(New York) - The U.S. State Department's second annual report on trafficking in persons falls short as a rigorous tool to assess a country's efforts to combat trafficking, Human Rights Watch said today.

The State Department is taking this issue more seriously. But it's a shame that one can still read these reports and end up not knowing basic facts. For this report to be relevant, specificity matters," said LaShawn R. Jefferson, Executive Director of the Women's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. "It's crucial that each country chapter relay basic information about how many people are trafficked into, through, and from it; the types of forced labor for which people are trafficked; the number of actual prosecutions and convictions for trafficking; and how many state agents have been investigated, tried, and convicted for trafficking-related offenses."

The State Department released the 110-page report yesterday to comply with the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000. The report evaluates the performance of 89 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. Tier 3 countries are deemed to be not in compliance with the minimum standards and not making significant efforts; Tier 2 countries are not in compliance, but making significant efforts; and Tier 1 countries are in compliance. The report covers countries worldwide with a "significant number" of trafficking victims.

One of the consistent failures of the report is that it does not evaluate the effectiveness of government programs and is often vague about the details of those programs. Moreover, Tier 2, where fifty-two countries fall, seems to be a catch-all category, encompassing countries of disparate trafficking records.

Human Rights Watch also noted that Pakistan, an ally in the U.S. government's fight against terrorism, has moved from Tier 3, where it was in last year's report, to Tier 2 in this year's, even though the State Department's latest human rights report indicated that Pakistan ". . . has done little to stem the flow of women trafficked into the country or to help victims of trafficking."

"There is little evaluative information in the report," added Jefferson. "Noting that governments have undertaken preventive or remedial programs is only half of the equation. The other half has to be an assessment of whether those programs are properly constructed and effectively implemented."

Human Rights Watch noted that the report has improved since last year, in part by more consistently addressing trafficking into all forms of forced labor, not just into "sexual exploitation" and including more information on victims' services. However, the report is still generally unclear about whether there is direct government funding for victims' services. In addition, although many country chapters mention government corruption and complicity, they should be consistently clearer about exactly which type (border guards, police, immigration officials, etc.) of government officials are implicated.

Human Rights Watch urges the State Department to:

  • Ensure that all future reports include all reliable data on the number of trafficking victims in each country, disaggregated by age, sex, nationality, and the nature of their forced labor;
  • Ensure that all future reports include reporting on the number of prosecutions for trafficking-related offenses, including concrete information on conviction rates, sentencing, and the involvement of state agents;
  • Ensure that all future reports provide the number and positions of public officials who have been proved to be involved in trafficking, as well as the corrective measures that have been taken to remedy this complicity;
  • Include specific information on the nature and effectiveness of services available to trafficking victims and whether those services are directly government-funded and provided; and
  • State explicitly for each country report whether the country has signed the U.N. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, which supplements the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, which the State Department characterizes as "an important new tool to facilitate international cooperation."

Select illustrations of the report's shortcomings:

Pakistan: Pakistan should be Tier 3. The trafficking report fails to mention that draft trafficking legislation is specific to trafficking for forced labor as camel jockeys, rather than generally for bonded labor, in which 100,000 children are reportedly held within Pakistan, or other forms of forced labor. The report minimizes the abuse that women victims of trafficking face under Pakistan's discriminatory Hudood laws. These laws criminalize extramarital sex and place the burden of proof on the victim, thus discouraging trafficking victims from filing charges. For more information on the discrimination that women face in gaining legal redress in Pakistan, please see:

Argentina: Argentina provides an example of inconsistencies between the State Department's own reports. The report does not include a summary of Argentina's record on trafficking, even though Argentina is mentioned in the report as a destination country for people trafficked from Brazil and the Dominican Republic. In addition, the latest State Department human rights reports contain information on trafficking of persons into Argentina from Bolivia, Paraguay, and the Dominican Republic. According to recent news reports, 24 trafficked women from the Dominican Republic alone were identified and returned in 2001. International organizations have noted that trafficking is a grave problem in Argentina.

Japan: Japan should be a Tier 3 country. The report mentions only trafficking of women for "sexual exploitation." The report fails to distinguish debt-bondage as forced labor. The Japanese government continues to treat trafficked women as illegal immigrants or criminals. They are often arrested and deported. Traffickers are rarely punished. The report once again minimizes the extent of the Japanese government's refusal to address this issue as a human rights concern and credits Japan for hosting a trafficking conference that was outward looking in nature. For more information on trafficking to Japan, please see:

Nigeria: Nigeria should be in Tier 3, given the magnitude of the trafficking problem in Nigeria and the inadequacy of the government's remedial efforts. Although the report mentions Nigeria's draft federal anti-trafficking legislation, it does not cite its shortcomings: the weak provisions on witness protection, victim services, and law enforcement guidelines. The Nigerian government fails to compile and publish disaggregated statistics on trafficking victims and legal proceedings against traffickers.