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Diplomacy in Action

Trafficking in Persons: A 3D Approach

Luis CdeBaca
Ambassador-at-Large, Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
U.S. Pacific Command Interagency Symposium on Trafficking in Persons
Honolulu, HI
February 18, 2011


As Prepared for Delivery

Hello and thank you for that kind introduction and for the invitation by PACOM today to talk about how together we can make tangible progress against modern slavery in the Pacific region. Some have asked, “Why does America care about whether someone is held in servitude in another country?” “Why is this foreign policy?” or even “How dare America issue an annual report analyzing what other countries are doing on this issue – isn’t such unilateralism presumptuous?” Some of you here today may even be asking yourselves, “How does a civilian human rights issue apply to me while I am at Pacific Command?”

Here’s what we know. We know human trafficking is a crime; a human rights abuse; a byproduct of conflict; an issue of national security, public health, and democracy; a labor and migration issue; and a growing global phenomenon. As we have seen in many places the world over, it must be at the forefront of our planning when we race to respond to a natural disaster or conflict.

In and around deployments that many of you may have experienced – Haiti, Iraq, the Balkans – pimps and exploiters have taken advantage of the chaos to find and abuse their victims. Sexual enslavement can take place not only in a brothel or on a street corner, but in the context of war, and has been prosecuted as a crime against humanity before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

As Secretary Clinton said recently, anywhere from 12 to 27 million people are currently held in bondage for labor or prostitution. That’s equivalent to all the people who live in London, at the low end, and the combined populations of New York City, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., at the high end.

The victims range from the men and women enslaved in fields, factories, and brothels, to the girls and boys whose childhoods have been shattered and stolen, to the parents whose children have vanished. And they feel that no one can help them, that no one is looking for them, that no one cares.

It is our responsibility to find the victims, help them, prosecute their traffickers, and find ways to prevent enslavement in the first place. You are no doubt familiar with the “3D” foreign policy approach of diplomacy, development, and defense. Not to belabor the construct, but those 3Ds can also fuel an anti-trafficking strategy of deterrence, disruption, and demand, that can help us confront an unfortunate reality in the PACOM Area of Responsibility – too often, countries follow a more unfortunate “3D” paradigm, as all too often we see victims experience the phenomenon of detention, deportation, and disempowerment. This must stop.

This is not a theoretical matter to me, or an issue for politics. I did not learn about human trafficking in an office, a cubicle, or a think tank. For me, the survivors of trafficking – in all its forms – are people I know, people whose experiences as told to me are seared into my memory. The people who trusted me to fight for them in court. The people who have shared both their tears and their strength with me as they recounted horrific abuse at the hands of pimps or bosses. The people who believed that the United States stood for something, and placed their sacred trust with me and my team at the Justice Department to vindicate their rights.

Human trafficking is a scourge on the Earth, and the United States is certainly no exception. This year, for the first time, the annual Trafficking in Persons Report evaluated and ranked the United States’ efforts to combat trafficking – we held ourselves accountable to the same standards to which we hold other governments. We found that trafficking occurs for both sex and labor. We see it in domestic servitude, agriculture, manufacturing, janitorial services, construction, health care, and beauty salons. We see trafficking in prostitution and strip clubs, as the traffickers dehumanize and destroy.

In including the United States, we looked at the situation in the US and the response of the government. We called for submissions from NGOs, and listened to their insight and read their data. The United States was placed on Tier One of the Report. Not a reprieve or a foregone conclusion, but a responsibility based on the evidence.

And Tier One is not an “A” grade by any means; it just means that countries meet the Minimum Standards set forth by Congress. In other words, just passing the threshold.

Even if you haven’t seen this modern form of slavery up close and personal like I did for fifteen years as a federal prosecutor, you know from our own tragic American history the damage that chattel slavery left in its wake. The destructive impact it had on family, community, country. On our economy, and our security.

It is because of our own experience as a Nation that we know slavery – whether in the slave trade of the 19th century or in the modern forms of slavery we see today – to be an affront to our most basic rights as Americans and as human beings in a global community.

Creating strong communities and policies that eradicate the modern form of slavery that we see today is paramount to providing the stability needed to achieve trade, security, and economic success. And so often, the men and women called upon to guarantee that freedom have been in our Armed Forces. As representatives of the United States, military personnel at all levels have a special responsibility to combat human trafficking.

It comes back to the most fundamental crimes that we have confronted for so long as a nation – piracy and slavery. Just as Decatur went into Algiers to deal with the Barbary pirates and their protectors who were taking American and European slaves, America in 2011 again finds itself confronting the old evils of piracy and slavery around the world. Just as African-Americans during the Civil War knew that they could find freedom if they could just reach the lines of the U.S. Army, we again find ourselves providing protection and refuge.

