Remarks at Release of the Ninth Annual Trafficking in Persons Report Alongside Leaders in Congress

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Benjamin Franklin Room
Washington, DC
June 16, 2009

SECRETARY CLINTON: Good morning. We are delighted to have with us this morning some key members of Congress who have cared about and worked on this important issue for a number of years. This is the first time we have introduced the report in this way, because we want to demonstrate that this truly is a partnership between the State Department and the Congress. If it weren’t for the Congress, we wouldn’t have the legislation, we wouldn’t have the follow-up, we wouldn’t have the kind of outreach that these members and others have been doing. And I’m very grateful that they could take time out of their very busy schedules to be here with us.

You’ll hear from two of them in a moment, but let me introduce here Carolyn Maloney from New York, Ben Cardin from Maryland. We have Eddie Bernice Johnson from Texas, Chris Smith from New Jersey, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen from Florida, and I think that’s all of our members who are here with us. There may be some others who will come later, and then I’ll be introducing some of the other speakers in a moment.

This is one of the really significant days in the calendar for our country and particularly for the State Department. We have so many people who have been affected by this significant issue over the years. And it is especially fitting that we would hold this announcement here on the 8th floor where we have a great diplomatic history of so many important events in our nation.

And I’m especially pleased that our new Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, the new director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons here at the State Department was confirmed in time for him to be part of this ceremony, Senator Cardin. (Applause.) Previously, Lou led the fight against slavery at the Department of Justice. He’s also been a valued member of the team on the House Judiciary Committee with Chairman Conyers. And thanks to him, hundreds of trafficking survivors are now living productive and healthy lives in our own country, while their abusers are behind bars.

We’re also joined by two very special guests from the frontlines of the fight against trafficking. We have Mariliana Morales Berrios, who runs a foundation that assists victims in Costa Rica, and Vera Lesko, who opened the first shelter in Albania for trafficked women and girls. These two women represent nine women and men who we are celebrating this year for their courage in the fight against trafficking. And we are so grateful that they could join us today. (Applause.)

Around the world, millions of people are living in bondage. They labor in fields and factories under brutal employers who threaten them with violence if they try to escape. They work in homes for families that keep them virtually imprisoned. They are forced to work as prostitutes or to beg in the streets, fearful of the consequences if they fail to earn their daily quota. They are women, men, and children of all ages, and they are often held far from home with no money, no connections, and no way to ask for help.

This is modern slavery, a crime that spans the globe, providing ruthless employers with an endless supply of people to abuse for financial gain. Human trafficking is a crime with many victims: not only those who are trafficked, but also the families they leave behind, some of whom never see their loved ones again.

Trafficking has a broad global impact as well. It weakens legitimate economies, fuels violence, threatens public health and safety, shatters families, and shreds the social fabric that is necessary for progress. And it is an affront to our basic values and our fundamental belief that all people everywhere deserve to live and work in safety and dignity.

The Obama Administration views the fight against human trafficking, both at home and abroad, as a critical part of our foreign policy agenda. The United States currently funds 140 anti-trafficking programs in nearly 70 countries, as well as 42 domestic task forces to address the challenge here. We are proud of the work we do, but we know we have much more ahead of us. Economic pressure, especially in this global economic crisis, makes more people susceptible to the false promises of traffickers.

Today, the State Department releases our annual report on trafficking in persons. It underscores the need to address the root causes of trafficking, including poverty, lax law enforcement, and the exploitation of women.

The Trafficking Report is not an indictment of past failures, but a guide for future progress. It includes examples of steps taken against trafficking worldwide – for example, in Congo, where an army officer was convicted in a ground-breaking case for forcing children to serve as soldiers; or in Colombia where the government has pioneered a comprehensive operations center that tasks agents to investigate trafficking allegations and ensure that victims receive rehabilitative services, or in Jordan where the Ministry of Labor has established a fund to provide trafficking victims with food, housing, and legal aid.

