Ambassador Karen C. Stanton Remarks to the Inaugural Meeting of the Interagency Working Group on Human Trafficking

Good morning.  Bon dia.

I am very pleased to be here today to meet with you to discuss combatting trafficking in persons.  On behalf of the Government of the United States, I congratulate the Government of Timor-Leste for holding this inaugural meeting of the Trafficking Working Group, and especially thank the Prime Minister for his leadership on this important issue.  I also recognize and thank the many of you in this room whose efforts and hard work over the past several months resulted in Timor-Leste’s National Action Plan on Trafficking in Persons.

In July of last year, Jana, a survivor of sex trafficking, told the United Nations Human Rights Council that

“From the ground to the top we need to create network[s]. From governments, legal, medical, social institutions, businesses to schools, local communities, individuals. We have to involve all. Traffickers are extremely well connected. We need to be, too. “

And that is why this meeting matters.  This meeting, this working group, is the foundation for Timor-Leste’s network to combat human trafficking.   And as Jana told the UN, we need to be connected, we need to work together to fight modern slavery.

“Trafficking in persons,” “human trafficking,” and “modern slavery” are all used to describe “the act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, or coercion.”

The global numbers are astonishing.  With more than 20 million people today trapped in human trafficking, it is a crime that happens almost everywhere.  But last year, governments around the world identified fewer than 45,000 victims.  The vast majority of traffickers are not prosecuted and punished – just over 10,000 prosecutions were reported globally last year, resulting in fewer than 4,500 convictions.

The United States is committed to working with our international partners to advance anti-trafficking reforms to prevent modern slavery, protect victims, and prosecute perpetrators.  The U.S. Congress, through its passage of the 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act, requires the U.S. Department of State to submit an annual report on trafficking in persons.  The report, which is the world’s most comprehensive resource of governmental anti-human trafficking efforts, seeks to stimulate action and create the partnerships and networks around the world that are necessary to fight against modern slavery.

In the report, the Department of State places each country into one of three tiers based on their governments’ efforts to comply with the “minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.”  While Tier 1 is the highest ranking, it does not mean that a country has no human trafficking problem. On the contrary, a Tier 1 ranking indicates that a government has acknowledged the existence of human trafficking, made efforts to address the problem, and complies with the minimum standards. Each year, governments need to demonstrate appreciable progress in combating trafficking to maintain a Tier 1 ranking.

Countries assessed as not fully complying with the minimum standards, but making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance are classified as Tier 2.  Countries that neither comply with the minimum standards nor make significant efforts are classified as Tier 3.

In addition to Tiers 1, 2 and 3, there is a fourth category – the Tier 2 Watch List.  The Tier 2 Watch List includes Tier 2 countries that have not demonstrated increased efforts to combat human trafficking over the previous year.  For the past two years, Timor-Leste has been on this watch list.

In 2008, the U.S. Congress, concerned about countries ranked for several consecutive years on the Tier 2 Watch List, amended the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.  Under the amended law, any country that has been ranked as Tier 2 Watch List for two consecutive years must be ranked Tier 3 in the third year unless the government either shows sufficient progress to warrant an upgrade, or qualifies for a waiver.  The law stipulates that a waiver may be granted for up to two years if the U.S. government determines that the country has a written plan that demonstrates significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with the minimum standards, and that the country is devoting sufficient resources to implement that plan.

There are consequences for being a Tier 3 country.  Countries classified as Tier 3 may be subject to restrictions on non-humanitarian and non-trade-related foreign assistance.  In some circumstances, these countries may also face limits on participation by government officials or employees in educational and cultural exchange programs.  These countries may also face U.S. opposition to certain assistance by international financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

No tier ranking is permanent.  Every country, including the United States, can do more.  I commend the Government of Timor-Leste for its recent efforts to develop a National Action Plan and for reestablishing this working group to ensure that the plan becomes a reality.  I am pleased to see Timor-Leste building the partnerships and networks necessary to combat human trafficking, protect victims, and prosecute perpetrators.  Through these actions, Timor-Leste is asserting itself as a leader among developing democracies on this issue.  As Timor-Leste prepares to accede to ASEAN, the work of this group also complements the efforts of ASEAN member states to build regional networks and capacity to combat trafficking.  I look forward to following the progress of this working group.

I would like to conclude with the words that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry wrote in the opening of the 2015 trafficking report:

“No nation can end modern slavery alone. Eliminating this global scourge requires a global solution. It also cannot be solved by governments alone. The private sector, academic institutions, civil society, the legal community, and consumers can all help to address the factors that allow human trafficking to flourish. But governments have a special responsibility to enforce the rule of law, share information, invest in judicial resources, and espouse policies that urge respect for the rights and dignity of every human being. Human trafficking is not a problem to be managed; it is a crime to be stopped.”

I thank you all for the vital work you are doing to stop this crime in Timor-Leste.

Obrigada Barak.