By Maureen T. Walsh
CSCE General Counsel
On September 21, 2004, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission) and the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) held a joint Issue Forum entitled “Enforcing U.S. Policies Against Trafficking in Persons: How is the U.S. Military Doing?” The Issue Forum examined the Department of Defense’s (DoD) implementation of a zero-tolerance policy toward human trafficking, the role of uniformed Service members and contractors in facilitating trafficking, as well as leadership and readiness issues.
The Forum was co-chaired by Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA). Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) and Commissioners Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC) attended the forum, as well as several members of the Armed Services Committee.
Briefing on behalf of the Administration were Charles S. Abell, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness; General Leon J. LaPorte, Commander of United States Forces Korea; Joseph E. Schmitz, Inspector General for the Department of Defense; and Ambassador John R. Miller, Director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons at the U.S. Department of State. A panel of non-governmental witnesses consisted of Dr. Sarah Mendelson, a Senior Fellow in the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; and Martina E. Vandenberg, an attorney with Jenner and Block and a former researcher for Human Rights Watch.
Congressional attention to the military’s role in addressing trafficking ignited in March 2002 when Cleveland, Ohio Fox News affiliate WJW-TV aired a report showing U.S. troops in South Korea patronizing bars and other establishments where women from the Philippines and former Soviet states were forced to prostitute themselves. Members of Congress called for the Pentagon to investigate the veracity of the allegations as well as the appropriateness of the U.S. military's policies and response to prostitution and human trafficking worldwide.
DoD Inspector General Joseph E. Schmitz subsequently conducted inspections in South Korea, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo and issued two reports, in July 2003 and December 2003, respectively, which identified institutional weaknesses in the U.S. military’s understanding and response to the crime of human trafficking and made concrete recommendations for action.
In his opening remarks, Chairman Smith noted that while the coexistence of prostitution alongside large populations of military forces is neither a new problem, nor a uniquely American problem, in recent years numerous sources have documented that in certain locations, such as South Korea and Southeastern Europe, women and girls are being forced into prostitution for a clientele consisting largely of military service members, government contractors, and international peacekeepers.
According to Smith, “the need for a strategy to prevent the emergence of prostitution and human trafficking in post-conflict areas is made abundantly clear by the experiences in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, [where] prostitution and human trafficking were allowed to develop and thrive due to the arrival of large numbers of multi-national personnel involved in post-conflict reconstruction and peacekeeping.” In both places, peacekeepers involved with trafficking have faced mere repatriation as a sanction for their unlawful actions. “We need to close the legal loopholes that allow this to happen,” said Smith.
The Department of Defense’s obligation to address human trafficking originated with the issuance of a National Security Presidential Directive (NSPD-22) by President George W. Bush in December 2002. NSPD-22 established a zero-tolerance policy on involvement in trafficking activities by U.S. Government employees and contractor personnel representing the United States abroad. In January 2004, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz issued an internal memorandum which stated, in pertinent part:
[I]t is the policy of the Department of Defense that trafficking in persons will not be facilitated in any way by the activities of our Service members, civilian employees, indirect hires, or DoD contract personnel. Following the policy set by the Commander-in-Chief, DoD opposes prostitution and any related activities that may contribute to the phenomenon of trafficking in persons as inherently harmful and dehumanizing.
The policy statement outlined objectives of DoD efforts to combat trafficking in persons, including (1) educating Service members and DoD civilians serving overseas about human trafficking; (2) increasing efforts by command and military police authorities worldwide to pursue indicators of trafficking in persons in commercial establishments patronized by DoD personnel; (3) incorporating clauses in overseas service contracts that prohibit contractor employees from supporting or promoting trafficking in persons; and (4) developing a method for evaluating DoD’s efforts to combat trafficking in persons.
On September 16, 2004, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld issued additional guidance to military leaders indicating that he expects the problem of trafficking—both sex and labor trafficking—to be addressed. Rumsfeld’s memorandum placed greater emphasis on the problem of labor trafficking than had the earlier memorandum from Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz. In particular, Rumsfeld indicated that “Commanders need to be vigilant to the terms and conditions of employment for individuals employed by DoD contractors. . . . Trafficking includes involuntary servitude and bondage. These trafficking practices will not be tolerated in DoD contractor organizations or their subcontractors in supporting DoD operations.”
Ambassador John R. Miller, Director of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, opened the testimony at the Issue Forum by describing trafficking, inter alia, as a national security challenge which “relates to the task facing our military because they are trying to create secure, stable situations in several countries.” Miller explained that the demand for sex trafficking “is created by the so-called customers” and stated that “historically, when you have national forces going from one country to another this leads to increased prostitution and increased trafficking in the number of slave victims.” Miller emphasized the need to educate people who might patronize prostitutes that, according to research, “most of the people they are ‘patronizing’ are likely to be victims of trafficking: raped, assaulted, abused, waiting to escape.”
Coordinating DoD’s anti-trafficking initiatives is currently the responsibility of Charles Abell. At the Forum, Abell described DoD’s zero-tolerance policy as “a policy of command responsibility to recognize, prevent, and to assist local law enforcement when it comes to trafficking in persons in any way, shape or form.” According to Abell, DoD’s anti-trafficking training program for Service members, DoD civilian personnel and contractors would be put into operation by November 1, 2004. An online version will be available by January 2005.
Commissioner Cardin asked for clarification of the meaning of the “zero-tolerance” policy, given that U.S. troops are often stationed in countries with legalized prostitution. He also expressed skepticism that troops could distinguish between prostitution and trafficking. Mr. Abell responded that the zero-tolerance policy included prostitution and trafficking, and that those caught patronizing prostitution or otherwise supporting sex or labor trafficking would be held accountable. He noted that an amendment to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) has been proposed that would clarify the legal basis upon which a Service member can be prosecuted, under the UCMJ, for patronizing a prostitute. The proposed amendment was placed in the Federal Register on September 15, 2004.
