U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry this morning unveiled America’s annual assessment of the world’s response to trafficking in persons. The 2015 TIP Report rates the governmental response of 188 countries and territories.
“The purpose of this document is not to scold, it’s not to name and shame,” Kerry said. “It is to enlighten and to energize, and most importantly to empower people. By issuing it we want to bring to the public’s attention the full nature and scope of a $150 billion illicit trafficking industry.”
“We want to provide evidence and facts that will help people who are already striving to achieve reforms to alleviate suffering and to hold people accountable. We want to provide a strong incentive for governments at every level to do all that they can to prosecute trafficking and to shield at-risk populations,” Kerry added.
This year, 23 countries are listed on the report’s “Tier 3” category, meaning they are “countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.” This is the same number of countries listed as the world’s worst trafficking offenders last year, although some countries have been added to the list while others have been upgraded – including Cuba, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan.
Politicians and human rights activists urged the State Dept. not to upgrade Malaysia this year, noting that the upgrade would allow Malaysia to become part of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade alliance that the Obama administration is supporting. Had Malaysia remained on Tier 3, it would be banned from becoming part of the alliance according to the fast-track authorization measure that Congress passed for the trade deal earlier this year.
“Slaves are not bargaining chips to be exchanged for profitable trade or other benefits,” says Free the Slaves Executive Director Maurice Middleberg. “Fact-based TIP rankings demonstrably provoke progress by negligent or complicit governments. Rankings must remain untrammeled by considerations other than the vigor of government efforts to eradicate slavery. As friends of the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Office, we urge that the TIP Report consistently reflect its values and record of professionalism.”
“We are incredibly disappointed by the State Department’s decision to unfairly upgrade Malaysia in this year’s Trafficking in Persons report,” said Melysa Sperber, director of the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST), a coalition of 14 U.S.-based human rights organizations, including Free the Slaves. “Downgraded just last year, Malaysia demonstrated zero progress in addressing major human rights violations. In fact, more egregious incidents of forced labor, mass graves and slave camps have emerged in recent months. It’s a blemish on President Obama’s legacy that he chose to promote trade over human rights.”
Nineteen U.S. Senators had urged Secretary Kerry not to upgrade Malaysia.
“Fighting human trafficking is one of the great moral challenges of our time,” the senators wrote. “It is therefore with grave concern that we now hear Malaysia may be upgraded in this year’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report based on developments that occurred after the end of the review period. A premature upgrade of Malaysia would undermine the integrity of the TIP report process and compromise our international efforts to fight human trafficking.”
Opposition to the upgrade also came from inside Malaysia before today’s release of the TIP report.
“It is inconceivable that Malaysia should receive an upgrade in 2015 based on the recent amendments to the Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act 2007, which, in any event, have yet to come into force,” wrote Malaysian Bar President Steven Thiru. “If there is any lesson to be learned from recent experience, it must be that the government has an excellent record of drafting written plans, but a less than satisfactory record of implementing them. As such, the upgrade of Malaysia, if it were to occur, would be premature and undeserved.”
“If the U.S. government actually elevates Malaysia,” Charles Santiago, a member of Malaysia’s parliament from the DAP party said before today’s report was released, “it actually supports the trafficking. Can you imagine? People have died.”
Secretary Kerry did not address the tier placements of individual countries during his presentation. However he did note the TIP report is a vehicle to inspire change.
“It’s a battle against money, it’s a battlle against evil. It’s quite remarkable that in the year 2015 we face a modern version of slavery,” Kerry said. “This TIP report needs to be read as a call to action. Governments need to strengthen and enforce the laws that they have on the books, and prosecutors must take pride in turning today’s traffickers into tomorrow’s prisoners.”
The only direct reference to Malaysia this morning came from Undersecretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights Sarah Sewall, who noted that the State Department’s trafficking unit invests more than $60 million annually to help governments tackle trafficking.
“It builds government capacity in Malaysia,” she said.
A handout at Monday’s briefing noted that: “anti-trafficking skills training enhanced the capacity of prosecutors, judges and other criminal justice officials to conduct victim-centered prosecutions. Participant evaluations indicated the training increased knowledge of the victim-centered approach and would improve participant responses to future human trafficking cases.”
The TIP Report’s detailed country narrative on Malaysia indicates why the U.S. determined an upgrade was warranted.
“The Government of Malaysia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. In 2014, the government consulted with civil society stakeholders to draft and propose amendments strengthening the existing anti-trafficking law and addressing concerns raised in previous Trafficking in Persons Reports, including by allowing trafficking victims to move freely and work, and for NGOs to run the facilities,” the 2015 TIP report says. “Malaysia more than doubled the number of trafficking investigations and substantially increased prosecutions,” the report adds. “Malaysia also continued efforts in an expansive prevention campaign that raised awareness about trafficking.”