While our history with this heinous practice may be unique, the struggle against it spans time and region. For as long as people of every community, culture, and country in the world are enslaved, our work and efforts must go on.

That’s where PACOM comes in. We cannot meaningfully address this issue without focusing on your AOR. We cannot meaningfully address this issue without focusing on Asia.

According to the International Labor Organization, the prevalence of forced labor and sexual servitude is highest in Asia, with almost three in every 1,000 inhabitants falling victim. Also, the International Organization for Migration and World Bank data show that the majority of the over 200 million transnational migrants in the world are from Asia. Within the growing pool of Asian migrants – reflecting greater labor mobility in the region and in the world – is a huge population of people who are victims of sex and labor trafficking.

As the percentage of women migrants in that pool grows exponentially, we have to recognize the feminization of migration, and the multitude of issues that are specific to women. So we see women held in sex slavery, in labor servitude, or working in situations where they routinely face sexual harassment or even rape.

Unfortunately, the number of countries in Asia downgraded in the 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report was greater than the number upgraded. Many Asian governments lack adequate laws, and more have failed to produce significant convictions of trafficking offenders.

None of the countries in South Asia has ratified the decade-old UN Palermo Protocol, though they have joined the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) anti-TIP convention. The SAARC convention, however, is problematic for numerous reasons, one of which is that it focuses on sex trafficking rather than on both sex and labor trafficking. Furthermore, the ASEAN countries have not formulated regional strategies along the lines of the Council of Europe or the Organization of American States.

While some countries in Asia have passed legislation to prohibit trafficking, governments as a whole have not yet shown the political will to hold the traffickers to the fullest account, in the form of sentencing reflective of the severity of the crimes they commit. Some countries only focus on sex trafficking – and not from a compassionate place, but by locking up the women as illegal immigrant prostitutes or criminals, rather than recognizing them as victims.

So too, it has been a steep learning curve for some governments to consider issues of labor trafficking. Forced labor cases – untold thousands of women working as maids or seamstresses and men in construction or agriculture – are sometimes treated as administrative violations, if confronted at all.

And each year, by statute, the United States has to assess these countries, make a determination as to what is being done, and rank them by the Congressionally-mandated minimum standards.

Secretary Clinton has said it best:

Countries come to us and ask very forcefully not to be dropped in their category and we hear them out and we tell them […] the kinds of things that we would look to that would demonstrate the commitment that we think would make a difference, to talk about best practices, to share stories. And some countries have listened and the results speak for themselves. Others have not.

Now this is a process that is fraught with all kinds of feelings and I recognize that, but the easiest way to get out of the tier three and get off the watch list is to really act. And we had some real friends, friends – countries that are friends on so many important issues, and they were very upset when we told them that they were not going to progress and, in fact, were in danger of regressing. And then they said, "Well, what can we do?" And we said, "Well, we’ve pointed this out, we point it out again, and we will stand ready to help you."

Friends help each other – not just with convenient facts, but sometimes with inconvenient truths. And in the anti-trafficking world, that kind of friendship means honesty about the problems we see.

For instance, in the past several years, we have learned a lot about the forced labor of migrant workers in the fishing and seafood processing industries. In a 2006 study, the ILO found that 43 percent of Burmese in the Thai fishing sector who have given over possession of their identity documents to their employers cannot access these documents when they want to. In many cases, the employers hold onto these documents to purposefully restrict their employees' movement, even though without them migrants are vulnerable to arrest and deportation.

A UN survey of men and boys who were victims of forced labor on Thai fishing boats (which travel throughout the Pacific region) found that 29 of 49 (59 percent) reported seeing a murder by the boat captain. The problem of forced labor on fishing vessels in the Pacific region is one on which we are attempting to gain greater information and encourage governments to address – the inherently isolated nature of work on these vessels, and the legal jurisdictions of the waters in which these boats operate, make this a particularly difficult challenge.

We know that there are tens, and possibly hundreds of thousands of foreign migrant workers – many of whom are trafficked – in the Southeast Asian fishery industries. While this problem is widespread, in Thailand, we are aware of only six offenders convicted by the Royal Thai Government for the forced labor of foreign workers in the industry – all but one of whom were freed on bail after conviction, pending their appeals. While the convictions represented successes in Thailand's efforts to combat trafficking, their limited number speaks to the work that still needs to be done. Meanwhile, it is Malaysia, pushed by a Tier 3 ranking in 2009, that embarked on the first steps towards addressing its multi-faceted human trafficking problem.

