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Christopher Smith Speaking 368x331

Combating Human Trafficking: Achieving Zero Tolerance

  • Hon. Christopher H. Smith
    US












House of Representative

109th Congress, First Session

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak regarding U.S. efforts to combat human trafficking. 

The U.S. Government now estimates that 600,000 to 800,000 women, children and men are bought and sold across international borders each year and exploited through forced labor or commercial sex exploitation, and potentially millions more are trafficked internally within the borders of countries. Eighty percent of the victims are women and girls. An estimated 14,500 to 17,500 foreign citizens are trafficked into the United States each year. 

As Chairman of the Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights in the late 1990s, I led an effort to end the scourge of trafficking by sponsoring the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), P.L. 106-386, which was signed into law in December 2000. In 2003, I sponsored a reauthorization of that Act which also became law. 

These two pieces of legislation created a comprehensive framework for combating trafficking in persons abroad, as well as the trafficking of foreign nationals into the United States. As a result, our government has been a leader in addressing this human rights violation and encouraging other governments to do the same. When I held the first hearing on trafficking, back in 1999, only a handful of countries had laws explicitly prohibiting the practice of human trafficking. Individuals who engaged in this exploitation did so without fear of legal repercussions. Victims of trafficking were treated as criminals and illegal immigrants–governments did not offer them assistance to escape the slavery-like conditions in which they were trapped, and few NGOs were equipped to offer survivors of trafficking the restorative care needed to heal physically, mentally and spiritually from the trauma they experienced. Little was being done to prevent others from being exploited in the same way. 

The situation today is remarkably improved. Since taking office, the Bush Administration has devoted more than $295 million to combat trafficking in more than 120 countries. Across the globe, governments are taking action to prevent trafficking, to prosecute the exploiters, and to give hope and restoration to those victimized by trafficking. As Ambassador Miller testified to Congress last summer, between 2003 and 2004, twenty-four countries enacted new laws to combat trafficking. Dozens more were in the process of drafting or passing such laws. Moreover, nearly 8,000 traffickers were prosecuted worldwide and 2,800 were convicted. Shelters have been set up for victims. NGOs and faith communities have reached out to help heal survivors of trafficking. 

In order to support the ongoing efforts that have made these gains possible, on February 17, I introduced, along with this Subcommittee’s Ranking Member, Rep. Donald Payne, and eight other original co-sponsors, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005, H.R. 972. This bill would reauthorize appropriations for anti-trafficking programs here and abroad. The bill also offers solutions to a number of specific scenarios in which trafficking is a problem, but which our experience has shown could benefit from additional initiatives. Our witnesses at today’s hearing will focus on some of these issues and I will mention just a few here. 

For example, drawing lessons from the aftermath of war in the Balkans a decade ago, and the devastating tsunami in South Asia a mere few months ago, foreign policy and humanitarian aid professionals increasingly recognize the heightened vulnerability of indigenous populations in crisis situations to many forms of violence, including trafficking for sexual and labor exploitation. Traffickers also recognize this vulnerability. This bill would focus governmental efforts, particularly by the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Department of Defense, to develop trafficking prevention strategies for post-conflict and humanitarian emergency situations–strategies which do not currently exist in sufficient form. 

The bill would also take further steps to ensure that U.S. Government personnel and contractors are held accountable for involvement with acts of trafficking in persons while abroad on behalf of the U.S. Government. Although few would dispute that the involvement of U.S. personnel, including members of the U.S. Armed Forces, with trafficking in persons in any form is inconsistent with U.S. laws and policies and undermines the credibility and mission of U.S. Government programs in foreign countries, there remain loopholes in U.S. laws which allow such acts to go unpunished. This bill closes those loopholes by expanding U.S. criminal jurisdiction for serious offenses to all U.S. Government contractors abroad–jurisdiction which already exists with respect to contractors supporting Department of Defense missions abroad–and by making federal criminal laws against sex and labor trafficking applicable to members of the Armed Forces. The bill would also direct the Secretary of Defense to designate a director of anti-trafficking policies to guide DOD’s efforts to faithfully implement policies against trafficking. 

The bill would take on the outrageous situation of peacekeepers, humanitarian aid workers, and international organizations’ personnel, being complicit in trafficking and sexual exploitation. On March 2nd, I chaired a hearing in this Subcommittee that examined the evidence of gross sexual misconduct and exploitation of refugees and vulnerable people by U.N. peacekeepers and civilian personnel assigned to the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Human rights groups and the U.N.’s own internal investigations have U.N. covered over 150 allegations against Mission personnel involving sexual contact with Congolese women and girls, usually in exchange for food or small sums of money, as well as allegations of rape, forced prostitution, and demands of sex for jobs. However, to date, there has not been one successful prosecution of U.N. civilian or military personnel, either in the Congo or elsewhere. 

The scandal with the U.N. Mission in the Congo is but the latest in a long list of allegations against international peacekeeping personnel involving sex trafficking and other forms of sexual exploitation that extends back at least a decade. The involvement of peacekeepers in trafficking or sexual exploitation is not just a private matter involving only personal moral choices. Hundreds of vulnerable women and children are being re-victimized; the reputation of the United Nations is being badly damaged; and lack of internal discipline is compromising security and effectiveness of the peacekeeping operations. 

To his credit, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has promulgated a “zero tolerance” policy on sexual exploitation by peacekeepers. In June 2004, NATO also adopted an anti-trafficking policy. But words alone do not protect women and children from abuse. H.R. 972 would require that the Secretary of State certify prior to endorsing an international peacekeeping mission that the international organization has taken measures to prevent and, as necessary, hold accountable peacekeepers in the mission who are involved with trafficking or sexual exploitation. The bill would also require that the annual Trafficking in Persons Report include information on steps taken by international organizations to eliminate involvement of the organizations’ personnel in trafficking. 

The bill also continues to improve upon the provision of assistance to foreign victims in the United States by improving trafficking victims’ access to information about federally funded victim services programs and facilitating access to counsel for victims. The bill would also establish a guardian ad litem program for child trafficking victims of trafficking. 

H.R. 972 also recognizes that trafficking in persons occurs within the borders of single countries, including the United States. According to the State Department, if the number of people trafficked internally within countries is added to the estimate, the total number of trafficking victims annually would be in the range of 2,000,000 to 4,000,000. Although outside the jurisdiction of this subcommittee, I would just mention that the bill addresses the trafficking of American citizens and nationals within the United States–which the bill defines as “domestic trafficking.” Although there are no precise statistics on the numbers of United States citizens or nationals who have been victimized through trafficking, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have estimated that 100,000 to 300,000 children in the United States are at risk for commercial sexual exploitation, including trafficking, at any given time. 

Despite the willingness of most governments today to address international trafficking, few have recognized the existence of internal trafficking within their own borders. By addressing internal trafficking in a bill that also addresses international trafficking, the United States will again lead by example in showing that internal trafficking victims must not be dismissed by the law enforcement community as prostitutes or juvenile delinquents. This bill would begin to shift the paradigm–much as we have done so successfully in the international arena–to view these exploited souls for what they really are–victims of crime and sexually exploited children.

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