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Senate Committee Evaluates 2015 Human Trafficking Country Ranking

On August 6, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing, “Review of the 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report.”

Sarah Sewall, undersecretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, Department of State, explained how the department determines a country’s ranking in the annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report: “We assess the adequacy of national laws in prohibiting and punishing human trafficking and evaluate government actions to prosecute suspects, protect victims, and prevent further trafficking – the ‘three Ps.’ Based on the country assessments, the [TIP] Report ranks countries and territories on different tiers in accordance with the minimum standards outlined in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act [P.L. 106-386].” Ms. Sewall continued, “In most cases, this assessment process clearly places governments into one of the [three] tiers; in other cases, further discussion among senior department officials is required to clarify information and assess the totality of government efforts. This ultimately leads to the secretary of State’s designation of tier rankings for each country and approval of the TIP Report…Tier rankings do not assess the severity of human trafficking in a given country, but rather that government’s efforts in addressing human trafficking problems over the current reporting period compared to its own efforts in the prior year.”

After Ms. Sewall finished her testimony, Chair Bob Corker (R-TN) expressed his concern that certain countries were ranked higher than they should have been, despite “minimal progress from those governments to address trafficking more aggressively.” Citing recent diplomatic efforts to approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, to which Malaysia is a party, and to normalize relations with Cuba, Sen. Corker questioned the integrity of the report. He said, “I know that you have to be here representing the department. I know that you have to read the things you just read, but I have to say that I don’t think that any person in Malaysia who has loved ones who have been sold in the sex slavery could be comforted by what you have said…The [Malaysian] government convicted three traffickers for forced labor and one for passport retention, which is less than what they did the year before, and our State Department…raised their status from Tier 3 to Tier 2 based on those outcomes. This is a country that has massive trafficking, massive. I have met young ladies in the Philippines that were trafficked to Malaysia and sold into sex slavery. I hope they are not watching this. I don’t see how anybody could believe there was integrity in this process.”

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