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Helsinki Commission, House Armed Services Committee Examine Trafficking in Persons
Wednesday, December 15, 2004

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.”

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.

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  • Following in the Footsteps of Tsar Nicholas II

    As Vladimir Putin attempts to turn back the clock to the Russian Empire of the pre-Soviet era, he also adopts a tool of political manipulation used in Imperial Russia—fostering violent extremist organizations as a means to a political end. Tsar Nicholas II used this technique with terrorist organizations like the Union of the Russian People and the Black Hundreds, and Putin follows his example today with the Russian Imperial Movement and Imperial Legion. The Russian Imperial Movement Putin advances his political agenda by allowing the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM)—a white supremacist extremist organization based in St. Petersburg—to freely exist and operate in Russia and beyond. RIM holds ultranationalist and monarchist views and believes in two pillars of authority: the political power of the tsar and the spiritual power of the Russian Orthodox Church. The U.S. State Department labeled RIM a Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity in April of 2020, making them the first white supremacist extremist organization to receive the title. RIM received the designation due, in part, to their paramilitary training course, Partizan. The course—ostensibly teaching survival skills, marksmanship, and hand-to-hand combat—functions as RIM’s citizen-to-terrorist pipeline. Attendees have gone on to join RIM’s paramilitary unit, the Imperial Legion, and fight alongside pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine. And Russians are not the only ones enrolling. In 2016, two members of Sweden’s largest neo-Nazi organization, the Nordic Resistance Movement, bombed a café and a migrant center and attempted to bomb a refugee center in Gothenburg, Sweden. The subsequent investigation discovered that the bombers were trained at Partizan. RIM has attempted to broaden its network beyond Europe. American neo-Nazi Matthew Heimbach, former head of the Traditionalist Workers Party, met with RIM representatives, and RIM offered paramilitary training to organizers of the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. There are also reports that members of the Imperial Legion fought in conflict areas in Syria and Libya. The Russian Imperial Movement is vocally anti-Putin, decrying him and his regime. Despite this criticism and RIM’s monarchist beliefs, Putin has been lenient toward the group and allows it to operate as long as its attention remains turned away from domestic politics. Though reinstatement of a tsar remains a foundational pillar of RIM’s doctrine, it is not their main selling point. Dr. Anna Kruglova, a lecturer in Terrorism Studies at the University of Salford, finds RIM’s large web following surprising “since the group has a relatively narrow agenda—monarchist ideas are not particularly popular in Russia as only 8 percent of Russian people would want monarchy restored, according to one poll.” RIM’s appeal for potential members and Putin himself lies in its vicious ethno-nationalism. RIM demands that Russia maintain influence over all territories where ethnic Russians reside, particularly in Ukraine. For instance, Partizan-trained Russians fought alongside pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine in 2014 as members of the Imperial Legion. In the words of Denis Gariev, an instructor at Partizan, “We see Ukrainian-ness as rabies. A person is sick. Either quarantine, liquidation, or he’ll infect everyone.” Putin also values RIM as a tool to sow discord in the West. RIM supports and collaborates with other white supremacist extremist organizations, even in the United States, and trains individuals like the Swedish NRM bombers. RIM is convenient for Putin: it poses no real threat as a monarchist organization yet benefits his attempts to colonize Ukraine and destabilize the West. The Union of the Russian People The Union of the Russian People (Soyuz russkovo naroda, or SRN) was a right-wing, fanatically anti-Semitic political movement active in the 1900s. They came to prominence in the wake of the Russo-Japanese war. After the Russian Empire’s devastating defeat, there was such discontent and domestic unrest that strikes and mutinies flooded the empire, forcing Tsar Nicholas II to enact constitutional reforms. This moment, known as the 1905 Revolution, left the Russian Empire shaken and greatly polarized. Fears that the imperial system would collapse led to a rise in reactionary extreme right-wing ideologies and groups, one of which was SRN. Members of SRN and its paramilitary branch, the Black Hundred, were fervent monarchists and bore the colors of the Romanov family—the reigning imperial dynasty in Russia from 1613 to 1917—as their insignia. They also had deep ideological connections with the Russian Orthodox Church and identified Jews as the source of all evil in Russia. From 1905 to 1906, the Black Hundred carried out relentless pogroms, killing hundreds of Jews across the Russian Empire. The ruling class at the time held mixed opinions on SRN, ranging from hesitance to fanaticism. Lower-ranking officials viewed the Black Hundred’s pogroms as a convenient way to keep Jewish and ethnic minority populations in their place. The tsar called them a “shining example of justice and order to all men.” SRN was a convenient political tool for the tsar. Tsar Nicholas II believed anti-Semitism united people behind the government, and that Jewish capitalism and Jewish socialism were revolutionary forces that threatened his regime. In this way, SRN and the Black Hundred, while too radical for many members of the Duma and the public, served the tsar’s political interests. Utilizing extremism as a political weapon is not a new tool in Russia’s repertoire. As Putin harkens back to a grand Imperial history and conducts brutal military invasions into former Soviet states, like Ukraine, and political invasions of others, like Belarus, he demands comparison to the power-grasping techniques of the past. As Tsar Nicholas II’s grip on power loosened with civil unrest in the Russian Empire, he supported extremism to preserve his regime. Putin repeats this pattern today as he lets the Russian Imperial Movement and the Imperial Legion train neo-Nazis to wreak havoc and terror in the West.

