MS ORTAGUS: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today’s briefing on the release of the 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report. We have with us today Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons John Cotton Richmond.
Ambassador Richmond will begin with some remarks at the top, and then we’ll open it up for a few questions on the TIP Report. With that, I’m happy to turn it over to Ambassador Richmond. Sir?
AMBASSADOR RICHMOND: Thank you so much. I’m delighted to have the opportunity to speak with you today.
This morning, Secretary Pompeo released the 19th annual Trafficking in Persons Report. It’s an annual report that assesses 187 countries’ efforts to meet the minimum standards to combat trafficking in persons. It is the foundation of our diplomatic efforts regarding outreach to countries to improve their efforts to combat trafficking around a 3P paradigm: protecting victims, prosecuting perpetrators, and preventing this crime by dismantling the systems that make it easier for traffickers to operate.
The theme of this year’s report I thought was incredibly important, and that is to focus on national trafficking, the idea that 77 percent of the victims in the world, according to the International Labor Organization – traffickers are exploiting 77 percent of the world’s victims in their country of origin; they’re not moving across borders. This isn’t an effort to de-emphasize transnational trafficking, but to also emphasize the idea that there are victims in each country around the world that are not moving across borders and to deconstruct the myth that trafficking is about movement. Instead trafficking is a crime of coercion, not a crime of movement. And the focus of this year’s TIP Report makes that point.
We saw more downgrades than upgrades in this year’s TIP Report. We saw several important patterns regarding Tier 1 countries – six of them moving from Tier 1 to Tier 2. We – additionally, we’re able to highlight state-sanctioned forced labor in various narratives as we went through. Of course, we also included the U.S. narrative, as we try to apply these minimum standards consistently across the report.
I’m incredibly thankful for the hardworking women and men at the Trafficking in Persons Office who have been working on this report for – it’s a year-round effort, but certainly working over the last several months to produce this report. I think it’s a report that the Department can be proud of and that the country can be proud of.
And with that, I’m happy to take a few of your questions.
MS ORTAGUS: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, sir. My two-part question: One, how bad is the trafficking as far as South Asia is concerned, especially from India, into the Middle East to that – those were reports in the past. And also, according to CBS News, now Pakistani women – people, they’re married, they’re a woman, and they take them to China for trafficking. And this is a worsening situation or report. And how bad it is, trafficking from Pakistan into China? And now Chinese Government – their officials told police there keep quiet; don’t speak too much about this, because otherwise Pakistan-China economic relations will be worsened or will go bad.
AMBASSADOR RICHMOND: Obviously we’re concerned about trafficking everywhere, in India, China, throughout South – or India, Pakistan, throughout South Asia. Each of those countries have a narrative in the report that you can read though and see the – a kind of comprehensive analysis that’s broken down in those 3 P’s: protection, prosecution, and prevention.
There are various types of trafficking. Obviously we’re interested in sex trafficking and forced labor. The movement of people across borders to China would be a concern as well. But the heart of your question is how significant is the problem, and the honest answer to that is that we don’t know. We don’t have a strong prevalence estimate that we’re able to identify where trafficking is more significant or less significant.
The best global estimate is 24.9 million victims in the world today. That’s more than ever before in human history in aggregate number. It’s more than were trafficked during the 400 years of the transatlantic slave trade. So it’s a significant problem
One of the areas that I think that we can grow into in the next several years is harnessing our ability to have better prevalence estimates, so we can answer that question of how significant is the problem. To do that, we’re going to have to shift from thinking about prevalence by a country-specific – like how many in country X – and instead think about it as an industry-specific and geographically restrained question. That is, how many individuals are forced to be domestic workers in a certain metropolitan area and try to measure that. And I think that’s an area of growth for the anti-trafficking movement.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up. As far as the traffickers from India, they are bringing many people to the U.S. borders, not for prostitution or for any wrongdoings, but just to bring them into the country. And one seven-year-old girl was found dead because of lack of water in Arizona. So I’m – what I’m talking about is now normal, common traffickers now coming through Mexico into the U.S. What steps is the U.S. taking, sir?
AMBASSADOR RICHMOND: One thing that is clear is that traffickers are always innovating. They’re always coming up with new ways to exploit people. What you’re highlighting, though, is an important thing for us to distinguish, and that’s a difference between human smuggling and human trafficking. Human smuggling is a crime of movement; it’s a crime that violates the integrity of a country’s borders. It can be done voluntarily or involuntarily.
To distinguish that from human trafficking, human trafficking is a crime against someone’s fundamental rights to be free. It’s a crime not about movement but about coercion, and it’s always involuntary. And I think it’s important for us to keep a clear line of distinction between what human smuggling is and what human trafficking is. Obviously in any individual case there may be some overlap. We may have a smuggling offense and a trafficking offense, but they’re not coextensive.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir.
MS ORTAGUS: Christina.
QUESTION: Thanks. Hi. The report also includes this list of nations that recruit and use child soldiers in DRC, Iraq, Burma, and Yemen. Saudi Arabia was not included on the list, but the country report for Saudi Arabia mentions that Saudi may have funded the militias in Yemen that hired minors in a combatant role. Can you explain that decision not to include Saudi on that list?
AMBASSADOR RICHMOND: Indeed. We take the issue of child soldiers incredibly seriously. There are 11 countries on this year’s list of child soldiers. The analysis that it goes through is to gather as much information as possible from as many sources as possible. We are aware of the reports that suggest that the Saudi Government may have supported the use of child soldiers in Yemen, in the Yemeni conflict. But that reporting was insufficient to warrant a listing this year. We included it in the narrative, because it was something that we heard, and we include comments from civil society and criticisms of governments from civil society about – in each narrative.
