Thursday, January 17, 2008

Brown University Professor Says Efforts to Reduce Human Trafficking Ineffective

From the University of Connecticut:

An international monitoring project designed to combat human trafficking is flawed, according to Brown University anthropology professor Kay Warren. Warren made her remarks during this year’s Robert G. Mead Jr. Lecture, held in the Student Union Theatre on Nov. 8. The lecture, on human trafficking around the world, was part of the University’s celebration of International Week.

Warren is the Charles B. Tillinghast Jr. ’62 Professor in International Studies at Brown, where she directs the Politics, Culture, and Identity Program at the Watson Institute for International Studies. She said a Trafficking in Persons program (TIP) was created by the U.S. State Department to measure countries’ levels of compliance with international norms in what are called TIP reports. However, she says, the TIP program lacks the measures needed for accurate results.

Any form of labor could be the subject of trafficking, she said, but “in practice, there has been a much narrower understanding of trafficking, which focuses mostly on women and children and sexual exploitation.”“The TIP reports are widely circulated four-tier rankings designed to reward those judged to be in full compliance and to sanction those that fail both to recognize human trafficking and to embrace the global discipline combating this transnational crime,” Warren said.

She said that countries take the protocol and “try to change it with another national, domestic agenda. The protocol actually morphs in this process. It might, for instance, take on a new identity as an anti-immigrant vehicle. “Even as these countries are trying to play with this imposition from the U.S. government, they also want high rankings,” she said. “Everyone wants to be a tier 1.”

She said the global estimate of 600,000 to 800,000 trafficking victims each year has been used in government reports as a measure of a global tragedy, but asked, “Where did those numbers come from? There was no methodology.”

She asked, “Is criminal disorder actually defeated by these anti-trafficking processes? It’s not clear to me. Anti-trafficking policies have had important effects on state policies through the legal system, but it’s unclear to me that they have had very effective consequences for transnational organized crime.”

Added Warren, “The issue is: Would there be another way to measure, and another kind of methodology, that one could develop that would target the criminals?”

Read the full article

I know from my time in the Philippines that one groundbreaking trafficking case in a city called Zamboanga resulted in a conviction in a mere five months, which involved coordination between various criminal justice and law enforcement staff and just so happened to occur during the visit of a U.S. government official who was evaluating the country's anti-trafficking efforts. Realistically, it takes 2 to 5 years for a trafficking case to be disposed of. To date there have been 12 convictions (correct me if I'm wrong) since the Philippines Trafficking Act of 2003 was passed.

Although there are sincere efforts by individuals in the Philippine government to address trafficking, they are often mired by the institutional lack of political will and environment of corruption that prevails. What then ends up happening is just enough is done to "combat trafficking" to maintain the tier-2 standing
but not enough to make a significant impact (for example the limited accomplishments of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking).

What do you think?

How has the U.S. State Department's annual TIP report affected anti-trafficking practices in your country? Has the 4-tier system and potential economic sanctions motivated countries to put forth resources and sound strategies to combat trafficking or is there simply a lot of window dressing?

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