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Western Hemisphere Praised for Fight Against Human Trafficking

Uruguay among the more active countries in fighting the human trafficking problem

Posted: November 21, 2005

The Western Hemisphere has come a "very long way in the last few years" in addressing the problem of human trafficking, says John Miller, director of the U.S. State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

In November 15 prepared remarks at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in Washington, Miller said the hemisphere is now much more active than in previous years in fighting the human trafficking problem, which he likened to "modern-day slavery."

"When I came to the State Department three years ago, the issue was in its infancy. We are seeing so much more recognition [of] and activity" against trafficking, Miller told the IDB.

The official singled out the actions of Brazil, in particular, in combating labor trafficking.

"Brazil has been especially diligent and productive in this regard. It is a world leader in identifying labor victims, especially in agriculture," said Miller.

However, Miller said he is concerned that a State Department "Tier 2 watch list" contains a number of Western Hemisphere countries that are weak in prosecuting human trafficking. Those countries are Belize, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, Nicaragua and Suriname. More information about the Tier 2 watch list is available in the Trafficking in Persons 2005 report and the electronic journal Responses to Human Trafficking on the State Department Web site.

The main purpose of this watch list is to "stimulate action, not make a comparative list of who's up and who's down," said Miller. "We make each recommendation based on the minimum standards described in the law, not as a function of politics."

Miller said that in recommending follow-up action, the State Department looks at three facets of the anti-trafficking fight -- prosecution, prevention and protection.

"My message -- in every country I visit and with every dignitary I meet with -- is that each part of this three-part approach is essential," Miller said.

The Western Hemisphere needs to give extra attention to four broad areas of the human trafficking phenomenon, said Miller. Those areas, he said, are the "explosion" of child prostitution and commercial sexual exploitation, the many "faces of the migration issue and the frequency [with which] human smuggling turns into human trafficking," the fact that state corruption "often facilitates human trafficking" and the need to encourage nongovernmental involvement in the solution because "private organizations are often essential in victim protection."

Miller said the U.S. government estimates that between 600,000 and 800,000 people are trafficked across borders around the world each year, and between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States yearly. Millions more are trafficked within their own countries, he added.

On the positive side, Miller said that in recent years, governments and citizens and nongovernmental organizations have begun to awaken to the problem of human trafficking. Worldwide, the number of trafficking-related convictions has increased to more than 3,000 in 2004, and new legislation to combat human trafficking was approved in 39 countries, he said.

"We need your dedication and energy and patience," Miller told the IDB. He added that the U.S. government "can engage governments, we can seek to educate people around the world, but the fight to end modern slavery" depends on the involvement of nongovernmental organizations, regular citizens, individual diplomats, businesspeople and others -- "all of us committed to the new abolition movement" of ending human trafficking.

Following is the text of Miller's prepared remarks:

(begin text)

REMARKS BY JOHN MILLER,
DIRECTOR, OFFICE TO MONITOR AND COMBAT TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS,
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE,

AT THE
INTER-AMERICAN DEVELOPMENT BANK
WASHINGTON, D.C.
NOVEMBER 15, 2005

Good afternoon. I am honored to speak to such a distinguished audience today. It is especially gratifying to come before a group of people who are normally thinking about finance and development. Your work is, in many ways, the ultimate solution to the circumstances that make millions of men, women, and children vulnerable to the global crime of human trafficking -- my subject today.

Modern-day slavery, euphemistically called trafficking in persons, is a global phenomenon that relies on coercion and exploitation. It thrives on converting hope to fear. It is maintained through violence. And it is highly profitable.

Human trafficking extends into every country in the world, including the United States. We have not yet found a country immune, largely because in every country there are people hoping to improve their lives through work. Too often there aren't enough domestic opportunities so they seek jobs abroad -- and that's when individuals become vulnerable to the lies, coercion, and manipulation that traffickers employ to lure victims.

Fundamentally, human trafficking deprives people of their human rights and freedoms, which is the most prominent reason that the U.S. government is working to confront this despicable practice. But human trafficking is a multi-dimensional threat. It is a global health risk, profoundly harming individual victims and facilitating the transmission of disease, including HIV/AIDS. And it is a threat to the safety and security of nations because of the profits generated for organized crime networks that have no respect for the rule of law.

