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House Subcommittee Examines Human Trafficking Country Rankings

On November 4, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations held a hearing, “Demanding Accountability: Evaluating the 2015 Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Report.” The hearing focused on the State Department’s 2015 TIP report and the process behind the tier rankings of China, Malaysia, and Cuba, among other countries. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a similar hearing on August 6 (see The Source, 8/7/15).

Chair Chris Smith (R-NJ) expressed his concern that tier ranking decisions made by the State Department were politicized, raising the bar for some countries, and lowering it for others. Rep. Smith declared that at least three countries’ rankings were inaccurate, saying, “Malaysia was the subject of a Reuters investigative report in 2014, which found that human traffickers were keeping hundreds of Rohingya refugees from Burma captive in houses in northern Malaysia, beating them, depriving them of food, and demanding a ransom from their families…Only three traffickers were convicted in Malaysia last year. Three – in a country of more than 30 million people.” Rep. Smith also questioned the change in Cuba’s ranking: “The administration also upgraded Cuba this year to the Tier 2 Watch List on flimsy justifications – namely, that Cuba began sharing information with the U.S. on trafficking and that it convicted 13 traffickers two years ago…However, Cuba legally permits the pimping of 16 year-old girls, is the top destination in the Western Hemisphere for child sex tourism, and does not criminalize labor trafficking at all.” Lastly, he expressed his concern that China did not drop in ranking, saying, “China’s official birth limitation policy, in combination with a cultural preference for boys, has resulted in approximately 40 million women and girls missing from the population – making China a regional magnet for sex and bride trafficking as men who reach marrying age cannot find a mate.”

Kari A. Johnstone, principal deputy director, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Department of State, explained the process in which the department determines a country’s ranking: “Throughout the year, department experts worked with foreign governments and civil society to collect data and objectively assess each government’s efforts to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking laid out in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act [P.L. 106-386]. Using this comprehensive factual analysis, and in accordance with the minimum standards, countries were assigned a tier ranking – Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 2 Watch List, or Tier 3…In most cases, the factors leading to the tier placement of a country are agreed upon throughout the department in early discussions. At times, however, they require further discussion among senior department officials in a process that ultimately leads to the secretary’s final decisions. This is consistent with department practice in the context of other annual reports and procedures. As always, the tier rankings reflect government efforts to increase prosecutions, improve protections, and enhance prevention efforts to combat modern slavery, not the extent of human trafficking in any particular country. We saw tangible progress in many places in the world… Unfortunately, we also saw efforts fall short in the 18 countries that were downgraded. Much work remains, and all of us must continue to improve our efforts to fight this crime.”

The following witnesses also testified:

  • James Carouso, acting deputy assistant secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Department of State;
  • Alex Lee, deputy assistant secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Department of State; and
  • Mark Lagon, president, Freedom House.
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