With this report, we hope to shine the light brightly on the scope and scale of modern slavery so all governments can see where progress has been made and where more is needed. Trafficking thrives in the shadows, and it can be easy to dismiss it as something that happens to someone else, somewhere else. But that’s not the case. Trafficking is a crime that involves every nation on earth, and that includes our own.

Trafficking and forced labor are grave problems here in the United States. And we’ve been reminded of this in recent weeks, where authorities uncovered a scheme to enslave foreign workers as laborers for hotels and construction sites in 14 Midwestern states.

To coincide with this year’s Global Trafficking in Persons Report, the Department of Justice is releasing its own report, which describes the problem of human trafficking in the United States and offers recommendations for how we can do a better job of fighting it.

We’re grateful for the DOJ work. It will help us advance our struggle against trafficking in our own country. And we are committed to working with all nations collaboratively. In recent years we’ve pursued a comprehensive approach reflected by the three Ps: prosecution, protection, and prevention. Well, it’s time to add a fourth: partnership.

The criminal network that enslaves millions of people crosses borders and spans continents. So our response must do the same. So we’re committed to building new partnerships with governments and NGOs around the world, because the repercussions of trafficking affect us all.

I know that there are many of you in this room this morning who have been stalwart advocates in the fight against trafficking. And Chris Smith, you’ve got the copy of the report here. Let me just hold it up. This is a really wonderful piece of work, beautifully presented. I especially want to thank everyone in the State Department. Certainly, the – TIPS office, but others who helped produce this report. And I hope it is read and studied for the guidance it provides so that we together, in partnership, can continue to make progress against this terrible, terrible scourge. Thanks, Chris.

Now, I’d like to welcome a former colleague from the Senate. Ben Cardin is co-chair of the Helsinki Commission, and in that capacity he has pledged to make the fight against human trafficking a top priority.

Senator Ben Cardin. (Applause.)

SENATOR CARDIN: Well, Secretary Clinton, first I want to thank you for your leadership on this issue. You have brought this issue to the national and international forums, and we thank you for that. It’s a priority of the United States – (applause) – it’s a priority because of Secretary Clinton. And thank you for giving us Ambassador CdeBaca. We are very pleased that we could get that nomination through. (Applause.) We have a person who will, again, stand up for these issues around the world.

Look, our goal is simple: We want to end trafficking. We want to end this modern slavery. That’s our goal. And the United States is going to provide the leadership. We know that trafficking is connected to organized crime. So it’s not an isolated episode. It’s part of a systemic problem that we have around the world, and we have to root it out. We know that we can do better. We know those who are trafficked are victims and need to be treated as victims.

I am proud of the leadership in the United States. I am proud of the work in the Helsinki Commission to bring this to the international attention. When Secretary Clinton was Senator Clinton, she served on the Helsinki Commission and was a strong voice on this issue, helping to promote it internationally. Chris Smith brought this issue to the attention of the commission and the international community by filing legislation in Congress and filing resolutions in the international parliamentary assembly. The U.S. took the leadership. And as a result, the OSCE, 56 states, have passed strong commitments to deal with trafficking, have established a special representative to combat trafficking. That’s the type of strategies we need.

Madame Secretary, let me just tell you, this report, this TIP report is critically important to all of us. I have already read the section on Belarus. Why? Because Chris and I are going to be in Belarus in a couple weeks, and we’re going to talk to the leaders of Belarus about being on Tier 2 and how they can improve what they’re doing on trafficking. This is the objective yardstick that we use when we meet with leaders from other countries. And the United States has provided the leadership. I am proud of the work that has been done. Now it’s time for us to follow through on the information that’s contained in this report so that we can, in fact, end this modern-day slavery. (Applause.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: I am very pleased that we’ve been joined by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee from Texas. Thank you so much for being here, Sheila. (Applause.) Our next speaker is the ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. She’s been a tenacious advocate for immigrant women, refugees, and other vulnerable populations. She’s been a leader on human trafficking both in Congress and through her support of programs in her home district, including the Human Trafficking Center at the University of St. Thomas.