Farther north, Vietnam reported to us that last year, they did not criminally prosecute any labor trafficking offenders, but they fined 98 recruitment companies a total of $10,900 and revoked the licenses of two firms. That’s a start, but it is an average of only $111 per firm – and a total of less than what one worker pays to be recruited for a job abroad.

Indeed, a lack of avenues for redress of complaints by Indonesian, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, and Nepali men and women in many East Asian destination countries denies them justice and a chance of effective recovery. It also fails in providing a deterrent through tough criminal sanctions to traffickers. Clearly, we have to elevate the ramifications for this type of exploitation above the cost of doing business.

Equally harmful to the cause is official denial by governments which continue to refute the existence of a trafficking problem. This is often true of more developed nations. For example, in one small but developed Asian country, the denial of a problem has prevented effective victim identification or assistance efforts. It resulted in the mass arrest and deportation of over seven thousand women and girls in prostitution last year. Among this population, only one individual was officially identified by the government as a trafficking victim.

Again: one victim identified, out of seven thousand women who were identified as foreign prostitutes. Think about how likely that is…

Millions of the victims of bonded labor and domestic service are women and girls, and they are exposed to not just physical, but sexual predation at the hands of their captors. I will never forget two young Indian girls – taken from their bonded laborer parents at 11. They were forced to work as maids, waitresses, and sex slaves for their master. He didn’t respect their freedom or their bodies, and he didn’t respect the labels we use to describe their situation. I may have put him in prison where he belongs, but I can never regain what these young women had lost.

In South Korea, the government has had some success prosecuting sex traffickers and offering services to the victims. There is a known presence of women and girls in forced commercial sexual exploitation, including foreign women recruited to work on entertainment visas as singers and bars near U.S. military facilities. We know that women such as these often incur thousands of dollars in debts, contributing to their vulnerability to debt bondage upon arrival. The issue of child sex tourism – one that the U.S. government attempts to tackle head-on through extraterritorial application of relevant laws – is also one shared by South Korea and Japan, and the 2010 TIP Report sets forth how men from those countries fuel the demand for trafficking in Cambodia and other poorer countries. But unlike the United States, South Korea has never prosecuted one of its citizens for sex tourism, and Japan’s last prosecution was in 2005.

The reality is that enforcement regimes in the Pacific region are woefully inadequate. Resource constraints, corruption, and a lack of political will have created an enabling environment in which sex slavery and forced labor thrives, and exploiters rarely face meaningful penalties.

Yet clear successes are being registered. While ranked Tier 2 Watch List just a few years ago, perhaps the strongest Tier 1 jurisdiction in the Pacific region is Taiwan – thanks to its political commitment to carrying out a series of tough anti-trafficking reforms. Now, foreign victims of trafficking in Taiwan stand a much greater chance of being identified, subsequently given assistance to get back on their feet, and gain legitimate employment with legal immigration status. Taiwan authorities have made a commitment not just to enforcement, but to victim care, and that’s making them stand out.

In the past year, the Philippine Government – led by a new President and a Congressman who doesn’t just score knockouts in the ring – has heeded the call to take more seriously its responsibility to address the trafficking of its citizens within the country and abroad, and the government has publicly linked these efforts to the threat of a downgrade to Tier 3 in the 2011 TIP Report. The hundreds of backlogged trafficking cases in the court system are beginning to be fast-tracked, corrupt officials are being identified and punished, government resources have increased to combat trafficking, and most importantly, mechanisms to improve the government’s anti-trafficking responses are being institutionalized.

Similarly, Indonesia has made good use of its 2007 anti-tip law, prosecuting the largest number of labor trafficking offenders (79) of any East Asian government in 2009.

We want to encourage other Asian countries to embark on similar courses. And the Defense Department can help. On February 1, Secretary Clinton and I had the privilege of convening the cabinet-level meeting on trafficking in persons. Annually, the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Agriculture, Labor, Health & Human Services, Education, and Interior, as well as the heads of other agencies including the Director of National Intelligence and Chair of the Equal Opportunity Commission, come together to discuss this issue. This year, the meeting was on National Freedom Day, which commemorates the day in 1865 that President Lincoln sent the 13th Amendment to the states for ratification.

Secretary Gates spoke of the importance of enforcing the DOD zero-tolerance policy against forced labor and sex trafficking, of mandatory trainings for the Total Forces to identify and respond to human trafficking, and of the findings of Inspector General audits and reports of defense contractors overseas. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar spoke about the upcoming need for interagency coordination to prevent forced labor and prostitution in overseas U.S. territories.