  • Biden administration urged to ban UK lawyers who ‘enabled’ oligarchs

    A member of Congress has urged the Biden administration to place travel bans on senior British lawyers that acted for wealthy Russian clients against investigative journalists. Steve Cohen, a Democratic representative from Tennessee, has written to Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, urging him to sanction the lawyers for having “enabled malign activities of Russian oligarchs”. His letter comes as the Biden administration looks to increase its support for Ukraine in its war against Russia and tighten sanctions against those who have supported the Russian regime. Cohen wrote: “Oligarchs who hire lawyers to engage in abusive cases against journalists to silence them cannot exert malign influence in our system . . . the United States must establish deterrents for foreign enablers serving individuals who are undermining democracy.” The state department did not respond to a request for comment. Cohen singled out several lawyers he believed should be subject to bans on visas for travel to the US: Nigel Tait of Carter-Ruck; John Kelly of Harbottle & Lewis; barrister Hugh Tomlinson; Geraldine Proudler of CMS; Keith Schilling of Schillings; and Shlomo Rechtschaffen of SR law. Each of the lawyers is well known in London legal circles, with firms like Carter-Ruck and Schillings having established strong reputations in defamation law and reputation management. Tait, Kelly, Tomlinson and Proudler all worked on recent cases against the former Financial Times journalist Catherine Belton or her publisher HarperCollins, or both. Belton and HarperCollins were sued last year by several Russian oligarchs including Roman Abramovich over her book Putin’s People, which details the rise to power of Russia’s president Vladimir Putin. The lawsuits were later settled or withdrawn. Cohen cited Schillings’ work for Malaysian businessman and fugitive Jho Low. British ministers have expressed concern over the way in which UK courts are used by wealthy foreigners to launch libel cases. Dominic Raab, the justice secretary, last month set out proposals to limit any so-called Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. Also in March Bob Seely, the MP for the Isle of Wight, used parliamentary privilege to claim “amoral” City lawyers were teaming up with “Putin’s henchmen” to offer “legalised intimidation”. A spokesperson for Tomlinson said: “Regulatory rules for lawyers are very strict and work to ensure equal entitlement to independent legal advice. Mr Tomlinson acted properly and in accordance with those rules throughout and has never acted as Mr Cohen suggests.” Tait’s firm Carter-Ruck said: “The claims made against Carter-Ruck are misconceived and are rejected entirely. In addition to other matters, we are not working for any Russian individuals, companies or entities seeking to challenge, overturn, frustrate or minimise sanctions.” It added: “We are not acting for, and will not be acting for, any individual, company or entity associated with the Putin regime in any matter or context, whether sanctions-related or otherwise, and will continue to conduct all ‘know your client’ checks in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations, as we have always done.” Cohen cited Rechtschaffen for his representation of Israeli-British businessman Walter Soriano, who he alleged was an “enabler” of certain oligarchs including Abramovich. Rechtschaffen said: “Walter Soriano is not an enabler of any oligarch . . . The English courts have said that the claim against Mr Stedman is not abusive.” Harbottle & Lewis said the firm had “acted at all time in accordance with its professional and legal obligations, and takes these matters very seriously”. Schillings said the firm did not act for any sanctioned entities and could not comment on client matters. It added that Cohen’s allegations were “wholly misplaced” and “misinformed”. It said the firm had upheld “the highest traditions of the legal profession”. Proudler’s firm CMS said it rejected Cohen’s allegations, adding that Proudler and the firm had been “compliant with all professional regulations”. “As we have said since the invasion of Ukraine, CMS is no longer accepting new instructions from Russian based entities or from any individuals with connections to the Russian government.”

