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Around the world, governments continued to allow trafficking of women and girls for forced labor and servitude to flourish with near impunity. Lured with fraudulent promises of lucrative opportunities, women migrated within and across borders for work. A U.S. Department of State trafficking report released in 2000 found that crime rings and loosely connected criminal networks trafficked between 45,000 and 50,000 women and children into the U.S. annually. Trafficking did not occur in a vacuum. Violations of women's human rights in countries of origin-including state-tolerated sex discrimination, domestic violence, and rampant sexual violence-contributed to women's vulnerability to abuse. Whether the women traveled voluntarily, found themselves tricked into migrating, or were sold into the sex industry or sweatshops, trafficking victims suffered horribly similar human rights violations. Stripped of their passports, often unable to speak the local language, sold as chattel, and terrified of local law enforcement authorities and their traffickers, many women and girls struggled to pay off the enormously inflated debts owed to traffickers; others attempted to escape. In the countries of destination, women encountered violence, state complicity, detention, and deportation.

For example, Nigerian women's rights organizations reported that hundreds of Nigerian women and girls hoping to escape poverty and discrimination at home voluntarily migrated to Europe in response to job offers as domestic workers or waitresses. Upon arrival, many found themselves trapped in forced prostitution, saddled with exorbitant debts, and forced to work under brutal conditions. Like other trafficked women around the world, Nigerian women struggled to pay off their "debt." Forbidden to refuse any customer, women who dared to resist encountered harsh punishment from their employers, including physical assault. Some clients also sexually and physically attacked the women; other clients robbed them. Their status as "illegal migrants" made the women particularly vulnerable to attacks by customers and traffickers alike. The Women's Consortium of Nigeria (wacon), a Nigeria-based advocacy group that provides support for victims of trafficking, reported that some employers denounced trafficked women to immigration officials as "illegal aliens." The result was deportation for the victims, often under inhumane conditions. In May 2000, wacon used the trafficking cases it documented to advocate within Nigeria for, among other things, repatriation procedures guaranteeing victims safety and respect for their human rights, as well as health care and counseling services. Activists reported that the Nigerian government had arrested several men in connection with the sale of girls to Europe and the trafficking of them to West Africa.

The Israeli government also failed to take even minimal steps to protect trafficked women trapped in that country. In July, after the publication of a blistering report on trafficking by Amnesty International, and after years of lobbying by Israeli women's organizations, the Knesset amended the criminal code to make the buying and selling of human beings for prostitution a criminal offense. The law had little impact, however, on the lives of dozens of women still detained in prison in Israel and awaiting deportation. Despite the new legislation, the Israeli government continued to treat trafficked women not as victims, but as criminals and "illegal aliens," housing women in prisons and making them particularly vulnerable to human rights abuses. Nor was the law particularly dissuasive to traffickers, who continued to bring hundreds of women and girls from the countries of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe into Israel for forced labor in the sex industry. Although Israel yielded to international pressure and began prosecuting a small number of traffickers, its efforts were undermined by its failure to provide minimal guarantees for victims of trafficking, including witness protection, legal assistance, relief from deportation, or third-country resettlement.

Danger also plagued undocumented Thai women working in the Japanese sex industry. As in Israel, Japanese government authorities failed to consider the coercive and deceptive circumstances of trafficked women's arrival and employment in Japan. Instead, they treated the women as criminals or undocumented workers.

Although high-ranking Japanese and Thai officials publicly condemned trafficking in women and exhibited some understanding of the slavery-like nature of the abuses involved, women in these countries still lacked any meaningful legal redress. Japanese officials failed to enforce even the minimal available legal protections. For example, the Japanese government identified an amendment to the Law on Control and Improvement of Amusement Businesses as its primary effort to address trafficking. But the narrowly-written law proved wholly inadequate to provide relief for trafficking victims. Most glaringly, the law lacked criminal penalties: revocation of an establishment's license stands as the only punishment for violations. In March 2000, the police admitted that the new amended provision had not yet been used. Furthermore, labor officials told Human Rights Watch that officials in the Employment Security Office, as local offices charged with monitoring enforcement of the labor code are called, failed to understand the laws that could be used to prosecute traffickers, and thus rarely enforced them.

Likewise, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, traffickers continued to abuse and exploit women from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe with impunity. In 1999, Human Rights Watch uncovered brothels filled with women trafficked from Ukraine, Moldova, Bulgaria, Belarus, and Romania scattered throughout Bosnia. In interviews with Human Rights Watch, women in the brothels reported that they had been sold from brothel owner to brothel owner, placed in debt bondage, threatened, and beaten. Trafficking showed no signs of abating. One year after Human Rights Watch completed its research, a United Nations report on trafficking into Bosnia confirmed the widespread abuses. The May 2000 report documented significant local police, international police, and some Stabilisation Force (sfor) complicity. Between March 1999 and March 2000, the U.N. intervened in forty cases involving one hundred and eighty-two women, five of whom were under the age of eighteen. In fourteen of those cases, the U.N. found compelling evidence of complicity by SFOR, local, or international police. In one case, an SFOR civilian paid seven thousand Deutsche Marks (U.S.$3057) to purchase two women from a brothel owner. NATO declined to waive the SFOR member's diplomatic immunity; he left Bosnia and Herzegovina without legal repercussions. With growing awareness of the surge in trafficking, U.N. officials initiated a "trafficking project" in Bosnia in 1999 in cooperation with local nongovernmental organizations and the International Organization on Migration to provide shelter, legal aid, and protection for women who sought to escape their traffickers. After one year in operation, the program appeared to provide women trafficked into Bosnia with some concrete support. However, the Bosnian government and international community made little progress on prosecuting those responsible for the abuses.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2000

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