Statement Before the House Foreign Affairs Committee: Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights

Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Washington, DC
October 27, 2011

Chairman Smith, members of the committee: I welcome the opportunity today to speak with you regarding trafficking in South and Central Asia. I’m honored to do so in the company of my colleagues, Ambassador CdeBaca and Principle Deputy Assistant Secretary Joseph Yun. I have a longer statement that I shall submit for the record.

Mr. Chairman, first let me say how much I appreciate your leadership, the work of this subcommittee and the focus it brings to the issue of Trafficking in Persons. I have made it a personal priority to address trafficking in persons in the SCA region in close partnership with Ambassador C. DeBaca. I have done so through direct advocacy with governments, but also by visiting NGOs doing good work to combat trafficking and recording short video interviews with them that my staff posts on You Tube to publicize their work and the scope of the challenges.

Our engagement has produced dividends and progress, but significant challenges remain. The Department upgraded four SCA countries this year from Tier 2 WL to Tier 2: India, Sri Lanka, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. Three remained on the Watch List but we are making progress in all three: Bangladesh, Maldives and Uzbekistan; and only one country is on Tier 3 – Turkmenistan.

I’d like to briefly review some the situation in some of the key countries where I have been personally engaged.

India. Mr. Chairman, I know you share our interest in seeing continued progress in India on anti-TIP efforts. The Department’s upgrade of India to Tier 2 was based on the government’s increased efforts to address its trafficking problem, particularly bonded labor. Specifically, the GOI increased law enforcement efforts through the establishment of over 80 Anti-Human Trafficking Units, ratified the UN TIP Protocol, achieved landmark convictions against bonded labor traffickers with punishments of significant prison sentences, and increased rescue and rehabilitation efforts of thousands of trafficking victims in many parts of India. This good work continues at both the state and federal levels.

Tajikistan is another country that has made commendable progress against trafficking. In 2011, Tajikistan was upgraded to Tier 2 for addressing the use of forced labor in its annual cotton harvest through efforts such as accrediting and assisting NGOs to monitor the harvest. They also prosecuted and convicted the first trafficking offenders under the new anti-trafficking provision.

Kazakhstan too was elevated to Tier 2 this year. The government increased law enforcement efforts against human trafficking, passed a law strengthening penalties for convicted child sex trafficking offenders, and increased victim identification. The Ministry of Internal Affairs has drafted a law that allows trafficking victims to have a legal advocate at all stages of criminal proceedings and expands the scope of trafficking-related crimes to include pimping and the organization and maintenance of brothels increases legal protections for minors subject to forced labor.

Uzbekistan presents a mixed picture. The government has made good progress in combating sex trafficking, but has been slow to address the use of forced labor, particularly in the annual cotton harvest.. In March of 2011, the Government of Uzbekistan created an Interagency Working Group tasked with ensuring compliance with all 13 ILO conventions to which Uzbekistan is a party. Our Embassy in Tashkent will be monitoring the GOU’s actions to uphold these commitments and I will continue to engage the Government to make progress on this important priority.

Tools to influence change. The Trafficking Report has been an impetus for this change but it is only one of the tools we have at our disposal to influence the anti-trafficking efforts of other countries.

Reports from international NGOs have sometimes been instrumental in informing and compelling action on TIP. My bureau and Ambassador C. DeBaca’s team greatly value such input and have tried to foster a cooperative relationship with these institutions. We influence them and they influence us by mutual sharing of information to make sure our efforts are complimentary and we make the most impact on the ground.

Governments are extremely interested to know where they will be ranked in the Report when it comes out in June. But I think that the work we do to consistently engage to influence people at every level of society is equally significant. For example, the exchange programs or workshops we sponsor to train government officials in implementation are critical to realizing the potential of the new laws being passed. The training programs with police officers or border guards to sensitize them towards potential TIP victims are also vital.

I want to assure you that we value the resources we are entrusted with by Congress and we work very closely with Ambassador C. DeBaca and his staff to implement programs that make a positive and lasting impact.

In summary, the SCA region is moving closer to being compliant with internationally-recognized anti-TIP standards, but there is much more work to do. This will continue to be a personal priority for me and a priority for my bureau. Thank you again for the opportunity to address this subcommittee. I look forward to your questions.