Representative Ros-Lehtinen. (Applause.)

MS. ROS-LEHTINEN: Thank you, Madame Secretary. Thank you. Thank you so much, Secretary Clinton and Ambassador CdeBaca. It’s an honor to stand with you today to address this important issue of the scourge of human trafficking. As we know, hundreds of thousands of innocent human beings are trafficked across international borders each and every year. And of these, an estimated 80 percent are women and half are children. The numbers, however, do not convey the human horrors that lay behind those statistics. These crimes know no borders.

In Iran, children are forced into sexual slavery, involuntary servitude, while Iranian girls are trafficked into Pakistan and numerous other countries. In Syria, women are trafficked from South and Southeast Asia and are forced to work as domestic servants, and women from Eastern Europe and Iraq are forced into prostitution. In our own hemisphere, Cuba has shamefully been promoting itself as a destination for sexual tourism that exploits large numbers of Cuban girls and boys, some as young as 12. And the list goes on and on.

And I’m proud of the leading role that our United States Congress, this Department of State, under Secretary Clinton’s leadership, has played in moving the fight against human trafficking from a non-issue to a priority for the United States Government. When the original Trafficking Victims Protection Act was introduced a decade ago, these issues did not have a lot of attention paid to them. But thanks to that legislation and thanks to the efforts of the State Department’s office to monitor and combat trafficking in persons, foreign governments know that inaction will no longer be met with silence.

This annual release of the Trafficking In Persons Report is critically important as a reckoning, as a resource, and as a challenge. As a reckoning, the report’s tier placements are an indispensible form of truth-telling that has been the catalyst for action for numerous governments around the world. As a resource, the country narratives and other information in the report provide insight into facts and trends that are necessary to any real understanding of the problems that we are confronting. And by highlighting the continuing defiance of certain regimes and the widespread victimization of so many vulnerable people, the trafficking report represents a challenge to us all. There is much work to be done.

Secretary Clinton, Ambassador CdeBaca, we stand ready to work with you in this important work of protecting and promoting the human dignity of trafficking victims around the world. Mucha gracias. (Applause.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very, very much, Ileana. In 2000, Ambassador CdeBaca used his hard-won knowledge of trafficking to help write the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. And I see our first-ever Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer there because in the First Lady’s Office in those days, we were working to draft that legislation and work with the Congress to get it passed. It overhauled and updated our nation’s approach to modern slavery. It gave prosecutors new tools to bring traffickers to justice. It gave governments new guidance for how to help trafficked people start a new life.

And this legislation also established the report we are releasing today. So in a very real sense, Luis has come full circle. He helped to draft the legislation that required the report, and today, I’m very proud that he is our director who is unveiling the report. (Applause.)

AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Thank you, Madame Secretary, although I think there is a few things that I might have asked Congressman Smith and others to put in if I had known – (laughter) – that nine years later, I’d be here.

Nine years ago, the annual trafficking report started as a modest summary, 82 countries. It has grown to a detailed and accurate assessment of governments’ anti-trafficking efforts around the world, this year ranking 175 countries. But more importantly, it has become a diagnostic tool that informs and guides our efforts as we seek to build a global partnership to combat modern slavery.

The successes are clear. Some former Tier 2 Watch List countries are now Tier 1. They have become models through their efforts for their regions and for the world. In this vein, I’m particularly heartened to see, for instance, how Nigeria started a dedicated counter-trafficking police and prosecution unit. We can all learn from their growing success in working with nongovernmental organizations and victims.

Such anti-trafficking units work best when they incorporate survivors and NGOs as part of the team. I’m glad that we are joined today by a number of people from the nongovernmental community, but also by members of the Justice Department’s Trafficking Prosecutions Unit and by Deputy Sheriff Chris Burchell from San Antonio, who is helping form such units across the state of Texas.

