(New York) The U.S. State Department's third annual trafficking in persons report fails to meaningfully evaluate governments' efforts to combat trafficking in persons, Human Rights Watch said today.

"For the third consecutive year, the State Department report fails to give hard figures on the number of people being trafficked," said LaShawn R. Jefferson, executive director of the Women's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. "The report gives undue credit for minimal effort and ignores government practices, such as summary deportation and incarceration, that effectively punish trafficking victims."

The State Department released the 177-page report today to comply with the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000. The report evaluates the performance of 116 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.

The State Department consistently credits countries for their efforts to combat trafficking even when they have not passed legislation specifically criminalizing all forms of forced labor as trafficking, or when they have failed to sign or ratify the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking supplementing the U.N. Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, the single most authoritative international human rights instrument on trafficking. Another consistent shortcoming is that Tier 2, where seventy-five countries fall, remains a catch-all category. Tier 2 comprises countries of varied trafficking records. The report also fails adequately to explain its concrete minimum standards for countries to move up tiers.

Human Rights Watch said that if this report is to be useful, it must improve its analytical framework for country narratives. "We know government corruption and complicity is an undeniable fact of trafficking," said Jefferson. "Facts about how many government agents have been tried, prosecuted, and convicted for trafficking-related offenses are absolutely essential to evaluating a government's record."

Human Rights Watch noted that the report has improved since last year, in part by including more countries, better organizing the country narratives, ensuring that the report included information on trafficking into many forms of forced labor, and discussing domestic as well as international trafficking.

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;
  • Categorize as Tier 3 any country that summarily deports or incarcerates trafficking victims;
  • Bar from being placed in Tier 1 any country that fails to enact specific legislation criminalizing trafficking;
  • Add the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and its Optional Protocol to the list of "Relevant International Conventions" that it appends to the report; and
  • Ensure that all future reports adequately weigh efforts toward eliminating and punishing corruption in assessing a country's record on combating trafficking

Select Illustrations of the Report's Shortcomings:
Catch-All Tiering: Tier 2 encompasses countries of widely disparate records, from Nigeria, where the government has been involved in an aggressive anti-trafficking awareness campaign and has cooperated with other governments to combat trafficking to Laos, where there are no government-sponsored prevention efforts, no anti-trafficking legislation, no capacity for arrests and prosecutions, state corruption is a huge problem, and the one international agreement signed with Thailand excludes children altogether, although child trafficking is a significant problem.

Malaysia: Malaysia should be a Tier 3 country. Malaysia's anti-trafficking efforts have focused on penalizing victims rather than protecting them. The State Department report itself states, "foreign trafficking victims…are generally treated as immigration offenders, often detained and held for up to several months before deportation." Further, there is no comprehensive anti-trafficking law and in 2002, there were no prosecutions for the specific offense of trafficking.

Japan: Japan should be placed in Tier 3. Specific legislation prohibiting trafficking does not exist and there is no indication that there will be. In fact, there are special agreements that facilitate trafficking, allowing the admittance of "entertainers" into the country but not unskilled workers. Trafficking cases are not aggressively pursued and penalties are weak. Though the government has funded international programs to increase awareness in other countries, little to nothing has been done to control the growing trafficking issue in Japan. [More...]

Pakistan: Although there are some indications that the Pakistan government is dedicating more resources to control trafficking along its border with Iran, discriminatory laws still exist under the Zinah or Hudood ordinances that treat victims like criminals. These laws criminalize extramarital sex and use victim testimony as admissions of adultery, therefore discouraging victims from bringing forth their cases. [More...]

Qatar: The State Department's various reports on Qatar are inconsistent on the issue of trafficking. While the most recent Department of State Human Rights Country Report on Qatar notes that its government did not investigate or prosecute traffickers actively, the Trafficking in Persons report states that law enforcement agencies do actively investigate allegations of trafficking.

Kuwait & Saudi Arabia: Both countries should have remained in Tier 3. Neither has laws specifically prohibiting trafficking. In addition, labor laws in both countries exclude domestic workers, making them especially vulnerable to employer abuse, including trafficking. Services for trafficking victims are few or non-existent.

Benin: Benin has not enacted domestic laws specifically prohibiting trafficking in persons, a step that should be minimum standards for inclusion in Tier 1. The report refers only to Benin's investigation and arrest rate of trafficking cases and fails to analyze its prosecution record. In contrast, the Department of State Human Rights Country Report on Benin states, "The Government publicized various arrests of potential traffickers; however, there were no reports of subsequent legal action against the alleged traffickers."

Gabon: The report makes no reference to the investigation or prosecution of trafficking cases. The Department of State Human Rights Country Report on Gabon reveals, "The Government did not actively investigate cases of trafficking and has not prosecuted any cases against traffickers." Gabon is also a good example of a general failure to address government corruption and complicity, which, according to the report, has been raised as a serious concern by local organizations

Laos: Laos should be Tier 3. Laos is weak on prevention, prosecution, and protection. It does not monitor its borders well, it fails to arrest and prosecute traffickers, and corruption remains a serious problem. The steps taken towards victim protection are highly flawed: some victims have been punished for illegal border crossings and even sent to re-education seminars. A memorandum of understanding signed with Thailand addressing repatriation of Laos trafficking victims excludes children, despite child trafficking being a serious problem.

Togo: The report announces that Togo has prosecuted fifty traffickers, but provides no information on the results of these prosecutions. Unless prosecuted to completion, child traffickers will continue to entice children within and across borders and exploit them with impunity. [More...]