June 18, 2009

MODERN DAY SLAVERY & THE 9th ANNUAL TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS REPORT

Mr. President, I take this time to share with my colleagues a problem that we thought was left in the 20th Century, as worldwide problem: Slavery. I'm talking about modern slavery, the human trafficking that takes place around the world.
 
Yesterday, as Chairman of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe - the U.S. Helsinki Commission - I was privileged to join Secretary of State Clinton at the State Department for the official release of the ninth annual Trafficking in Persons Report.
 
This is a vital diplomatic tool. It's been put out every year by the United States for nearly a decade. It lists every country and the current status of trafficking in their country. Some countries are origin countries. Others allow trafficking through their country. Other countries are receiving countries. This report is an objective yardstick that tells us exactly what is happening in each of these countries.  It's a valuable tool for us to put an end to the trafficking in human beings who are used for forced labor, sex or other illegal activities.
 
It was interesting, Mr. President, that the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, also released the Attorney General's report to Congress, "An Assessment of the U.S. Government Activities to Combat Trafficking in Persons." This is the first time we've had this report.  It talks about what is happening in our own country, because we think it's important that if we're going to lead internationally that we lead by example of what we do in the United States to stop trafficking in human beings.
 
The U.S. Department of State's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking utilizes our vast network of embassies and consulates throughout the world to compile the most comprehensive report of its kind. It's an objective yardstick that we should be using more and more to press every country in the world to do more to stop slavery.

The United States has shown great leadership on this issue and I want to commend Secretary Clinton for the incredible leadership she has demonstrated, making it a priority topic for the U.S. nationally and internationally. When Secretary Clinton was Senator Clinton, she served on the Helsinki Commission and was one of our leaders on forming a policy to raise the issue of trafficking in persons.

As a result of the work of the U.S. Commission, the leadership of our country, we were able to get the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to make this a priority, to adopt policies within the OSCE so every member state, all 56, would adopt the strategy to first understand what is happening in their country, to make an assessment as to where they stand  with regard to trafficking, then to develop a strategy to improve their record and adopt the best practices to make progress in rooting out trafficking in their country. Whether they happen to be an origin country, a host country or a transient country, they need to adopt a strategy that will help rid us of this modern-day slavery.

I'm very proud of the role the United States has played - our government and the Helsinki Commission. I have found the ongoing work of Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking and the Trafficking in Persons Report extremely useful in engaging the other 55 participating states in the OSCE.  We use this document frequently, when we meet with our colleagues or when they travel to the United States to meet with us, to say "what are you doing about this? This report says you could do a better job in law enforcement or that "you need to recognize that those who are trafficked are victims. They are not criminals. They are victims and you need to have ways to take care of their needs." The Report continues to function as a working document, frequently cited and invoked to promote adherence to numerous international human rights commitments and the principles of the Helsinki Final Act.

Some of the most striking parts of this year's report - besides the staggering estimate by the International Labor Organization that there are at least 12.3 million adults and children in forced labor, bonded labor, and commercial sexual servitude at any given time - are the wrenching victim stories.

We know that trafficking is connected to organized crime. Trafficking of people is not isolated. It's part of an organized criminal effort that we need to root out. What we sometimes forget is that the women, children and men who are trafficked are victims. We need to treat them like victims with respect and dignity.

Take the young woman from China. Now 20-years-old, her testimony in the State Department report says that "she spent most of her life in her small village in Sichuan Province. She was thrilled when her new boyfriend offered to take her on a weekend trip to his hometown. But her boyfriend and his friends instead took her to a desert village in the Mongolian Region and sold her to a farmer to be his wife. The farmer imprisoned her, beat her, and raped her for 32 months. … Her family borrowed a substantial sum to pay for her rescue, but the farmer's family forced her to leave behind her 6-month-old baby. To cancel the debts, she married the man who provided the loan. But her husband regarded her as 'stained goods,' and the marriage did not last."

Tragic scenarios like this will continue unless all countries - whether a point of origin for the sex trade, a transit point for slaves whose criminal traffickers are undetected by law enforcement, or a destination for a forced child laborer, work together to increase prosecution of these crimes.  In concert with the immense awareness raising efforts of the Trafficking in Persons Report, the exchange of U.S. policies and counter-trafficking mechanisms throughout the OSCE region has resulted in a steady increase in the number of countries with enacted anti-trafficking legislation. That's a success story. We've made progress. Tougher laws are being adopted and, probably more important than that we're developing attitudes in countries that this cannot continue. That's not something you can overlook.

I must tell you, this report that was issued and these reports over the last nine years have played a critical role. The United States should be proud that we've been able to call world attention to this issue.

According to the State Department's report, a young woman from Azerbaijan had a sister who "had been tricked into an unregistered marriage to a trafficker who later abandoned her when she got pregnant. When she confronted her sister's traffickers, she herself became a victim. She ended up in Turkey, where she and other abducted girls were tortured and forced to engage in prostitution. She escaped with the help of Turkish police, who promptly arrested the nine men who trafficked her and her sister." They were some of the lucky ones. She and her sister found help from a local NGO, including job training, and now she works and lives her life as a free woman.  So there are some of these tragedies that have ended with heroic actions taking place. There is some encouragement that we are making the kind of progress we'd like to see. 

Prostitution is not the only form of involuntary servitude outlined in this latest report. It contains true stories like: a family in India that were bonded laborers at a rice mill for three generations until freed with the help of NGOs; young boys in the Democratic Republic of Congo abducted from their school by a militia group and tortured until they submitted to serving as soldiers; and an 8-year-old girl from Guinea given away as an unpaid domestic servant after he mother and brother died. These are real people. These are real stories.

The U.S. is not immune from the problems of modern day slavery. The 2009 Trafficking in Persons Report highlights a young girl brought to California from Egypt by a wealthy couple who forced her to work up to 20 hours a day for just $45 a month. And earlier in June, more than a dozen Filipinos were rescued from hotels in Douglas and Casper, Wyoming, where they were working with minimal pay and forced to live in horrendous conditions. Their "employment agency" purposefully allowed their work visas to expire so they would be trapped into servitude as illegal aliens. A federal grand jury brought forward a 45-count indictment on racketeering, forced labor trafficking, immigration violations, identity theft, extortion, money laundering, and other related violations in Wyoming and 13 other states. This is what's involved here. These are criminal elements at work. Fortunately, we're starting to see prosecution of people involved in these activities. 

We want to end this modern day slavery - as human beings we need to end this slavery - in the United States and around the world. Involuntary domestic servitude, sex trafficking and forced labor should not be acceptable in any 21st century civilization. 

The OSCE has a unique role in generating instruments that empower governments to end human trafficking.  Each year, the OSCE Special Representative and Coordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings also prepares a report that outlines the trends and developments of counter-trafficking efforts in the OSCE region.  This is a document that shows best practices. It's being used in many countries around the world as an example of how they can better prepare their law enforcement personnel to identify trafficking and help in the prosecution of these people by preparing the right types of cases so the criminals involved can be held accountable.

These efforts demonstrate a close partnership with the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking. I truly hope that this relationship between the OSCE and the United States State Department will continue to grow stronger and stronger with a common purpose. We're working together. We were instrumental in getting the OSCE to have the capacity to do this. And the Congress was instrumental in getting the State Department to make these annual reports. Now we have the documents. Now we have the evidence. We know that progress can be made. We've seen progress made. But until we rid civilization of modern-day slavery, we have not accomplished our goal. Let us take these reports, use these reports, so that we can bring an end to those who would victimize others through trafficking.