Huge challenges remain for us all. Some governments have yet to respond to the global call for victim protections or for effective law enforcement efforts against these crimes. As the UN Office on Drugs and Crime stated in its recent report on global human trafficking, two out of every five countries have yet to achieve a single conviction of a human trafficker. Our own TIP Report data show for a second year that less than 10 percent of all convictions are for labor trafficking worldwide. Despite reliable estimates, the labor trafficking is the largest form of trafficking in the world. All countries can do a better job and must do a better job of addressing forced labor, while also remaining vigilant against the scourge of the sex traffickers.

Prosecutions can be a blunt tool, but they do matter. When labor violations are dealt with just as administrative issues, abusers factor in fines as a cost of doing business, and abused workers are easily disposed of. When a country interprets sex trafficking as just moving prostitutes, instead of incorporating the effect of abuse and coercion, there often result light sentences in incarceration of the victims – risks that the traffickers are willing to take.

One important point in this year’s report, especially in a time of crisis, foreign workers are too often held not just by brute force, but through exorbitant recruiting fees that can result in debt bondage. Last year, Congress closed loopholes in some of our Pacific possessions the traffickers who had historically used to exploit people as garment workers, waitresses, and enforced prostitution. Congress also gave us welcome criminal tools to ensure that fraudulent promises don’t expose workers to servitude and mandated that visa recipients receive information about their rights before they travel to the United States. We welcome those tools, and we will use them.

To echo Secretary Clinton’s call today, we offer partnership to meet the challenges: partnership with foreign governments, NGOs, international organizations, and international development agencies. We must build on our common interests to attack this phenomenon in partnership.

A number of such partners have been featured in the report as TIP heroes. We are joined by some of them, who the Secretary will introduce, but several of them were unable to be with us here today.

For instance, Major George Vanikiotis, a Greek police commander, has dedicated his life to breaking up the trafficking rings that so often plague Southeastern Europe.

Indonesian hero, Elly Anita, a trafficking survivor herself, advocates fiercely to liberate Indonesian contract laborers in the Middle East.

When he overheard a bar patron boasting about a high-end prostitution ring, hero Inacio Sebastiao Mussanhane, a Mozambican lawyer who was living in South Africa, didn’t just walk away. He risked his life to rescue the women. Though a civilian, he posed as a John to infiltrate the organization so he could take the evidence to the police. Those men are now standing trial in South Africa. (Applause.)

Our Canadian hero, Professor Benjamin Perrin also uncovered a trafficking ring and secured important government protections for trafficking victims as an advocate.

Hero Sunitha Krishnan of India has rescued thousands of children and women from exploitation and provides them welcome opportunities to reclaim their lives.

Hero Aida Abu Ras, a Jordanian anti-trafficking activist, is a fierce advocate for the rights of foreign domestic workers, often so vulnerable as they labor behind closed doors.

And in Malaysia, hero Alice Nah works tirelessly to urge government officials to identify and protect refugees and migrant workers who are victimized by traffickers.

This year’s report also memorialized prostitution survivor Norma Hotaling, who passed away this year from cancer. Norma was an active participant in the first NGO focus groups convened over 10 years ago as part of the effort that Secretary Clinton mentioned. From those humble beginnings, without many of the victim protections and collaborative anti-trafficking models that have become the global standard today, and Norma never stopped working towards a world free from exploitation.

We are humbled by their heroism, and we are honored to be joined with them today.

Madame Secretary. (Applause.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Thank you very much, Lou. And on behalf of the entire State Department, we want to extend our appreciation and admiration to all of this year’s heroes who could not join us today.

Several years ago, Vera Lesko began asking what happened to the large numbers of Albanian girls who were disappearing from their homes and neighborhoods every year. The more she learned about sex trafficking, the more determined she became to help stop it. She founded an anti-trafficking organization called The Hearth, which opened the first shelter in Albania for trafficked women and girls. She offered them not only a safe place to stay, but also comprehensive services, including legal and medical help, job training, education, and family support.

