MR. VENTRELL: Hi. And good afternoon everyone, and thank you for joining us. I’m pleased to introduce Ambassador Luis CdeBaca who is our Ambassador-At-Large and Director of our Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Today’s conference call is on the record. He’s going to discuss the release of this year’s Trafficking in Persons Report, which the Secretary will introduce at 4:00 p.m. Having said that, this call and all of its contents are embargoed until the Secretary finishes speaking at approximately 4:30 p.m. But this will give a chance for Ambassador CdeBaca to give you a preview and answer some of your questions. So without further ado, over to you, Mr. Ambassador.
AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Thank you, and welcome, everyone. This afternoon, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Under Secretary of State Maria Otero and I will be unveiling the 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report. This is a statutorily mandated report that comes out of the Victims of Trafficking Protections Act of the year 2000, which was the Clinton Administration’s signature antislavery achievement continued and intensified by the Bush Administration and now taken to the next level by the Obama Administration.
We see the trafficking in persons issue and the bipartisan consensus against human trafficking to be something that is in keeping with the core United States values, both as far as how we conceive of ourselves as a nation and how we do our foreign policy and in – very much in keeping with the – this year’s 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. On September 22nd of this year, we will observe the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln declaring to the world that neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist. And while that was not self-executing – there was still a war to fight and win – it resulted in the ending of legalized slavery in the United States.
But this promise of freedom, the notion of the universal right to be free, the notion of a universal – a requirement to fight against human trafficking and modern day slavery continues into the modern era, and it is that call that we answer today. This is very much – while we call it human trafficking, it’s kind of the new and modern term for an old evil. This is truly what President Obama has called the intolerable yoke of modern slavery.
The annual Trafficking in Persons Report analyzes countries from around the world by looking at what the governments are doing against modern slavery. It does so through the 3P paradigm, in which we look at prevention, protection, and prosecution alike, not simply looking at this as a development issue or a public awareness issue, but also an issue of rehabilitation of victims and bringing the traffickers to justice. This is, as the report says this year, a crime first and foremost.
Now, this particular type of crime, a human rights crime or a civil rights crime as it were, is a crime that more countries and more governments are addressing. The report this year notes that the number of convictions globally reported is up from 3,619 last year to 3,969, and those are convictions of traffickers. That is not, however, a large number when one compares that to the global estimates of the victim population. A study released two weeks ago by the International Labor Organization estimates at least 21 million people held in bondage worldwide, and other estimates show it up to 27 million.
Human trafficking, just very quickly, a definitional point: This is not a crime of movement across borders for prostitution, although that is often how people see it. Both under the United States Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 and under the United Nations Palermo Protocol, the protocol to monitor and combat trafficking in persons from the year 2000, under both of those instruments, trafficking is defined as slavery. It doesn’t matter if someone is in their own country; it doesn’t matter if they’re in sex or if they’re in labor. If the person is not free to leave, if the person is unable to go get another position and is being held through some type of coercive force, that person is considered a trafficking victim, and that person is entitled to the protections that we look to governments to provide.
Now, having said that, we’ve seen the number of victims identified around the world has increased by almost a third. And this is, again, a very heartening piece of data, because it shows that governments are stepping up and are meeting their obligations, and we are very happy to see that 42,291 trafficking victims were identified and helped in the last year.
The issue, of course, continues to be, as I mentioned earlier, that we’re looking at that within the context of almost 27 million people who are enslaved in the world. So there’s a long way to go. And this report this year, looking at the problems of freedom and what we can do to deliver on it, is very much a challenge for all countries, the United States included, to address this and to intensify our efforts.
Now, one of the things that the report does each year that you may be familiar with is that it arranges countries onto four tiers. Counter-intuitively, those tiers are Tiers 1 through 3. But that is the magic of the congressional action on this. It is Tier 1 which is a country that is complying with the minimum standards to combat trafficking in persons; Tier 2, a country that is not yet compliant but is taking great strides; Tier 2 Watch List, which is basically a country that is in danger of falling down to Tier 3; and Tier 3, which is a country that is not complying with any of the minimum standards and is not working towards that.
We see this year on Tier 3, 17 countries; on Tier 2 Watch List, 42 countries; on Tier 2, 93 countries; and on Tier 1, 33 countries; 186 countries total appear in the report; 185 of them received rankings under the minimum standards. One of them did not, and that is Somalia, which does not have a functioning government such that we could include it in the report.
