Are you interested in research on trafficking? The US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TiP) Report, the world heavyweight champion of trafficking reports, is out. It’s been accompanied by headlines such as: “Russia and China criticised!”, but there is certainly more to be found than this, so let’s dig a little deeper.
First and foremost, let me say that the general conclusions drawn from the report, which are outlined in the introduction, are absolutely in line with all other reports that we’ve been reading over the last couple of months. The focus is on victim identification and protection of victims once they have been identified.
The reasons for this are twofold: firstly, anti-trafficking law can only kick in to protect victims if they are identified in the first place; secondly, states around the world have an obligation and responsibility to protect the rights of their citizens, and ensuring adequate identification and protection is part of that obligation.
The TiP report says that training of professionals, including government officials, first responders and law enforcement agents, is absolutely crucial – but if you’re a regular on this blog, you’ll already know this. It also cites the effectiveness of specialised anti-trafficking units, such as the SCD9 unit of the Metropolitan Police in London.
In terms of protecting victims when they have been identified, this couldn’t be more topical in the UK right now, with four victims of trafficking having their sentences quashed under anti-trafficking law. The more victims that are identified and who are offered the support necessary to cooperate with police investigations, the more traffickers will be caught around the world. If we are to make our planet hostile to traffickers, this must be our starting point.
As I said, this is all pretty old news to anyone who’s been reading this blog over the last couple of months, so what makes it interesting is that it was commissioned and produced by the U.S., not us!
Many commentators were worried that these concerns would cause the report to go easy on super powers like China and Russia, so as not to increase friction. In fact, the opposite has happened, and both have been downgraded from the “Tier 2 Watch List” to “Tier 3”, the lowest grade.
This means that the U.S. research could find no evidence that Russia and China were making significant effort to address trafficking prosecution, protection and prevention measures. So their punishment is to sit in the report’s naughty chair.
The question I first asked when I saw this was: “Why Russia and China?” Surely there are plenty of countries on the Watch List who have made just as little effort, and yet they have avoided the wrath of the report.
Here’s what I think – this does not need to be seen as a punishment so much as an opportunity for Russia and China to lead the way in fighting trafficking. They are indeed world-leaders, and can set an example to other developed and developing countries. The 2014 Winter Olympics is being hosted by Russia, and can be used, like London 2012 was, to make a statement.
Three countries – Azerbaijan, The Republic of Congo and Iraq – have been singled out by their efforts to address trafficking, and have been moved up from the Watch List, now sitting in Tier 2. These countries should serve as a model to others with a significant trafficking problem.
These efforts include first-ever prosecutions of traffickers, collaboration with NGOs and holding large anti-trafficking conferences. There’s a long way to go, and government corruption and lack of identification is hindering progress, but it’s encouraging to see these advances being made.
If the U.S. state department is going to such effort to categorise all the countries in the world, there must be some benefit. Countries on Tier 3 are in danger of having sanctions slapped on them by the U.S. – this means that the U.S. would scale back economic and diplomatic relationships with the country until it got its act together.
But sanctions do not always work in the way they should, and can lead to increased suffering of the poorest people. I think the report has a part to play in arming charities and lobbying organisations with the information they need to attack governments. Criticism that comes from such a globally-recognised source is hard to ignore.