The Honorable Colin L. Powell
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20520

June 27, 2003

Dear Secretary Powell:

We write to share some concerns about the U.S. State Department's third annual Trafficking in Persons Report (Trafficking Report). The Trafficking Report has the potential to become a powerful tool to address trafficking worldwide. However, persistent shortcomings seriously undermine its effectiveness. We urge the State Department to remedy those shortcomings in future reports.

As you know, trafficking in persons threatens the lives, health, dignity, and security of millions of people throughout the world, with women and children suffering the brunt of the abuses. Trafficking is a blatant violation of human rights and is almost universally condemned, yet many countries are failing to address this problem seriously.

Human Rights Watch has documented and monitored trafficking in persons for more than a decade. We have advocated for increased respect for the human rights of victims of trafficking and for greater accountability of traffickers. For example, we have investigated trafficking of persons from Eastern Europe to Bosnia and Herzegovina; in West African countries such as Togo, Gabon, Benin, Nigeria, Niger, Ghana, and Côte d'Ivoire; from Bangladesh to Pakistan; from Burma to Thailand; from Nepal to India; from Thailand to Japan; and from North Korea to China.

Based on our experience and consultations with nongovernmental and other organizations working to end trafficking around the world, we have the following concerns about the Trafficking Report:

 

  • The report does not meaningfully evaluate anti-trafficking efforts. The Trafficking Report lauds governments' efforts to combat trafficking, such as initiating information campaigns, setting up victim service programs, and proposing draft legislation, but generally does not evaluate the content or effectiveness of such measures. For example, some country chapters note that legal services are provided to victims, but do not assess the quality of the services. Other chapters indicate that governments have established inter-ministerial task forces to combat trafficking in persons, but do not evaluate their work. Draft trafficking legislation is mentioned in some chapters without assessing the adequacy of the draft legislation. To maximize its usefulness, the Trafficking Report must do more than superficially list anti-trafficking measures. It must assess the quality of those measures. For example, it should answer questions such as: Are the victim service programs appropriately designed and funded, and are they effectively assisting victims in practice? What are the inter-ministerial task forces mandated to do, and have they succeeded? Does draft legislation cover trafficking into all forms of forced labor and provide adequate victim services and witness protections?
  • The report inconsistently uses statistics. Statistical data are spotty in the Trafficking Report. While some chapters provide basic data on the numbers of trafficking victims, arrests, prosecutions and convictions, many more do not. The Trafficking Report should explain the absence of such data. It should also urge governments to compile and publish statistics on trafficking in persons disaggregated by age, sex, nationality, and the nature of their forced labor.
  • The report fails to weigh and condemn harmful immigration policies: The report notes that some countries summarily deport or incarcerate trafficking victims but does not condemn these practices as further victimizing of trafficked people. A country that summarily incarcerates or deports a victim of trafficking essentially punishes the individual for being a victim of a human rights abuse and eliminates any chance for the victim to seek redress or medical or other attention. Such practices call into question a country's commitment to protecting the rights of victims of trafficking and the government's genuine understanding of trafficking as a human rights abuse.
  • The report credits countries without trafficking legislation. The Trafficking Report credits many countries for their anti-trafficking efforts even when they have not passed legislation specifically criminalizing trafficking into all forms of forced labor, or when they have failed to ratify the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, which supplements the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (Trafficking Protocol). In our view, it should be a minimum requirement for all countries ranking in Tier 1 that they have legislation specifically criminalizing all forms of forced labor as trafficking and providing remedies and assistance to victims. While legislation is just the beginning of providing a legal structure to address trafficking, and laws alone do not guarantee state action, passing legislation is vital to the effective prosecution of traffickers and to ensure that the victims' rights are respected.
  • The report lacks specificity. The Trafficking Report is often vague or cursory. For example, some chapters note that prosecutions occurred, but fail to explain whether those prosecutions were completed and their results. At a minimum, the Trafficking Report should specify whether a country's legislation penalizes trafficking into all forms of forced labor (not just forced prostitution), which types of government agents are complicit in trafficking, and what measures have been taken to investigate and prosecute them. The Trafficking Report should include whether the country is failing to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses vigorously, and what appear to be the reasons for such failure; whether the country has effective government-funded witness protection and victim services programs to which all trafficking victims have access; and whether the country is a party to the Trafficking Protocol.
  • The report fails adequately to explain the criteria for Tier movement. The Report does not adequately explain the criteria applied when countries move from one Tier to another. For example, the Report does not explain why Benin was moved from Tier 2 last year to Tier 1 this year. We believe the decision was inappropriate, given that Benin has not ratified the Trafficking Protocol and has no national legislation criminalizing all forms of trafficking. The Trafficking Report should describe the justification for moving countries from one Tier to another. Failing to do so jeopardizes the credibility of the Trafficking Report's Tier system.

Despite our serious concerns, we note that the Trafficking Report has improved since last year, in part by including more countries, better organizing the country narratives, ensuring that the report includes information on trafficking into many forms of forced labor, and including more discussion of domestic (internal) as well as international trafficking. However, this important document still needs significant improvement.

To protect the rights of millions of trafficking victims around the world, and prevent others from being trafficked, we ask that you ensure that all future reports evaluate the effectiveness of anti-trafficking efforts; include disaggregated statistics on trafficking victims and prosecutions; urge all countries to enact anti-trafficking legislation and bar any countries that do not have such legislation from Tier 1; provide more specificity on issues such as corruption, prosecutions, and service programs; and better explain the criteria for moving countries from one Tier to another.

Absent a deeper and clearer evaluation of governments' anti-trafficking records, the Trafficking Report risks becoming a public relations opportunity for states that inadequately protect trafficking victims and fail to punish traffickers.

We thank you for your attention to the concerns raised in this letter and hope to meet you to discuss these issues further.

Sincerely,

LaShawn R. Jefferson
Executive Director
Women's Rights Division

Cc: Mr. John R. Miller, Senior Advisor and Director of the Office to Monitor
and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Ms. Paula J. Dobriansky, Under Secretary for Global Affairs
Charlotte Ponticelli, Senior Coordinator for International Women's
Issues