I would note, however, that even in Somalia, there are heroes of the anti-trafficking fight, particularly a recent prosecution that was brought in Puntland, shows that even in countries where there is not a functioning government, the legal system and others can work together to bring traffickers to justice. Heroes, much like that prosecutor in Somalia, we see that in this global and modern abolitionist fight, there are people whose commitment and whose excellence and whose innovation leaves them to be singled out as heroes of the fight.
And Secretary Clinton will honor 10 such heroes today, those people from countries around the world, from Argentina, to the United States, from Mauritania to Israel, from Greece to the Republic of the Congo. We see people who have done the cutting-edge legal work; we’ve seen the people who – within government who have brought their government colleagues together to uncover human trafficking cases, to take a stand against official complicity. We also see people who are on the frontlines.
One of the honorees today is a nun who works with human trafficking victims in the Sinai. Another of the heroes that we honor today is a young man who was enslaved for three years on the fishing fleet in Southeast Asia and now, through his art and other activities, is raising awareness of the fact of labor exploitation in the fishing industry. All of these people are heroes, most notably the hero from Mauritania, a woman who was the first female lawyer in that country, and in the last five years has been able to obtain legislation for the first time outlawing slavery in Mauritania.
And I think that that brings us to the conclusion of my remarks. With that, I think, chilling notion that there are countries in the world where the abolition of slavery, the official, legal outlawing of this practice is not something for the history books, it’s something within the living memory of the people in those countries. And I think it is a particular challenge as we address this in the modern era.
I will pitch you one thing before I get off and take questions, and that is so much of what is happening on the fight against modern slavery is dependent upon good and solid reporting, and I want to make sure that you know that my office is ready and willing to help you with that. This is an area that actually lends itself well to long-form or investigative reporting, and I think that we’ve seen with both the longer work and the commitment over the course of a year now that we’ve seen from CNN International that it’s also something that the viewers or the readers very much will respond to. And so we think there’s room for everybody, and we are certainly here and will support any of your work as you report on these stories. We’re hoping that this isn’t just today’s news, but something that we can support going forward.
And I will also challenge everybody by saying that one thing that we hear from people in countries around the world is young journalists who want to work on this who look to the American media and others as a resource that can help them learn how to address this and how to investigate this. So we may be calling upon you for more than just press conferences.
Anyway, I’ll turn it over for questions at this point. I’ve got, I think, about 15 minutes where I can answer some questions.
OPERATOR: Thank you. At this time, we will begin the question-and-answer session. If you would like to ask a question, please press *1 on your touchtone phone. Please unmute your phone and record your name clearly at the prompt. Once again, please press *1 if you would like to ask a question.
Our first question today is from Joshua Lipes. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi. Ambassador CdeBaca, thank you for your introduction. I was wondering if you could comment a little bit on how – what changes in Burma brought about the increase in the rank from Tier 3 to Tier 2 Watch List this year.
AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: One of things that we have been very concerned about over the last few years was not simply the human trafficking that we see in Burma of say, for instance, going up to China for sex trafficking or over to Thailand for the labor trafficking as well as sex trafficking, but also the notion of state – basically state-sponsored forced labor that arises from and is – was supported by the 1907 Villages and Towns Act that was being used to justify the forced impressment of villagers and rural folks. And it has everything from porters for the military to working on construction projects and what have you.
And what we’ve seen over the last year is that the government in Burma has taken a number of significant and frankly unprecedented steps in advancing these reforms. There is a good inter-ministerial working group that had been limited by the Burmese Government’s inability to work with other governments around the world, but they – and they’ve been in existence for several years – had worked within that constraint to actually try to bring on some best practices.
As a result, we’ve seen improved victim protection measures for victims who’ve come back from other countries. We’ve seen the inauguration of a new hotline, which has led to the rescue of 57 victims. And most importantly, this notion of repealing that antiquated law so there’s no longer state-sponsored forced labor that is legal in Burma. This is something that not only the United States has worked with the Government of Burma on, but also the International Labor Organization, and I think you may be familiar with some announcements that the ILO made last week as far as that was concerned.
I’ll tell you one last thing on Burma, and that is that one of the things I think that many people report on as far as Burma is the longstanding and heroic work that Aung San Suu Kyi has done for democracy building in that country, but people often tend to forget her activism on the issue of human trafficking, on her issue – the issues of forced labor.
The first place that she went outside of Burma when she was able to travel again was to the areas in Thailand where hoards of Burmese migrant workers are exploited and abused in the Thai fish processing plants, and she addressed their abuse. The next place that she went when she went to Europe was to address the ILO. This is a woman who even she was under house arrest sent some of the money from her Nobel Prize to Thailand to be able to care for, shelter, and feed Burmese trafficking victims.