  • Helsinki Commission Urges U.S. Administration to Consider Sanctioning Remaining Individuals Involved in Persecution of Sergei Magnitsky

    WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) today released a letter sent April 15 to President Biden urging the U.S. administration to consider sanctioning the remaining individuals involved in the persecution of Sergei Magnitsky, the fraud he uncovered, and the coverup of his death in 2009. The letter read in part: “The passage and enforcement of the Magnitsky Act was among the rare times in the last decade that the United States rightly put universal values first in its relationship with Russia. Sergei Magnitsky courageously stood up to the Putin regime’s corruption and represents what Russia might be one day. He has served as an inspiration for Russian activists and civil society who dream of a Russia that respects human rights and complies with its own freely undertaken international commitments… “At this time of great upheaval, it could not be more important that the United States demonstrate its commitment to universal values. Sanctioning these individuals responsible for dismantling the rule of law in Russia and killing one of Russia’s bravest whistleblowers would have this effect.” Included with the letter was a list that includes the names and identifying information of 255 individuals who have not yet been sanctioned for their apparent role in Sergei Magnitsky’s death and the $230 million tax fraud he exposed. The list was compiled by Hermitage Capital Management LLC, the firm where Sergei Magnitsky worked at the time of his arrest and murder.   The full letter and list are available online. 

  • Experts say desperate refugees are finding new danger after leaving Ukraine - human traffickers

    An independent U.S. commission listened to testimony from experts on Capitol Hill on Thursday who painted a disturbing picture of yet another consequence of Russia's war in Ukraine -- human traffickers targeting vulnerable refugees who are desperate to flee to safety. The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, heard from a panel of experts who expressed serious concern for the millions of Ukrainians who have left, or want to leave, the country. The experts underscored the need for the international community to protect the refugees, coordinate reception and transfer of unaccompanied minors, raise awareness and provide security. Kari Johnston, senior official at the U.S. State Department's anti-trafficking office; Tatiana Kotlyarenko, an anti-trafficking adviser; Mykola Kuleba, director of Save Ukraine; and Nic McKinley, founder and CEO of DeliverFund spoke to the Helsinki commission about the challenges they face to assisting Ukrainians fleeing the war from being harmed by the traffickers. Kari Johnston, senior official at the U.S. State Department's anti-trafficking office, told the committee that most refugees fleeing Ukraine have so far been women and children -- some of whom are alone. Part of the problem is that Ukraine has restrictions preventing Ukrainian men from leaving the country. "We are encouraging our European partners to take necessary measures, including distributing information to refugees on human trafficking and available safe resources for them in all languages they can understand," she told the commission. "We have been encouraged by how quickly governments and people in Europe have opened their hearts and homes but also by efforts governments have made to protect them to prevent trafficking." Adviser Tatiana Kotlyarenko noted that targeting women is on the rise, partly because of their appeal to criminals in the sex trafficking industry. One tactic that's already been seen near Ukraine is traffickers posing as transportation or aid workers -- which lure refugees into a false promise of security. "There's been reports of women and children disappearing after they've crossed the border, sometimes accepting a ride or a job offer from a person they think is there to help," Kotlyarenko told the commission. "Although the extent of human trafficking is not yet known, cases are beginning to be reported." "Children have been displaced, putting them at great risk of physical harm, severe emotional distress, trauma and human trafficking," she added. "There have been children who on their own walked to the border in the cold after being separated from family members or their family members killed." The United Nations has estimated that more than 4 million refugees have fled Ukraine so far since Russia launched its invasion on Feb. 24. Established by Congress in 1975, the commission is composed of nine members of the House, nine members of the Senate and typically one member each from the departments of defense, state and commerce. Those final three slots, however, are vacant and awaiting appointments.