By definition, human trafficking involves force, fraud, or coercion -- legally sanitized words that cover intimidation, kidnapping, beatings, rape, deceit, abandonment, and murder. Victims describe mind-numbing varieties of torture, psychological abuse, and physical deprivation that are at the heart of the trafficking experience.

Before generalizing, allow me to introduce one victim. Rosa was trafficked from Mexico to the U.S. Her true story illustrates the nature and scope and harm of human trafficking.

Rosa was 13 and waiting tables in a restaurant in a small village near Vera Cruz, Mexico, when she was approached by an acquaintance of the family who told her, "You know you can make 10 times more money in the U.S. doing what you're doing here. I know someone who can find you a job in Texas. You can send money home to your family; you can have your own life. If you don't like the job, we'll get you a new one. If you're homesick, we'll bring you back across the border. You can't lose."

Rosa was young and hopeful. She asked her parents if she could go, but they forbade her. But she wanted a better life than what she had, and so, against her parents' and friends' warnings, she secretly accepted the offer. She was told to go to the main hotel in town on Friday evening. When she got there, a car was waiting, with several other young girls in it from neighboring villages.

They drove as far up into the desert toward the Mexican-American border. Then they arrived at what looked like a pre-arranged place in the desert on the Mexican side. There were dozens more girls from other towns in Mexico, and more men too.

On the ground were backpacks and water bottles. They were told to put the backpacks on their backs, and then they began to walk. They walked four days and four nights -- through the desert, across the Rio Grande, and into Brownsville, Texas, where they were picked up by a white van and driven across Texas, Louisiana and into rural Florida, where they were dropped off in front a series of trailers.

A big guy came out and told them, "I've just bought you. Now you work for me." A little later an older woman took them to spots in the trailer. She told Rosa she was in a brothel and that she would have to buy her freedom by sexually servicing men.

Rosa was young. She was a virgin. She was Catholic. She knew what the woman was telling her was bad -- a sin. She began to cry and begged to be taken to a restaurant to work. But she was told, "There are no restaurant jobs, only this." When she refused to do what they said, the burly man brought out three other men who took her into one of the trailers and gang-raped her to induct her into the "business." Then they locked her in the trailer without food and water until she succumbed.

For the next six months she was a prisoner. She was forced to service 10 or more men a day. On the weekends it was as many as 20 to 30 men. The men bought a ticket, which was a condom, for $20. But they often didn't use it.

Twice Rosa was impregnated and twice forced to have an abortion and twice forced back into the brothel the next day. She also was forced to pay off the price of the abortions in more services. She was beaten if she refused a customer's demands. She was guarded 24 hours a day, even when she went to the bathroom. She was passed around at private parties the trafficking ring held in the evenings and on weekends, for in addition to trafficking women and children, this ring also robbed banks and ran drugs.

Once she and several others tried to escape. They were caught and pistol-whipped around the head and face in front of the other girls -- to deter all of them. She became sick and felt crazy. The traffickers offered her drugs and alcohol to numb her pain.

She was only rescued when one of the young women jumped out of a second-story window at one of the private parties and ran to a neighbor's house. The neighbor called the local police. The police called the INS and FBI, and a sting operation was set up. Over 40 young women and girls were rescued, and 14 traffickers were arrested.

A medical doctor examined Rosa. She had several STDs; she had pelvic inflammatory disease and scar tissue from the forced abortions. She had broken bones that hadn't healed properly from the beatings. She was addicted to drugs and alcohol, had post-traumatic stress syndrome, including nightmares, flashbacks, depression, and suicidal tendencies. In short, she was physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually broken.

To make matters worse, when Rosa was discovered, the U.S. didn't have a trafficking law. Instead of really rescuing Rosa, the police arrested her and the other young women and children, and locked them up in jail along with the traffickers.

If you take Rosa's story and multiply it by hundreds of thousands, even millions, you will get an idea of the magnitude of the problem.

The U.S. government estimates that between 600,000 and 800,000 people are trafficked across borders each year, and between 14,500 and 17,500 are trafficked into the U.S. each year. Millions more are trafficked within their own countries.

People are trafficked for many purposes. You just heard one story -- of trafficking for purposes of prostitution. But men, women, and children are trafficked for forced labor into construction, agriculture, sweatshops, and factories. Children are trafficked for camel jockeying, and to be child soldiers, or into brick factories, rug-making sweatshops, or cocoa plantations because their small bodies and little fingers are useful in making or picking these products. Women and children are trafficked for domestic servitude and sexual exploitation. Up to 80 percent of the victims of transnational human trafficking are women and children.

