The U.S. State Department’s first annual report on trafficking in persons contains serious flaws that will need correcting the next time around.
The State Department's report was released today, five weeks after the congressionally-mandated deadline of June 1, 2001. No explanation was given for the delay.
“The State Department´s report is a real mixed bag,” said LaShawn R. Jefferson, Acting Executive Director of the Women´s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. “We´re glad the U.S. government is finally paying close attention to this important human rights abuse. But the report has some major flaws that will need correcting the next time around.”
One of the report´s chief weaknesses, Jefferson said, was that it glosses over the problems of state complicity and corruption. Trafficking cannot flourish without the involvement of corrupt police, border guards, and state officials.
Human Rights Watch said the report also concentrates too much on trafficking for “sexual exploitation,” to the exclusion of trafficking into other forms of forced labor, among them sweatshop labor, domestic servitude, and forced agricultural and construction work. Many of the country chapters fail to document whether governments have set up and funded programs to provide victims of trafficking with services.
The State Department released the 102-page report today to comply with the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000. The report evaluates the performance of 82 countries, putting each country in one of three categories depending on how its domestic efforts meet the legislation´s minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The law required reporting on all countries worldwide with a “significant number” of trafficking victims.
“The report confirms what human rights activists and experts on trafficking already know: that governments around the world treat victims of trafficking as undocumented migrants, criminals, or both,” said Jefferson. “Governments should be offering protection to these victims, not hitting them with prosecutions.”
Human Rights Watch noted that Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Pakistan are accurately tiered to reflect their abysmal record on trafficking. However, missing from that list of Tier 3 countries are Moldova, Costa Rica, and Japan.
Human Rights Watch urged the State Department:
to ensure that all future reports consistently include information about all forms of trafficking in persons, not just trafficking for “sexual exploitation”;
to include the role of state complicity and corruption in facilitating trafficking and government measures to identify,investigate, and prosecute state agents involved in trafficking;
to include reporting on human rights protections of trafficking victims, in particular victims´ access to legal counsel and other services (medical, witness protection programs, safe shelter, etc.); and
to include information on concrete measures governments are taking to prosecute traffickers.
Select Illustrations Of The Report´s Shortcomings:
COSTA RICA: The country report mentions only trafficking for “sexual exploitation.” The report fails to mention the complicity of state agents in trafficking. Victims of trafficking are deported immediately. Costa Rica should be a Tier 3 country.
JAPAN: The Japanese government treats trafficked women as illegal immigrants or criminals. They are often placed under arrest and deported. The report underrepresents the extent of the Japanese government´s refusal to address this issue as a human rights concern. Japan should be a Tier 3 country. For more information on trafficking to Japan, please see https://www.hrw.org/press/2000/09/japan0921.htm and https://www.hrw.org/reports/2000/japan/
ISRAEL: The report fails to mention that a recent amendment to the criminal law in Israel criminalizes only trafficking for forced prostitution, excluding all those who are trafficked into other forms of forced labor in Israel. Israel has failed to root out official corruption and failed to protect witnesses.
MOLDOVA: The report acknowledges that the law does not prohibit trafficking. Consequently, there have been no arrests and prosecutions. There are no government-operated and run programs to assist trafficking victims. Moldova should be a Tier 3 country.
NIGERIA: Nigeria is a destination country for trafficking victims from Ghana, Togo, and Benin, which the report fails to acknowledge. In addition, there is enormous trafficking of women and girls within Nigeria. As the report points out, the Nigerian government´s approach to trafficking is very narrow, focusing only on trafficking for “sexual exploitation.” There are no shelters and few services for trafficking victims in Nigeria.