DoD Inspector General Schmitz’ testimony did not focus on the details of his human trafficking assessment reports in South Korea and Southeastern Europe. Rather he noted the tools available for combating trafficking within the DoD and the lessons learned in the course of his assessments. Among those lessons, according to Schmitz, is that “among the root causes of the recent resurgence of human trafficking, aside from the obvious profit motive of organized criminals is a general reluctance of leaders at all levels to promulgate and to enforce principle-based standards for subordinates who create the demand for prostitution, generally, and for sex slavery, specifically.”
General Leon J. LaPorte, Commander of United States Forces Korea (USFK), testified that subsequent to the Fox News affiliate’s report and the Inspector General’s investigations, United States Forces Korea had adopted a “zero tolerance” approach to human trafficking which applies to the approximately 33,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and 5,000 Department of Defense civilians and contract employees currently serving in South Korea. The South Korean Government estimates that the commercial sex industry in South Korea is worth $22 billion per year and involves an estimated 330,000 women—10,000 of whom are foreigners.
General LaPorte described an anti-trafficking strategy of “awareness, identification, reduction, along with continued interaction with the Korean Government and law enforcement agencies.” DoD personnel are briefed about the crime of human trafficking and the zero-tolerance policy upon arriving in South Korea and during subsequent leadership schools and training events. Armed forces radio and television stations in Korea also air public service announcements to inform U.S. personnel about USFK’s anti-trafficking policies. Since January 2003, more than 400 Service members in Korea have been prosecuted or otherwise disciplined for solicitation and related offenses such as curfew violations and trespassing in posted off-limits areas.
USFK’s other initiatives include a 24-hour hotline operating in tandem with the Korean national police hotline and a women’s crisis center to receive reports of suspected prostitution or human trafficking activities. Other efforts include a renewed focus on providing alternatives to off-post entertainment areas near U.S. military facilities, such as high-speed Internet and cable access to military barracks and a volunteer program within the local community.
LaPorte explained an improved process for identifying establishments that are suspected of complacency in prostitution and human trafficking, and their subsequently being declared off limits to U.S. personnel. More than 600 bars, restaurants and clubs have been placed off limits. Offending business owners are subject to specific and extensive corrective actions in order to regain patronage of USFK personnel or their family members.
Significantly, LaPorte testified that the uniformed personnel who patrol nightly in the districts associated with U.S. military facilities in Korea have been trained to identify indicators of prostitution and trafficking and are now directed to report suspicious activities. Such training was initiated in response to the 2002 WJW-TV report which captured on video uniformed soldiers on “courtesy patrols” who spoke nonchalantly of foreign women forced to work or prostitute themselves in local establishments. The soldiers advised the undercover reporter on negotiating for sex in such establishments and gave no indication that they felt obliged to report the presence or activities of these women to their chain of command.
Opening the second panel, Dr. Sarah Mendelson acknowledged that adoption of an anti-trafficking policy for DoD is potentially an important step in addressing the involvement of uniformed Service members and civilian contractors with trafficking. Her testimony, however, focused on potential difficulties implementing this policy based on the findings of her research on the trafficking of women and girls to the Balkans and the role of international peacekeepers. A research report by Mendelson will be published in early 2005.
According to Dr. Mendelson, “many uniformed Service members, civilian contractors, as well as civil servants, tend to deny the links between trafficking and peacekeeping deployments, fail to understand the security implications of human rights abuse and support of organized crime, and tend to conflate trafficking with legalized prostitution.” Citing several specific examples, Mendelson indicated that the lack of awareness and misperceptions about trafficking are so widespread as to inhibit effective implementation of the zero-tolerance policy.
Mendelson recommended that DoD allocate “significantly more resources, organization and leadership” in order to effectively change the pervasive attitudes and an organizational culture which fail to recognize trafficking in persons for sexual or labor exploitation as relevant to the military. She specifically recommended that DoD’s efforts to combat human trafficking be centralized in one office directed by a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense. She recommended further that Secretary Rumsfeld appoint a panel of external advisers to assist DoD in implementing its anti-trafficking policies and that DoD conduct a comprehensive awareness campaign on the issue of human trafficking.
Ms. Vandenberg’s testimony drew on a report that she wrote for Human Rights Watch in 2002, entitled “Hopes Betrayed: Trafficking in Women and Girls to Post-Conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina for Forced Prostitution.” At that time there were eight documented cases of U.S. Government contractors implicated in human trafficking—four of whom were DoD contractors. Vandenberg suggested that there are likely more cases, but that because investigators have not been trained or instructed to investigate trafficking offenses, many instances have likely gone undocumented. Human Rights Watch did not find evidence of U.S. Service members involved in trafficking-related activities in Bosnia.
Ms. Vandenberg noted numerous concerns with DoD’s implementation of NSPD-22, including that “there is still no contractor accountability . . . the Department of Defense has not yet incorporated a condition into existing contracts permitting termination of grants if the contractor engages in trafficking,” as required by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2003. She also noted the absence of evaluation programs and benchmarks to measure adherence to the zero-tolerance policy. While praising the policy statements made by Secretary Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz regarding trafficking, Ms. Vandenberg concluded that “DoD’s actions at this point do not match this ambitious rhetoric.”
An unofficial transcript of the forum is available on the Helsinki Commission's website.
The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.
United States Helsinki Commission Intern Sarah Snizek contributed to this article.