Her commitment to her work has come with costs and dangers. Vera has been attacked and beaten several times by those people who benefit from the illegal trade in women and girls. She even had to send her daughter to live abroad for her safety. But nothing has stopped Vera from continuing to advocate for the women and girls of Albania and their right to live in peace and safety. Thank you so much, Vera. (Applause.)

Just as Vera was beginning her work in Albania, another woman was starting down the same path on the other side of the world. Mariliana Morales Berrios created her anti-trafficking organization, the Rahab Foundation in Costa Rica, more than a decade ago. Her goal was to help trafficking victims and their families put their ordeal behind them and start new lives. The Rahab Foundation provides counseling, education, and job training. It works to stop trafficking before it starts by training government leaders, police, young people, tourism workers, in how to identify, investigate, and successfully intervene when trafficking occurs. Her commitment and that of her staff have helped so many women, girls, and families throughout Costa Rica. I’d like to invite her to say a few words on behalf of all of this year’s courageous leaders in the fight against traffic. Thank you. (Applause.)

MS. BERRIOS: (Via interpreter). Thank you so much, Madame Secretary, for this award. I’m deeply honored to be here with Vero Lesko of Albania, my fellow. And she’s a fellow anti-trafficking hero like myself when we are here representing seven other anti-trafficking heroes recognized. These are heroes who have been recognized in this year’s TIP report from across the globe.

Although we fight against human trafficking in different ways, we have the same goal: to defeat this crime. And we trust in God’s grace that He will help us achieve that. We want to return dignity to human beings. I am the voice of many women, children, and men who are victims of trafficking. I am also the voice of many NGOs worldwide who work without any resources. And I’m very grateful to God for this opportunity to be able to shed light on the work that these NGOs do, who are heroes also for the work that they do without any resources.

And being here, I would like to call upon all governments to designate more resources, both human resources as well as financial resources, so that we can make progress on this fight against trafficking. We can form an ideal partnership because governments have the resources, while we have the passions, the will to work, and the will to work 24 hours a day.

First of all, then, I would like to thank God for this award, to my great team in San Jose, because without them, it would not be possible for me to be here, and to my family for putting up with a mother who has to spend her evenings and nights in the streets, and my husband, who is around here somewhere, who has taken on the financial burden of allowing me to do this. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Where is your husband? (Applause.)

MS. BERRIOS: (Via interpreter). There are many lives behind these awards. But today, I want to leave you with this thought: to think about the victims, all of the victims who have died without a voice to speak for them.

Thank you very much to all of you and may God bless you. (Applause.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much, Mariliana, and thanks to your husband as well, a good partnership. And thanks to all of you for joining us. This is a wonderful event every year, but it just reminds us of how much work we have ahead of us. This morning I sent a cable communicating to the staff of the State Department here and around the world how critical this issue is to the foreign policy priorities of the State Department and the Obama Administration. Human trafficking demands attention and commitment and passion from all of us. We are determined to build on our past success and advance progress in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

I ask you just to do one thing for us, and that is become advocates for both of these reports. (Applause.) Make sure that you read the Department of Justice report. We are including more information about the United States in our report. I believe when you shine a bright light you need to shine it on everyone, and we will rank ourselves. We believe we’re Tier 1, but we will rank ourselves next year in the report so that we have done our duty as well.

But then, please read this. And those of you working in the State Department, USAID, our missions around the world, please take this and talk with your counterparts in governments, in countries that are willing to partner with us to make the changes that are outlined in this report. There are so many good ideas. Yes, it does cost some resources, but the consequences of trafficking for any society are so much more expensive and devastating.

Thank you all very much. (Applause.) I’ve been reminded, we’ve got to give the awards out so – (applause). And please, come and greet our guests. And I know the members of Congress have to leave for important matters, but come talk to the ambassador and any members who can stay, introduce yourselves, because this is part of the team that we have to go after the scourge of trafficking.

Thank you all very much. (Applause.)

PRN: 2009/600