements.  The report places 16 countries in the bottom Tier 3 - those governments that have shown no commitment to meeting international standards.

Lagon said that the list of countries in the Tier 3 group has grown to 16, compared to 12 from the previous year, “due to a lack of effort” by these nations to combat trafficking.  Countries new to the Tier 3 group are Algeria, Bahrain, Equatorial Guinea, Kuwait, Malaysia, Oman and Qatar.

Lagon said India stayed on the Tier 2 Watch List for the fourth straight year and was not downgraded to Tier 3, despite the fact that the world’s “largest democracy” has the “world’s largest problem of human trafficking.”  The United States, he said, needs to “engage in a very serious dialogue with India” on the South Asian nation’s trafficking problem, since the countries are “two serious democracies” with a “developing alliance.”

The U.S.-India relationship is such, said Lagon, that the “level of communication between our two governments” can “stand some serious, frank talk about a problem like bonded labor or sex trafficking.”

One country that fell off the Tier l list was Ireland, placed instead in a group called “Special Cases.”  The report said the presence of “foreign women in prostitution and a growing migrant labor population raise concerns about a potential trafficking problem” in Ireland.  Other special cases are the Bahamas, Barbados, Brunei, Haiti, Iraq, Kiribati, Lesotho, the Solomon Islands, Somalia, Swaziland, Tunisia and Turkmenistan.

The report does not exempt the United States from a cataloguing of its own trafficking problem, including women and girls who migrate to America and become prostitutes.  An unknown number of U.S. citizens and legal residents are also trafficked within the United States, primarily for sexual servitude and forced labor, the report says.

While the United States is not assigned a tier rating, Lagon said America stands “ready to be judged” on the problem.  He stressed that the United States should be seen as an ally against trafficking.

In fiscal year 2006, the United States contributed more than $74 million abroad to fund 154 international anti-trafficking projects in 70 countries.  Since fiscal year 2001, Lagon said, the U.S. government has funded more than $448 million to fight a problem in which an estimated 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year.  Some 80 percent of that total is female, and up to half are minors. (See related article.)

The United States is “not just standing with our arms folded, judging others,” because trafficking is a “transnational problem,” Lagon said.  “We offer our hand as a partner to try and solve this problem of modern-day slavery.”

For additional information, see 2007 Trafficking in Persons Report.

Rice's remarks, Lagon's remarks and more information about human trafficking are on the State Department Web site.