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Helsinki Commission Releases U.S. Statement on Trafficking in Human Beings at OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

WARSAW, POLAND – The following statement on Trafficking in Human Beings was delivered by the United States at the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation currently being held in Warsaw, Poland:

Trafficking in Human Beings

Statement Delivered by Maureen Walsh

U.S. Delegation to the

OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

The United States takes seriously the commitment made at the Istanbul Summit, and expanded upon at the Vienna Ministerial Council Meeting, to “undertake measures. . .to end . . .all forms of trafficking in human beings.” Shortly after we adjourned last year’s Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act came into force in the United States and thereby created a comprehensive legal framework for addressing the trafficking of human beings into slavery-like exploitation in the United States.

As a result of the new U.S. law, any person who traffics in human beings, or who reaps the profits from trafficking, now faces severe penalties up to and including life imprisonment, mandatory restitution to victims, and seizure of assets acquired through the trafficking operation. The law also addresses the prevention of trafficking by encouraging awareness raising campaigns and by supporting initiatives to enhance economic opportunities for potential victims in countries of origin. In addition, the law includes victim protection measures, such as eligibility for the witness protection program, provisions allowing for a victim of trafficking to remain in the United States under certain circumstances, funding for NGOs to assist trafficking victims in safe integration, reintegration, or resettlement, and a requirement that trafficking victims, while in the custody of the federal government, will receive medical care and other essential assistance.

In accordance with the U.S. law, the Secretary of State recently submitted to Congress the first annual report on Trafficking in Persons. The report indicates clearly that many countries with substantial trafficking problems, including twenty-two OSCE participating States, are not yet meeting minimal standards in their efforts to combat trafficking. This first report is a baseline for future reports and a tool through which the United States hopes to engage other governments and work together to combat human trafficking.

The United States welcomes the collective efforts made over the past year to address trafficking and we are grateful that as Chair-in-Office Romania has maintained the OSCE’s focus on this issue. The United States continues to provide assistance to various anti- trafficking initiatives, including the Southeastern European Cooperative Initiative (SECI) that promotes interstate efforts among law enforcement agencies to combat trafficking in human beings. We have already begun to see results from these efforts as significant traffickers have been arrested and many victims freed. We look forward to seeing concrete results from the Stability Pact’s Task Force on Trafficking in Human Beings in the near future. As evidenced by the United States’ continued secondment of a trafficking adviser to the ODIHR, we also value greatly the anti-trafficking programs underway through ODIHR and the OSCE’s field missions. It is worth recalling that the OSCE, SECI, and Stability Pact anti-trafficking programs are currently funded through voluntary contributions. It is time we demonstrate our shared commitment to the OSCE’s anti-trafficking initiatives by agreeing to fund ODIHR’s two trafficking positions from the post table.

While these and other cooperative initiatives are a vital part of our efforts, the United States reiterates, as stated in the Vienna Ministerial Council Decision, that the primary responsibility for combating trafficking in human beings rests with the participating States. That decision commits OSCE States to take action at the national level, including adopting and implementing legislation “to criminalize trafficking in human beings, including appropriate penalties, with a view to ensuring effective law enforcement response and prosecution. ” This need has been echoed for the past three years in the declarations of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.

Regrettably, many OSCE countries’ legal codes do not yet recognize the crime of trafficking in human beings and legislative changes are not forthcoming. The United States calls on all participating States to review and strengthen their laws as needed to ensure that trafficking in human beings into forced prostitution or labor is established as a criminal offense under law and that penalties can be imposed that reflect the grave nature of the offence.

The Ministerial Council decision further commits OSCE states to ensure that anti- trafficking legislation “include[s] provision for the protection of the human rights of victims. ” Presently, trafficking victims in many countries continue to be summarily deported without the possibility of redress against their tormentors. Summary deportations without repatriation and reintegration assistance send the victims back into the waiting arms of the traffickers. In some cases, women and children are simply being returned to the family members who trafficked them. In other cases, the stigma associated with prostitution—one of the main types of exploitation, but by far not the only type of enslavement found—can inhibit a victim’s reunification with family and lead to retrafficking. Breaking this cycle requires victim protection and reintegration policies that recognize trafficked persons as victims of violent crime and potential witnesses, rather than as criminals.

Efforts to effectively investigate and prosecute trafficking cases are furthered by simultaneously providing conditions to protect trafficking victims. Anti-trafficking NGOs speak with one voice in saying that trafficked persons will not report abuses to authorities, or testify against their captors, if doing so puts their lives at greater risk and they do not believe that the State will protect them. In fulfilling their responsibility to safeguard victims, States can utilize the expertise and valuable contributions of the NGO community. NGOs in many countries stand ready and willing to combat this scourge by providing shelter and assistance to victims, but their ability to do so is dependent on the cooperation of law enforcement which is currently inconsistent, at best.

Finally, we must ensure that OSCE personnel practice exemplary standards of behavior that do not compound the trafficking problem in host countries. The United States welcomes the adoption of a Code of Conduct that holds OSCE staff and secondees responsible for affiliation with persons suspected to be involved in trafficking. Any breach of these standards must be regarded with the utmost seriousness. Likewise, States must insist on the thorough investigation of allegations that personnel in other international organizations are involved in trafficking in human beings. If such allegations are confirmed, including those made recently against international police personnel in Bosnia and Kosovo, each individual implicated must be held accountable beyond mere repatriation to the sending country.

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