It was inspiring to see our senior leadership engaged and committed to delivering on the promise of freedom that had been made 146 years ago. As President Obama said when declaring January to be slavery and trafficking awareness month, we need to “acknowledge that forms of slavery still exist in the modern era, and recommit ourselves to stopping the human traffickers who ply this horrific trade.”

There was another key announcement made at the meeting that is particularly relevant to you. In November 2010, nearly 60 private security companies signed the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers, crafted by industry representatives, governments, and NGOs – an effort supported by the U.S. Government. Here we have companies pledging to uphold a number of principles both in their company policies and in the conduct of their personnel, including not engaging or benefiting from human trafficking or prostitution. These are companies that very well may be DOD contractors that are recognizing that they have a role to play in eliminating forced labor and the persistent exploitation of women in prostitution.

Right now it is a code that speaks to the same principles as the government’s zero tolerance policy. We need to be sure that it’s not just a commitment, but that there is real action and oversight behind it, just as we are doing with our contractors. As you may know, the Departments of State and Defense, as well as USAID, are all subject to Inspector General audits as mandated by Congress. They are looking for signs of human trafficking, reporting on them, and remedying them.

Fighting trafficking is not something relegated to policy or just to the senior leadership level. You each play a role to uphold a standard of conduct – of dignity and the promise of freedom – that the U.S. Government is fighting for around the globe. Its each of you, each of us.

Because traffickers don’t create the markets. Traffickers exploit their people. But it is the demand for commercial sex, for cheap goods, that they rush to meet through violence and cruelty. And so we need to end that demand. By placing certain clubs off-limits to those under your command. By including and enforcing the contracting regulations that prohibit such conduct on the part of your vendors.

By holding yourself and your staff to an appropriate and honorable standard of conduct both on and off-duty. Purchasing sex is wrong. It doesn’t matter whether the woman is over 18 or how willing she may appear – because the truth is you can never know. This is one of those places where government policy truly conforms with human obligation. Through your actions, you can do a great deal to advance not only government policy but the opportunity and freedom of women and girls around the world.

This is driven by demand. No girl or woman would be a victim of sex trafficking if there were no profits to be made from their exploitation. You each play a role in reducing that demand, and living by example – by refraining personally from engaging in human trafficking or buying commercial sex, not just because of the UCMJ or National Security Presidential Directive 22, but because it is the right thing to do.

In the DC area, DHS has put up posters that say “If you see something, say something.” We can live our lives by the principle of “If you see trafficking, say stop.”

And so we have to have those tough conversations with friends. Whether it is the US and our allies in the annual report, or us and our buddies. Friends have to be honest enough to help each other confront inconvenient truths. To stand for the challenge that actor Ashton Kutcher has laid down: real men don’t buy girls. Or women for that matter.

But it is not enough to think that personal intolerance, or abstention, is sufficient. Real men need to speak out against bad behavior. Even when it’s tough. Even when it’s a friend, an associate, a colleague. Especially then. Bachelor parties, R and R’s, when it’s your best friend or your boss or your brother-in-law and you’re just not the type to cause drama. Think of the drama in the woman’s life that – absent your action – would otherwise continue unabated.

Do something. Make buying sex as embarrassing as it should be.

In the wake of the Civil War, the promise of freedom was so often delivered by your predecessors. Navy and Coast Guard cutters intercepted raiders who tried to kidnap newly-freed slaves to take them to Cuba and Hispaniola. The Army enforced the involuntary servitude statutes in the occupied South. Military governors and courts freed domestic servants from peonage in the Southwest territories.

Today, whether in a broken Haitian village or a war-torn countryside, we rely on you to be equally vigilant. Third Country Nationals brought in by contractors. The local women and girls. Even things explained away as cultural practices, such as the Haitian restaveks or the Afghan bacha bazi. All of these things can be prevented by you, both in your commands and in your personal lives.

Collectively, we cannot afford to have a fragmented or partial U.S. Government approach. The Department of State stands ready to partner with you to advance the anti-trafficking efforts of the countries within your area of responsibility, for instance, by leveraging your expertise to build capacity and train foreign law enforcement.

As a nation looked to as a world leader on this issue, much is expected of us. And, as Americans we expect much from ourselves. And so let us heed the words of President Obama, “From every corner of our Nation, to every part of the globe, [let us] stand firm in defense of freedom and bear witness for those exploited by modern slavery.”

Thank you.

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