WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released the following statement Tuesday after the State Department published its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report:
“The annual Trafficking in Persons Report is an essential accountability tool which assesses governments’ progress on anti-trafficking efforts globally and is critical to ensuring continued progress against the scourge of human trafficking. Human trafficking is one of the great moral challenges of our time, damaging people’s lives and corroding communities while also distorting labor markets and undermining stability and the rule of law. This unconscionable practice is fueled by greed, violence and corruption and the TIP report must continue to be improved and developed in order to shine a harsh light on the worst actors around the world and hold people accountable for this modern form of slavery.
“This year’s report shows that we are making slow and steady progress to combat trafficking around the globe but that much work is left to be done.
Senator Cardin made the following remarks specific to individual country designations and child soldiers:
“I understand that Burma and Malaysia have made efforts to address the concerns raised by their previous rankings – demonstrating the value of the TIP process. However, I am troubled by Malaysia’s upgrade to Tier 2. Earlier this year, Malaysian authorities released 12 police officers suspected of trafficking, again raising questions about the country’s commitment to addressing trafficking particularly when it involves their own citizens. I look forward to discussing more with the administration the concrete actions both Malaysia and Burma have taken to merit the change in their status, and to exploring what additional measures the United States can take to assure that the efforts made are genuine and sincere, and that the rhetoric of commitment is matched by the reality of change.
“I am also pleased to see the administration take the right step to downgrade China in this report. China has long been a center for trafficking, and the Chinese government has simply not taken the necessary steps to address it. The Chinese government must demonstrate that they are serious about trafficking, both in China and in the role that China plays as a regional conveyor belt for the human suffering and degradation of trafficking in persons, and take the steps needed to address the concerns raised in this report.
“In the Middle East, I am pleased that the governments of Tunisia and Qatar are taking steps to combat trafficking in persons including moving legislation forward to combat trafficking. I hope leaders in both countries will continue these critical efforts, with Tunisia increasing protections for victims, and Qatar prosecuting Qatari employers and recruitment agencies for extensive forced labor. Across the region, unfortunately, much more needs to be done to combat human trafficking and I will continue to engage on these issues in my meetings and oversight work.
“The downgrading of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Tier 3 is further indication of the deteriorating human rights situation in the country. The report detailed recent allegations that the police and military executed unarmed children thought to be associated with militia and noted that the military collaborates with militia that recruit child soldiers. The report also finds that authorities continued to arrest and detain some victims, including child soldiers. The limited progress made on trafficking over the past year is not enough.
“It is clear from the report that the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria has enabled an environment where the recruitment of child soldiers and sexual exploitation have started to flourish, necessitating that country’s downgrade to Tier 2 Watch List. The United States should fully investigate charges contained in the report, particularly those that allege that government officials, police and military have sexually exploited internally displaced persons and that security forces have used children in support roles. Such actions must not go unpunished, and the Administration must carefully consider whether or not to provide arms and material to security forces in the face of such allegations.”
“In Ukraine, which was upgraded to Tier 2, I am pleased that the government has increased efforts to address trafficking in persons, including by securing a higher number of convictions in 2016 than the prior year and ending a five-year downward trajectory in that regard. As the report makes clear, the Russian government’s continued aggression against Ukraine is exacerbating the problems of sex and labor trafficking in the country, particularly among vulnerable conflict-affected populations. Disturbingly, in parts of Eastern Ukraine presently not under the government’s control, Russia-backed separatist groups have reportedly trained and mobilized children to fight in the ongoing conflict.
“Hungary was downgraded to Tier 2 Watch List this year because, as the report notes, indicators worsened in a number of areas related to investigating, prosecuting and convicting traffickers, providing services to victims, and preventing the exploitation and re-victimization of children. Against a backdrop of growing constraints on civil society and democratic processes in Hungary, it is all the more imperative that the government take seriously its responsibilities to uphold the rule of law and respect the rights of its citizens, including those victimized by trafficking.”
South and Central Asia
“The upgrade of Afghanistan to Tier 2 reflects important steps the government took to address trafficking in persons, including reopening a Kabul shelter for trafficking victims and enacting a new law in January on human trafficking that also criminalizes bacha baazi, a practice in which young boys are exploited for sexual entertainment. But many women and children remain vulnerable to trafficking in the country, and, as the report notes, official complicity in the sexual exploitation and recruitment of children by Afghan security forces is a serious problem.
“In our own hemisphere, I am pleased that Haiti, a country previously in Tier 3, is taking important steps – including strengthening partnerships with international organizations and increasing investigations and prosecutions – to address human trafficking. The upgrade, however, underscores the long-standing challenges that are still present and the fact that Haiti’s government officials must better prioritize anti-trafficking efforts.
“In Guatemala, the tragedy of at least 41 children dying due to a government-managed shelter that caught fire earlier this year served to highlight the uneven quality and availability of specialized victim services. The Guatemalan government must address these challenges and prioritize shelter standards and operations that provide for child trafficking victims nationwide.
Child Soldiers Prevention Act List
“I am very concerned by reports that some countries were excluded from the annual Child Soldiers Prevention Act list appended to this year’s TIP report, despite compelling evidence presented in the report of the use of child soldiers. Decisions around the annual TIP report rankings and CSPA listings must not be politicized, and should simply reflect the facts.”