Thursday, June 25, 2009

DOJ to Rate US Anti-Trafficking Performance

June 16th, 2009 marked the release of the ninth annual Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP Report) from the State Department, which adheres to the same format and Tier-ranking system as previous reports. There are more countries on the watchlist and more nations are potentially subject to sanctions for failing to comply with the minimum anti-trafficking standards in US law. However, there is definitely something new this year.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told us, in her introductory remarks, that, for the first time ever, the United States will rank its own performance on anti-trafficking. Secretary Clinton noted, that:

“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's 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 State Department has been praised for the accuracy of the TIP Report. I even heard colleagues of mine in Albania claiming it was more accurate about trafficking conditions in Albania than the information produced by their government. However, a major point of criticism has been that the US has refused to rank its own progress in fighting trafficking in the TIP Report. The release of the Department of Justice report that describes trafficking in the US, along with recommendations for improvement, will go some way towards ameliorating this criticism. Advocates are quite happy that we will finally apply the US ranking system, including ranking the US on the tier system, to the country where it was created.

While this is a step in the right direction, it still is not equivalent to ranking the United States in the TIP Report tier system along with all the other countries. Part of the problem is that this promotes the feeling that the US feels it is an outlier, an exception to the global phenomenon of trafficking. Perhaps the State Department felt that a separate report on the United States would be more comprehensive, which is a valid point. However, this does not preclude the inclusion of the US in the TIP Report. Additionally, what we really need is a report that ranks each individual state in the US because, while there is universally applicable federal legislation, laws are different depending on the state you happen to reside in. Or, if you are like me and live in the nebulous territory known as the District of Columbia, there is even another set of rules.

If we are to believe Secretary Clinton’s words, that partnership with other countries to fight trafficking will become the fourth P of our comprehensive strategy, we need to start reflecting this in our reporting strategy and our conceptualization of trafficking within the United States.

Click here to read Secretary Clinton’s full remarks at the release of the 2009 TIP Report.

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