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House Subcommittee Examines Sex Trafficking in Bosnia

On April 24, the House International Relations Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights held a hearing on allegations of sex trafficking in Bosnia by the United Nation’s International Police Task Force. Subcommittee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) opened the hearing by commenting that when “egregious human rights violations are being committed when women and girls are being sold as chattel to then be used as sex slaves; even if it is just one victim, we must stand up and defend them.”

Ambassador Nancy Ely-Raphel stressed that the State Department has a zero tolerance policy “with respect to immoral, unethical and illegal behavior…in trafficking or in prostitution.” She explained that trafficking in Eastern European women to and through the Balkans has attracted little public awareness in the United States. However, the State Department has held several briefings to raise awareness of the problem. After the briefings, she said, all U.S. International Civilian Police (CIVPOL) candidates sign a letter of agreement, “stating that they understand what trafficking is, pledge not to engage in trafficking, and know they will be dismissed if they violate the agreement.”

The ambassador did note that several instances of sexual misconduct have occurred among officers who were deployed prior to the State Department’s trafficking briefings. She added that when these instances occurred, the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs “followed through with its zero tolerance policy” and the individuals were dismissed.

In an effort to deter trafficking, the State Department recently established the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and released its first annual trafficking in persons report in July 2001. Last year, Congress approved legislation appropriating funding for several trafficking prevention programs under the FY2002 Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs appropriations bill and the FY2002 Commerce, Justice, State, and Related Agencies appropriations bill.

David Lamb, a former U.N. Human Rights investigator in Bosnia, stated that the Bosnian sex slave trade is “a significant, widespread problem” that “largely exists because of the U.N. peacekeeping operation.” He noted that the United Nations Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina Human Rights Office conducted many successful raids on brothels to rescue captive women and attempted to prosecute those responsible. However, he said, “Whenever involvement of UN personnel surfaced during investigations, support from UN headquarters stopped.” Mr. Lamb also said that the UN headquarters would plan and carry out its own raids on brothels, “then publicize false information about the results, in an effort to deflect criticism without effectively investigating the problem.”

In her testimony, Martina E. Vandenberg of Human Rights Watch said that her organization has been researching the trafficking of women and girls into Bosnia and Herzegovina since 1999, and from their investigation they concluded that CIVPOL officers did frequent the Bosnian brothels or arranged to have trafficked women delivered to their residences “in violation of their code of conduct.” She added that “most striking” was the evidence that at least three CIVPOL officers purchased women and their passports from traffickers and brothel owners.

Benjamin Johnston, an employee for the technical assistance company DynCorp, spoke of his experience in Bosnia and his knowledge of the sex slave trade there. He explained that almost every night of the week, employees from his company would be parked outside of brothels and that many of his co-workers had young children living with them to perform sex and house chores. Mr. Johnston said that although there were too many other instances for him to mention, it is important that the United States “no longer let these types of actions go unpunished.”

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