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End Political Manipulation of Trafficking in Persons Report
Contact: Jeff Sagnip, 202-225-3765; chrissmith.house.gov
WASHINGTON, March 23, 2016 /Christian Newswire/ -- Fighting to ensure that this year's annual Trafficking In Persons report (TIP) is not plagued by the same political manipulations that tarnished the widely-condemned 2015 publication, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, chairman of the house panel that oversees human rights, convened a hearing yesterday highlighting the problems in the last report and hearing from experts about problem countries that should not be glossed over again this year. 

"The State Department must get the TIP Report right, or we will lose the foundational tool created to help the more than 20 million victims of trafficking enslaved around the world today," said Smith (NJ-04), the author of the landmark Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a law which among other significant provisions mandates the State Department's comprehensive assessment of countries in the TIP report.  Since the inception of the TIP Report, more than 100 countries have adopted laws similar to the U.S. model of prosecution of traffickers, protection of victims, and prevention of trafficking, many crediting the U.S. for inspiring the change. 

"I am extremely disappointed and concerned that last year's TIP Report gave a pass to several countries meriting Tier 3 accountability—countries whose trafficking victims desperately needed protection and America's powerful voice. The 2015 TIP Report failed many victims. The victims deserved better,"  said Smith. 

At the center of the storm Smith said was a series of investigative reports by Reuters which found that the trafficking in persons professionals at the State Department made one set of recommendations for identifying worst offending countries – only to be overruled at a higher administration level for political reasons.  Smith named Cuba, China, Malaysia, and Oman as specific examples of countries originally recommended for tier 3–but ultimately listed in last year's report at a higher level by the Obama Administration. "Fourteen countries were given higher grades than warranted," Smith said.

"The report was meant to speak for the trafficking victims waiting, hoping, and praying for relief," said Smith. "Tier rankings are not about pretext, they are about real prosecution, real prevention, and real protection—for real people who are suffering as slaves. 

"Cuba is an egregious example of a nation being given an unwarranted passing grade because of other non-human trafficking considerations," Smith said.  "President Obama is there today, hob-nobbing with the very people who are kept in power by the profits of slave labor.  The very people who do not have a law against labor trafficking.  The very people whose hotels are filled with sex tourists who came to Cuba specifically to sexually exploit minors. Click here for Chairman Smith's opening remarks.

"When the U.S. engages in cronyism with favored countries— inflating the rankings of friends for reasons unrelated to the suffering of trafficking victims—U.S. credibility is harmed, U.S. leadership is undermined, and the trafficking victims are left helpless and alone," said Smith.

Witnesses at today's hearing entitled "Getting it Right this Time: A Victim-Centered Trafficking in Persons Report," focused on the records of countries whose tier rankings might lead to internal State Department conflicts between the TIP Office and the Regional Bureaus.

Maria Werlau said that, "What makes the Cuban case unique, as well as astounding, is that trafficking is a huge operation run by the government through numerous state enterprises with… accomplices, participants, sponsors, and promoters all over the world… the Cuban government is likely one of the largest and most profitable trafficking promoters in the world."  She said that the Cuban dictatorship is involved in four main sources of human trafficking: export services of temporary workers; forced labor and sex trafficking; state-sponsored or forced migration; and export sales of human and body parts. "Our State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report addresses only two of these aspects and, in my view, quite poorly." Click here to read Werlau's testimony.

Mark P. Lagon, a former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for the TIP Office and current President of the human rights group Freedom House, testified to the records of several countries on the cusp of downgrade to Tier 3.

"Despite democratic reforms and the NLD victories, the will or capacity to improve the trafficking situation for ethnic and religious minorities displaced within or migrating from the country is in question. Myanmar ought not to be given a pass or unfounded bonus in its ranking," Lagon observed  regarding Burma, which by law must be downgraded to Tier 3 this year if it has not earned an upgrade to Tier 2.  Click here to read Lagon's testimony.

Matt Smith, the Executive Director of Fortify Rights, observed, "This year, Malaysia has again failed to demonstrate adequate attention to key issues in combatting human trafficking, particularly with regard to the protection for survivors and prosecution of perpetrators… Malaysian authorities set a strong example by uncovering more than 100 gravesites, exhuming bodies, and vowing a crackdown on trafficking. Unfortunately, however, these commitments were not complemented with action. To our knowledge, Malaysia has failed to conduct an effective investigation into the trafficking syndicates."  Click here to read Matthew Smith's testimony.

Jinhye Jo, President of NkinUSA, and herself a refugee from North Korea who eventually escaped through China after several attempts and imprisonment in China, testified, "I can state without hesitation that the situation facing North Korean refugees in China is more dangerous today than ever before.  It is the Chinese government's failure to abide by international law that directly leads to the trafficking of North Korean refugees, especially women." Click here to read Jinhye Jo's testimony.

The 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report is due in early June.

Click here for latest online version on this release: chrissmith.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=398800