So this is a woman who we – most of us know as a democracy activist, but many of us who work on human trafficking also know her as a good friend and colleague, and frankly, an expert in the field of human trafficking. And I think that her ability to take part in the governance of her own country will bode well for the fight against human trafficking in Burma.
QUESTION: Thank you.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Luis Alonso, your line is open.
QUESTION: Yes. Hi. Good afternoon. Many thanks for taking this call, Mr. Ambassador. I would like to ask you about Latin America. I see that five countries in the region have improved their tier, and I would like to hear from you whether there is a trend in the region to better fight the traffic of persons. And also, if you could please confirm me whether it’s the first time that Nicaragua is placed in Tier 1. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Of course. I think that there is a trend in Latin America that is improving its efforts. Part of this perhaps comes out of the last few years. There’s the action plan now with the Organization of American States, and I think that that has been a very positive framework in which countries can find a way forward.
But I think we’ve also seen political will. The upgrade recently in the country of Honduras – that was legislation that had been stuck for several years. It wasn’t that anyone opposed it; it just never really was going anywhere. We worked with the Honduran Government and were able to come up with a way forward on bipartisan legislation that everyone agreed on for the protection of Hondurans and the protection of others who may in Honduras from labor trafficking and sex trafficking.
So, too, with the Dominican Republic, we saw the Government of the Dominican Republic take on a number of concerns that at first they were a little bit defensive and didn’t know what to think about some of these issues and then rolled up their sleeves, got to work, and through political will started putting together the structures in place. And so as a result, we’ve seen convictions for not only trafficking – excuse me – but also the first labor trafficking convictions in the Dominican Republic, a conviction of two people who forced children into begging rings.
Now, you’re correct that this is the first year in which Nicaragua has been on Tier 1 in the Trafficking in Persons Report, and we see this as an improvement over previous years. This year, the Government of Nicaragua convicted nine traffickers. Just look back to 2009, when only two traffickers were brought to justice. This last year, they opened a dedicated shelter for adult human trafficking victims. And I think that’s specifically interesting in Central America because so much of the shelter opportunities in Central America are limited to children and are often donor-funded, whether it’s American or other religious groups that are taking care of children in Central America. The fact that the Nicaraguan Government stepped up and is putting together services for adult victims was, we think, a very positive step on the part of the Government of Nicaragua.
QUESTION: Thank you.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Lucia Leal, your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi. Yes. I wanted to ask about the decision to remove Venezuela from the Tier 3 part of the report, if you could describe what kind of progress has led to that, and also the removal of Haiti from the category of special cases, please. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Of course. Tell me your name again. I didn’t hear it very well.
QUESTION: Yes. It’s Lucia Leal from Ese.
AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Oh, okay. Hi, Lucia.
AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: I think that what we saw with Venezuela this year was the notion of on the one hand increased public awareness, the public information campaigns, trainings of government officials on human trafficking. Those typically will have an impact. And I think that that’s what we saw in Venezuela, is that by committing to doing those trainings and by actually being out and doing those trainings we saw that happening.
What were some of the things we saw? Well, one of the main things that we saw was that there were a couple of traffickers convicted, but more importantly 38 trafficking victims were identified and were helped. And of course, as you know, for us, that’s one of the most important things is, is a government helping the victims that they find, whether those are Venezuelan nationals or whether those are foreigners who are in Venezuela.
The other thing that we thought was very notable this year – and again, the minimum standards that we apply, Tier 3 is a country that is not meeting the minimum standards and is not trying to do so. And this is the year we saw the national assembly adopting a reform, a – that’s looking at this. This is actually a form of the organized crime law, but one of the things we’ve seen is that they were working with civil society organizations to try to make sure that that law could be brought into place and strengthened the legal reform and legal framework against trafficking.
So we think that that was a very positive step on the part of the national assembly, and I think that that’s – that plus the 24-hour hotline and a few of those other things, we looked at. And when we did the analysis came to the conclusion that this was not a Tier 3 country this year.
As far as Haiti is concerned, Haiti has been on the special case category for several years. And one of the things that we saw over the last year is that the – now the governance situation in Haiti is stable and largely peaceful. President Martelly and his government came to power in the first peaceful transition from an elected administration to the opposition, and the reconstruction efforts and development efforts continue to progress.