  • Protecting Ukrainian Refugees from Human Trafficking

    More than 4 million refugees have fled Ukraine since Russia’s massive invasion on February 24, in the largest migration of people in Europe since the Second World War. Given Ukraine’s exit restrictions on males from 18-60, the vast majority of those are women and children. Most cross the Ukrainian border without resources or a place to go, making them extremely vulnerable to human trafficking. Reports indicate that traffickers already are trolling border areas trying to lure refugees with promises of accommodation, onward transportation, or employment. Ukrainian orphans and unaccompanied minors are particularly susceptible to such predators, and they need not only to be safely evacuated from Ukraine, but also securely tracked and transferred into national child protection systems so they do not fall prey to human traffickers or otherwise disappear. To address these concerns, the Helsinki Commission held a hearing on April 7, 2022, featuring experts on human trafficking and practitioners working directly with Ukrainian refugees. Witnesses testified on efforts by frontline states, the international community, NGOs, and the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) to prevent refugees from becoming victims of human traffickers by raising awareness, vetting those working with refugees and those providing housing and employment, and countering online solicitation. They also discussed the need to safely transport vulnerable populations, particularly children, safely out of warzones and properly register them to ensure that they do not go missing or become trafficking victims. Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) commended the recent efforts of European countries to support refugees fleeing Ukraine. He stressed the need for governments and NGOs to coordinate in ensuring the care and safety of child refugees to avoid a crisis of missing children similar to the one that occurred in Europe in 2015. He said, “Not only do we need to ensure that children are safe and taken care of, but we must be able to reunite them with family after the war if possible.” Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) expressed his alarm over the humanitarian crisis occurring in Ukraine and condemned Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s disregard for human life and spirit. “This flow of refugees caused by Putin’s war will cause us and require us to oversee as closely as possible the welfare of the women and children [to protect them from] people who have about the same consciousness and concern for others and human spirit as Vladimir Putin,” he said.  Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) advocated for further military support for Ukraine so that Ukraine can reclaim its territory and refugees can return home safely. “Evicting the murderous Putin from Ukraine is the only way to help Ukrainian civilians and allow refugees to return to Ukraine,” he said.  Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), OSCE Parliamentary Special Representative on Human Trafficking issues, thanked the witnesses for their leadership in the fight against human trafficking and called for increased international cooperation in protecting women and children from traffickers. Senior Official and Principal Deputy Director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons at the U.S. State Department Dr. Kari Johnstone described the dire situation refugees face as they flee. Many are further endangered and exposed to human trafficking by extenuating circumstances, such as being unable to access information in their language or belonging to an already marginalized group such as Roma. Dr. Johnstone emphasized the need for trauma-informed, age-appropriate, gender-sensitive approaches to support refugees. Making sure refugees have access to appropriate work, housing, and schooling helps to keep refugees out of vulnerable situations and prevent trafficking. “While there’s no simple solution, working together…we are hopeful that we will be able to at least reduce the impact of this war,” Dr. Johnstone said. Tatiana Kotlyarenko, advisor on anti-trafficking issues at ODIHR, called for unity on all fronts to combat human trafficking and asked for continued support from Congress in strengthening ODIHR’s work on anti-human trafficking in Ukraine. She also stressed the importance of implementing strong national referral mechanisms to better identify and assist victims of human trafficking “If you want to prevent trafficking of Ukrainian women and children, we need to unite to address demand on policy, legislative, and practical levels,” she said. Mykola Kuleba, director of the NGO Save Ukraine, shared a firsthand account of the horrific conditions on the ground in Ukraine that he has witnessed while evacuating children from the war zone, emphasizing that the first step to protect Ukrainian refugees is to help Ukraine defend itself so its people don’t become refugees. He also highlighted the need for more humanitarian assistance, including food, water, and medicine. “Millions of Ukrainian children are now refugees wandering around the world.  The world must help this great democratic country that has faced unprecedented evil.  Each of you has the ability to aid in the rescue.  Each of you can resist this evil,” Kuleba said. Nic McKinley, founder and CEO of DeliverFund, described the importance of disrupting the human trafficking market on the demand side by deterring potential buyers and attacking traffickers’ ability to profit from the exploitation of vulnerable populations. He also discussed how traffickers use social media to lure victims through advertisements for housing and employment for refugees. “You cannot have a human trafficking victim,” he said, “without a human trafficker.” Members brought a number of concerns and questions to witnesses, ranging from how best to distribute information on preventing human trafficking to refugees, to how government and NGO efforts can be coordinated to most effectively deliver assistance and provide protection for vulnerable populations. Related Information Witness Biographies