As we – and as we considered all the factors regarding Saudi Arabia, the Secretary decided to place Saudi Arabia on Tier 3, the lowest tier.
MS ORTAGUS: Jonathan.
QUESTION: Two questions. Regarding the fact that you didn’t put Saudi on that list, there are not only numerous media reports that Saudi has been employing child soldiers not just from Sudan but from within Yemen itself, but there are also UN reports. Are you calling into question the credibility of United Nations reports, first of all?
Second of all, last year you had a warning in your report that separating children from their families and putting them in institutions, including government-run institutions, made them targets for trafficking. That admonition is not in this year’s report, nor is any mention of the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy, which separated thousands of children and put them into government facilities. Could you explain why that is also missing from the report this year?
AMBASSADOR RICHMOND: Absolutely. It’s not missing at all. The part that you’re referring to is part of our introductory materials, where we have a series of rolling texts before the narratives where we highlight certain themes and draw out certain topics in various boxes. And last year, a box included the issue of institutionalization of children and how that could increase vulnerability. We know that vulnerabilities exist, and that vulnerability was highlighted in the 2018 report; other topics were highlighted during our introductory materials in this year’s report. Obviously, we’re interested and concerned about vulnerabilities in general. We want to make sure vulnerabilities are reduced because we know that traffickers target communities that are vulnerable. They do that because it requires less coercion to target the vulnerable.
And so we know that traffickers are thinking about vulnerability; we should be thinking about vulnerabilities as well. We want to reduce vulnerabilities, and we want to protect victims, stop the traffickers that are exploiting them.
QUESTION: Could you talk about Saudi then and the fact that – do you not put credibility in reports from the United Nations that says – say that not only does Saudi Arabia and the UAE employ child soldiers in ways that may constitute human rights violations, but that individuals within – on all sides, including Saudi and the UAE, use child soldiers in ways that may constitute war crimes? That’s the finding of independent – a panel of independent experts who went and looked at this for the UN last year. Are you discounting those reports?
AMBASSADOR RICHMOND: We’ve discounted nothing. Instead, we’ve taken in all the possible information about these topics for both Saudi and UAE. We’ve reviewed them thoroughly, we’ve applied the criteria in the Child Soldier Protection Act, and for this year’s listing, they did not rise to the level to warrant a listing. Instead it was included as a concern in the narrative, and the Secretary decided to rank Saudi Arabia on Tier 3.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay, last one. Abbie.
QUESTION: Could you speak a little bit about – in the beginning you talked about six countries moving from Tier 1 down to Tier 2. A lot of those countries were European countries. Was there a consistent theme there that led you to believe that – you said it was the most downgrades from Tier 1 to Tier 2 that you’d seen. Why do you think that happened this year?
AMBASSADOR RICHMOND: Well, to be clear, I’m not sure it’s the most downgrades from Tier 1 to Tier 2 in any given year. I will say there were six total downgrades from Tier 1 to Tier 2 this year. In terms of the five European countries that were downgraded from Tier 1 to Tier 2, each one was taken as an individual case, and we looked at all the information regarding that country’s efforts to combat trafficking. We analyzed it against the minimum standards. There were several things that stuck out. In terms of the increasing use of suspended sentences, for instance, in Germany, the fact that 36 percent of the convicted traffickers would see jail time, which is incredibly low. We were concerned about decreasing levels of investigations, prosecutions, and convictions, even while we’re seeing victim identification increase. Others have gone years without having a single trafficking conviction. We want to make sure that the three Ps of the paradigm that the law has given us – that’s protection, prosecution, and prevention – are three cords of one strand, in a sense. They are inextricably intertwined, and they have to all be pursued together.
QUESTION: So are you seeing more consistent failures on the prosecution end of – we have all those different categories, but that’s where you’re seeing for a lot of those countries, is they’re failing to prosecute the traffickers?
AMBASSADOR RICHMOND: I think that each country is taken individually. There was obviously some concerns about prosecution issues. There’s also concerns about having trauma-informed victim protections, making sure that victims are stabilized initially, and then also have a victim-centered approach in terms of long-term trauma care. And then we’re also looking at systems and how we can prevent this crime from occurring in the future, and making sure that the systems that exist don’t enhance that.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay. Do you have time for one more?
AMBASSADOR RICHMOND: Sure.
MS ORTAGUS: You do? Okay, go ahead, Jen.
QUESTION: Thank you. Going back to Saudi Arabia, it seemed that in that section it was the only place where “child soldier” was not used even in reference to those reports. I believe it was “boys and girls” in combatant roles. Is there a reason that you didn’t even use that phrase when referencing these reports? And then on cutting off financial assistance for a Tier 3 country, have there been discussions about that in regards to Saudi?
AMBASSADOR RICHMOND: Let me take the second half of that first. In terms of have there been considerations regarding restrictions for Saudi Arabia, the answer is no. It’s on Tier 3 and therefore is subject to sanctions, but as a former prosecutor, we’re very careful during the fact-finding portion of a case where we’re trying to get to what is true, you don’t consider what the consequences or the punishment is. In fact, if you do so as a lawyer, the judge will call a mistrial and end the case. Instead, we figure out what is true, and then later there’s a separate bifurcated section that determines what the consequence will be.
And so in determining the narrative and the ranking for the TIP Report for each country, all we thought about was what is the best information, what is the best evidence that we have. And that’s how we came to – that’s how the Secretary came to the Tier 3 recommendation for the ranking.
Now we’ll begin a process going forward to think about what will be the impact of those sanctions and what requests for waivers might come.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay. All right. Thanks, Ambassador.
AMBASSADOR RICHMOND: Thank you so much.