So in looking at that, we always look to see what’s the situation on the ground. Is there political stability? Are the courts functioning? While there are still some remaining issues as far as parliament and the government and the prime minister and things like this, we see a functioning government now in Haiti at a level that we feel justified bringing them into the report as a ranked country as opposed to on the special case category.
QUESTION: Thank you.
OPERATOR: Thank you. And the next question is from Hee Jung Yang. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Yes. I would like to ask what was the particular different situation regarding North Korea in terms of human trafficking. And also, I would like to ask whether there has been any cases that U.S. Government prohibited North Korea from getting any loan from the IMF and World Bank because it was recorded as the Third Tier in terms of human trafficking by the State Department’s report.
AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Well, one of the things that we’ve seen with North Korea repeatedly over the years is, again, this notion of state-supported forced labor. And we are, of course, concerned not just about forced labor within the country, but also in recent years more and more labor exporting of North Korean, often, men, whether it’s into the Middle East, whether it’s into especially Russia and other places. And of course, with most countries, when they send workers overseas, it’s between the workers, the recruiters, the employers. When the North Koreans send workers overseas, they send the police with them and keep them under surveillance and retaliate against them if they try to fight for their rights or if they try to leave.
So we continue to see the situation of forced labor/human trafficking in North Korea as very grave. The United States is required to vote no in the international financial institutions when countries are on Tier 3 of the trafficking report. That’s something, frankly, that the Treasury Department and some others work on, and I don’t have an immediate answer for you on that notion of were there votes this year in which the United States voted no on this basis. But it’s something that we can look at and we can circle back.
QUESTION: Thank you.
AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Thank you.
OPERATOR: Thank you. The next question is from Indira Lakshmanan. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador. I wanted to ask – and I apologize if you addressed this at the very top of the briefing because I missed it – but have you gained or lost ground over the last year in the fight on human trafficking? And could –
AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: That’s a wonderful question, and –
QUESTION: Could you give numbers –
AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: I did address it a little bit, but I think it’s something I want to address again, because –
QUESTION: Okay. Can I just ask specifically – can you tell us how many countries were upgraded, how many were downgraded, and how many people are in slavery right now while you answer that question?
AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: I can totally do that. I will do that again, and like I said, I’m glad to do it, because I think that these are concepts that we really need to make sure people are hearing.
So the number of identified victims around the world – excuse me – these are victims identified by governments in the last year – has increased by 28 percent. In 2011, it was 33,113. In 2012, the number of identified victims by governments was 42,291. That is a 28 percent increase. Convictions are also up by 10 percent from 3,619 to 3,969. Now, conviction numbers typically lag one or two years behind victim identification and investigation numbers because of how long it takes for cases to go through the pipeline.
This last year we saw 7,909 prosecutions initiated as opposed to the year before, which was 6,017 prosecutions initiated. So we do think that we’re seeing some real positive movement as far as those numbers are concerned, but those numbers have to be placed in the context of the overarching number of people who are in modern slavery in the world, and that is, per the ILO, at least 21 million people worldwide. There are other researchers that put that number as high as 27 million.
So I think that’s the numbers case. I think the upgrade and downgrade question you had asked, this year there are 186 countries on the report; 185 of them were ranked; Somalia was not. This year, Tier 1 of the report, which says that countries are meeting the minimum standards – and I’d caution that that’s not saying that countries are doing a great job on this; it’s simply that they’re meeting the minimum.
QUESTION: I actually got those numbers, because you had read them out, the four tiers, but did you have a number of how many were upgraded and how many were downgraded among the categories?
AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: I don’t really count that way.
AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: So it’s not something that –as far as kind of what the raw up and down number is, I know – I can tell you how big each of the tiers are compared to how they have been. Tier 2 has gotten a little bit bigger with 93 as opposed to 85 last year. Tiers 1 and Tiers 2 Watch List are basically the same – 33, Tier 1, last year it was 32; Tier 2 Watch List is 42, last year was 41. And Tier 3 is smaller this year by five countries. Last year it was 23, this year is 17.
So there is a little bit of movement up into Tier 2, which means that countries are passing laws. It means that countries are starting to address the situation. They still have a little ways to go, but that’s, I think, some – the beginnings, I think, of a real trend. And we also see a number of countries that have prosecuted cases for the first time this year. And so I think that that is also – excuse me – that’s something that when you see countries taking that first step, like we saw in Brunei, for instance, like we’ve seen in Somalia, that is, I think, a very positive step.
QUESTION: Thank you.
OPERATOR: Thank you. That is the final question for today’s call.
AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Thank you all.