  • Helsinki Commission Remembers Late Chairman Alcee Hastings

    WASHINGTON—On the anniversary of the death of former Helsinki Commission Chairman Alcee Hastings of Florida, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following joint statement: “Alcee Hastings was a giant in foreign affairs, knowledgeable on all issues relating to security in Europe. As the only American to serve as President of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, he led that organization in cementing its members’ commitment to peace, security and human rights. Wherever he traveled on OSCE business, he was universally respected and liked. A year after his passing, he remains a revered figure and world-renowned leader.”

  • Countering Oligarchs, Enablers, and Lawfare

    As influential proxies of Russian dictator Vladmir Putin, Russian oligarchs work to weaken Western democracies from within. They pay Western enablers—especially lawyers and lobbyists—millions to use their standing in democratic societies to generate policies favorable to the authoritarian regime in Russia and to silence its critics. On April 6, 2022, the Helsinki Commission heard from five witnesses who testified on the corruption of Russian oligarchs, as well as the various means through which such oligarchs censure journalists from reporting on their nefarious activities. Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) opened the hearing by recognizing oligarchs as appendages of Putin’s government who have engaged in extensive laundering and looting of the Russian state. He stressed the importance of sanctioning oligarchs, who utilize the existing financial and judicial frameworks of Western democracies to protect themselves from legal harm, as well as their accountants and lawyers, who utilize lawfare as means of continuing their kleptocratic ways and silencing those who report on their crimes. “We have to fortify our system against lawfare,” he stated. “And we hope that we can win this fight.” Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) asserted that oligarchs, while stealing and oppressing the Russian public, also are funding the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “In exchange for the lavish lifestyles that they live, these oligarchs pledge their loyalty to the mid-level KGB agent… currently overseeing Europe’s biggest land war since 1945,” he remarked. Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) described Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a battle between the virtues of the free world and the vices of a corrupt state. “Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine because Ukraine is a democracy… because it shows accountability over corruption,” he stated. “This is the most black and white conflict in recent memory.” Daria Kaleniuk, executive director of the Ukrainian Anti-Corruption Action Centre, testified that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was due to fear of Ukraine’s fight against corruption. On February 22, when Putin declared war on Ukraine, he referred to numerous anti-corruption reforms for which the Ukrainian Anti-Corruption Action Centre had advocated. “It was clear to me in that moment that Ukraine’s successful story in fighting corruption is actually the ultimate threat to Vladmir Putin and to his kleptocratic regime,” she remarked. She argued that integral to Putin’s success throughout the years is his legion of legal and financial professionals. “There are two battlefields,” she stated. “One in Ukraine…. And another one in the West, where America is obligated to fight by targeting Russian oligarchs and their enablers.” Bill Browder, head of the Global Magnitsky Justice Campaign, described his experience following the passing of the Magnitsky Act, which allows the United States to freeze the assets of kleptocrats and human-rights violators. He highlighted the team of Western professionals who helped Putin target him for his work to passing the legislation. To ensure these Western enablers are held accountable for their actions, Browder recommended that Congress speak out and deny government employment to such organizations in the future. “We should make a list of these type of firms that do this enabling, this list should be put together by the U.S. Congress, and there should be a recommendation to the U.S. Government not to do