Fight against human trafficking

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By : Susan V. Ople

Last year, this writer was privileged to witness the official presentation of the 2013 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report at the United States Department of State with no less than Secretary John Kerry as the keynote speaker. It was an unforgettable experience for me to step up to the podium and address the audience as one of nine Trafficking in Persons Hero awardees from around the world.

In my speech, I stressed how important it was for nations to unite behind the cause of fighting trafficking and that the TIP Report enables advocates and public officials in every nook and corner of the world see the progress of such global efforts. Of course, there will always be states and even civil society groups that remain critical of this self-designated role of the US State Department as the world’s anti-trafficking czar. Cuba, for one, has issued a critical statement following the release of the 2014 TIP Report over the weekend, citing the human trafficking situation in the United States as well.

The US State Department is mandated by Congress to rank countries based on efforts to fight human trafficking. The rankings are four-tiered: Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 2 Watchlist, and Tier 3. Tier 1 means the country has met minimum standards as defined by the US Congress in fighting human trafficking. Tier 2 means it has not met such standards but is striving to do so. Tier 2 Watchlist is a warning for countries that may fall into Tier 3, the lowest category.

In the Philippines, the US Embassy sent questionnaires to government agencies during the preparatory phase leading up to the drafting of the report. They also send representatives to talk to anti-trafficking advocates and organizations. The media is also a good source of information for the drafters of the report, given that most cases land on media’s lap. The US Embassy in Manila makes use of all these inputs in drafting their own preliminary country report, which shall then be fact-checked and analyzed by the desk officers assigned in the US State Department. In Washington D.C., a senior team is designated to draft the entire global report for consideration by the Secretary of State.

In this year’s report, the Philippines has managed to maintain its Tier 2 ranking, meaning that while the crime persists, there are significant efforts being made to address it. Malaysia, on the other hand, has fallen into the Tier 3 category, which is the lowest rank under the TIP Report. “The Government of Malaysia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking,” the Report said. Thailand and Venezuela also saw a similar downgrade to Tier 3.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Authorization Act (TVPA) authorizes a maximum of two consecutive waivers for a country listed under the Tier 2 Watchlist for two years straight. What happens when a country falls into Tier 3? Based on its anti-trafficking law, the United States can withhold all forms of non-humanitarian assistance to Tier 3 countries.

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