Countries can be divided roughly into countries of origin (usually the resource-poor countries or countries that are politically or economically unstable); countries of destination (usually resource-rich developed countries, where demand is located); and transit countries (countries along a trafficking route, where traffickers have safe passage and harbor). Some countries are countries of origin, transit, and destination.

In the past, people working against human trafficking, and the State Department, have focused most attention on countries of origin. More and more, we are also focusing on the demand for slaves, generally coming from wealthier countries, that creates the market for more victims.

I've made the point that the crime of human trafficking is a global problem. I would like to address a few points regarding the situation in the hemisphere.

There are many tools to combat human trafficking, and one of these is the Trafficking in Persons Report mandated by the U.S. Congress since 2000.

Among Western Hemisphere countries, we have:

-- Two Tier 1 countries: Colombia and Canada

-- Twelve countries on Tier 2: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay

-- Six countries on Tier 2 Watch List: Belize, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, Nicaragua, Suriname

-- Three countries on Tier 3: Cuba, Ecuador, and Venezuela

-- Bolivia and Jamaica started on Tier 3 but took significant steps to avoid sanctions and were raised to Tier 2 by the President in September.

The main purpose of this report is to stimulate action, not make a comparative list of who's up and who's down. We make each recommendation based on the minimum standards described in the law, not as a function of politics.

In each country narrative and in recommending follow-up action we look at three facets of the anti-slavery fight, also known as the three "Ps": prosecution, prevention, and protection. My message -- in every country I visit and with every dignitary I meet with -- is that each part of this three-part approach is essential.

To prosecute, regional cooperation is essential. The traffickers function as long as they operate beyond the law and between systems of enforcement. Prevention is self-evident but under-employed. Vulnerable people, especially women and children, should be warned that promises of work abroad are often traps. And protection appears to be the greatest challenge for many governments that, tragically, treat slaves like criminals.

The Western Hemisphere has come a very long way in the last few years in addressing the complex human-trafficking challenge. When I came to the State Department three years ago, the issue was in its infancy. We are seeing so much more recognition and activity.

I want to single out the actions of Brazil in combating labor trafficking. Brazil has been especially diligent and productive in this regard. It is a world leader in identifying labor victims, especially in agriculture.

I am worried to see a number of "weak Tier Twos" from the hemisphere on the watch list. Many countries are still weak on prosecution. This is true around the globe, and it is true in the U.S.

Four broad areas of the human trafficking phenomenon that the hemisphere should put some extra attention on are: 1) the explosion of child prostitution and commercial sexual exploitation, 2) the many faces of the migration issue and the frequency that human smuggling turns into human trafficking, 3) the fact that state corruption often facilitates human trafficking, and; 4) the need to encourage non-government involvement in the solution because private organizations are often essential in victim protection.

If prostitution and commercial sexual exploitation were not tolerated, we wouldn't have sex trafficking. To confront that fact, we need to confront the demand for victims, not just the supply of victims.

Migration continues to diversify. There is increasing Asian migration into the hemisphere, and migration trends from the hemisphere to Europe, not to mention migration into the U.S. More and more, we find bonded labor schemes function to put people -- who start out as willing participants -- into slavery that is simply inhuman. Can you imagine this? Chinese smugglers commonly charge $20,000-$30,000 a head to arrange transport to the hemisphere. Essentially the smuggler owns that person when they reach whatever destination they reach. And the debt is often impossible to fulfill. It's labor slavery, not a new future.

For a programmatic organization such as the Inter-Development Bank, anti-trafficking programs can be integrated into many of your activities, especially in rule of law, anti-corruption, and social welfare programs as well as programs targeting youth.

I have painted a bleak picture but in recent years governments and citizens and non-governmental organizations have begun to awake. Worldwide, the number of trafficking-related convictions has increased to over 3,000 in 2004, and new anti-human trafficking legislation was approved in 39 countries. The struggle will be a long one.

We need your dedication and energy and patience. The U.S. government can engage governments, we can seek to educate people around the world, but the fight to end modern slavery depends on the involvement of NGOs, citizens, individual diplomats, businesspeople, the IFIs [international financial institutions], all of us committed to the new abolition movement, together.

(end text)

 

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