business with these firms going forward,” he said. “They can pick sides. They can decide they want to work for the bad guys. And if they work for the bad guys, then they shouldn’t get any money from the U.S. government. Scott Stedman, founder of Forensic News, described the increased use of lawfare by oligarchs as a weapon to intimidate reporters into silence. He spoke of his experience reporting on Walter Soriano, a businessman with reported ties to multiple Russian oligarchs. Soriano filed a lawsuit against Forensic News and its contributors, attempting to silence Stedman through financial intimidation and lawfare. “Mr. Soriano’s U.S. litigation counsel Andrew Brettler wrote to me threatening yet more legal action if I did not pay a U.K. court for more money than I’ve ever had in any bank account,” he said. “This is what lawfare looks like. It is designed to suppress, stall, scare critical coverage of the Russian elite and their enablers.” Anna Veduta, vice president of the Navalny Anti-Corruption Foundation International, outlined the need to sanction corrupt Russian politicians, oligarchs, enablers, and their family members. The assets these oligarchs and enablers have acquired are held by relatives, she argued, who have yet to be sanctioned. “People responsible for these lies, people who are poisoning Russian people with these lies, still can enjoy spring break in Miami and take their kids to Disneyland,” she said. “So I am going to quote Alexei Navalny once again, ‘Warmongers must be treated as war criminals.’” Shannon Green, executive director of the USAID Anti-Corruption Task Force and senior advisor to the Administrator highlighted the reliance of autocrats like Putin on oligarchs and enablers. She reviewed USAID initiatives to support reform coalitions and confront lawfare domestically, as well as efforts to develop new programs to confront kleptocracy abroad.   Addressing her fellow panelists, she stated, “Anna, Bill, Daria, Scott, we draw inspiration and courage from your example. And the U.S. government’s message to you, and to all of your fellow change agents, is: Be not afraid. We stand with you.” Related Information Witness Biographies Statement for the Record: Arabella Pike, Publishing Director, HarperCollins Publishers

  • Protecting Ukrainian Refugees from Human Trafficking to Be Discussed at Helsinki Commission Hearing

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: PROTECTING UKRAINIAN REFUGEES FROM HUMAN TRAFFICKING Thursday, April 7, 2022 10:30 a.m. Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 562 Watch live: www.youtube.com/HelsinkiCommission More than 4 million refugees have fled Ukraine since Russia’s massive invasion on February 24, the largest migration of people in Europe since the Second World War. Given Ukraine’s exit restrictions on males from 18-60, the vast majority of those leaving are women and children. Most cross the Ukrainian border without resources or a place to go, making them extremely vulnerable to human trafficking. Reports indicate that traffickers already are trolling border areas trying to lure refugees with promises of accommodation, onward transportation, or employment. Ukrainian orphans and unaccompanied minors are particularly susceptible to such predators, and they need not only to be safely evacuated from Ukraine, but also securely tracked and transferred into national child protection systems so they do not fall prey to human traffickers or otherwise disappear. Witnesses will examine efforts by frontline states, the international community, NGOs, and the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights to prevent refugees from becoming victims of human traffickers, to coordinate the reception and transfer of unaccompanied minors, to conduct awareness-raising and prevention programs near the border, and to provide security to protect refugees. The following witnesses are scheduled to testify: Panel 1: Dr. Kari Johnstone, Senior Official, U.S. Department of State, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons Panel 2: Ms. Tatiana Kotlyarenko, Anti-Trafficking Advisor, OSCE Office for Democratic Institution and Human Rights Mr. Mykola Kuleba, Director of Save Ukraine and former Presidential Commissioner for Human Rights Mr. Nic McKinley, Founder and CEO, DeliverFund

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