MR. RATHKE: Okay. Thank you, operator. I’m Jeff Rathke, director of the Press Office here at the State Department. And today we’re doing a call with Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, who is Ambassador-At-Large to Combat Trafficking in Persons. So today’s call will be on the record, but it will be embargoed until the end of Secretary Kerry’s rollout event.
So Ambassador CdeBaca has been in this position for a number of years; he doesn’t really need any introduction to most of you. So I will just turn it over to him and ask him to give us introduction to this year’s report, and then we’ll take some questions afterwards. So please, Ambassador.
AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Thanks, Jeff. Hello, everybody, and welcome. As Jeff said, Secretary Kerry will be unveiling the 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report. This, of course, is a congressionally mandated report that has us look at the governments around the world and what they are doing to combat trafficking in persons – modern slavery – through the lens of what we call the 3P paradigm of prevention, protection, and prosecution. And in fact, I think as you see the embargoed copy of the report that I think many of you have, you’ll notice that each of the narratives of what’s happening in the countries actually are laid out in that fashion so that you can kind of see exactly how it is that we are analyzing the countries, and frankly, what the evidence is for the eventual ranking.
The rankings – the – it’s a four-tiered ranking system, and so – because it was made by us in the United States by our Congress, it has three tiers for its four-tier ranking. Let me explain what that means. We have Tier One, which is a country that’s actually meeting the minimum standards of fighting human trafficking. And those minimum standards are set out in our trafficking law of 2000, but really track the international standards and best practices that we see around the world. A Tier Two country is one that is not meeting those goals but is striving to do so and has results that you can point to to show that it’s doing a decent job, but could definitely improve.
A Tier Two Watch List – and this is how we get four tiers out of a one, two, and three. The Tier Two Watch List is kind of like a C minus or something like that in the American grading system. It’s warning the countries that are on the Watch List that they are in danger of falling to Tier Three. And one of the biggest categories for that is if what the country is doing is simply in the form of promises of future action. Again, we look for results. And if we can’t show the results on the ground, the actual outcomes, et cetera, then that does not bode well when we’re doing the analysis. And then finally Tier Three, which is a country that is not responding sufficiently to its trafficking problem, isn’t taking those affirmative steps forward, and we’re not – excuse me – seeing the progress that we need to see, especially in light of their particular trafficking problem.
So that’s a quick tour through the tier rankings, and I think that a lot of folks are very interested in that, much like horserace coverage of elections. But I want to talk a few of the top lines as well, as far as what are we seeing in the global fight against modern slavery this year. Very quick review of what we’re talking about when we talk about human trafficking, the definition – this is a umbrella term that the United States Government considers to cover all of the activities involved in reducing someone to or holding them in a condition of compelled service. So there’s nothing in there about moving them across international borders. There’s nothing in there that limits it simply to women or girls. There’s nothing in there that limits it to only in other countries. And there’s nothing in there that limits it only to prostitution or the sex industry as opposed to other forms of trafficking.
So each year for every one of these countries, we’re looking at what are they doing for all of the populations that are victimized by trafficking: How are they helping them? Are they prosecuting the perpetrators and bringing them to justice? And are they working to prevent? And when I say “they,” I mean all of the governments that we look at.
And one of those governments is the United States. The United States has been included in the trafficking report since 2010. The State Department began to rank ourselves in that report for two reasons. First of all, I think that there was a sense during the Obama Administration that it was simply a matter of fairness to all of the other countries; if we’re going to hold them to these minimum standards, that we needed to hold ourselves to them as well. But then also the notion of as a diagnostic tool. If these 11 minimum standards that you’re supposed to look at to see whether you’re doing a decent job on fighting trafficking – if those are truly to be a good diagnostic, then we owed it to ourselves to apply that diagnostic and to see where we could be doing better as the United States.
As far as that’s concerned, I want to just make the point that I think many of you may have already heard me or the Secretary say, which is that no country is doing a perfect job on the fight against human trafficking, and that includes the United States. We are all in this together, because we’re seeing people around the world – whether it’s in agriculture or whether it’s in mining, whether it’s in manufacturing, whether it’s in the sex industry, whether it’s as domestic servants – that when you have unscrupulous and cruel bosses and vulnerable people, you have a recipe for human trafficking. And that’s as true here even in the Washington, D.C. area and the suburbs, as it is in countries around the world.
So I’d certainly, although I think that we’ll probably be looking at some of the other countries, I’d certainly recommend to you all the U.S. narrative as well so you can see what the U.S. Government is doing but also what’s happening out in our communities across the United States, whether it’s to Native American girls, whether it’s to vulnerable men and women because of a disability or a drug addiction, or whether it’s to the young men and women, boys, and girls, who fall prey to the blandishments of pimps who offer a better life and opportunity.
Let me take it a little bit more international though. This year, we see of the 188 countries that are on the report, we see some movement up and down. There’s, I think, some real progress stars, I guess, for lack of a better word, some countries out there that have – that we’ve seen some real progress on. For instance, both Chile and Switzerland are moving up to Tier One on the report this year. Switzerland because they took aggressive steps to close some legal loopholes that actually inadvertently made it legal for people to have children in prostitution. Chad has really stepped up on victim identification and demobilization of child soldiers. We’ve seen the first convictions in the Bahamas and Aruba – small countries, small island countries that, frankly, five years ago would’ve said that they didn’t have any human trafficking. But they’ve realized that it’s something that they have to look for. And once they’ve looked for it, they’ve found it and been able to free some of its victims.
We’ve seen the first government-run shelter being opened by the Government of Jordan. The – a new law recently passed in Haiti – the first time now in 215 or so years in which it is now a crime to enslave someone in Haiti, a law much-awaited in South Africa that we hope will be a good tool in that which is very much the destination country for the southern tier countries in Africa. And even a country that has historically not been a leader on human rights issues, Sudan, the enactment of a modern human trafficking law that’s really the culmination of that government’s coming out and wanting to be able to have those modern tools so that they can help their own citizens and others who might be enslaved and exploited.
There are also downgrades, and I think that that’s something that we see every year – countries that are perhaps taking the foot off the gas pedal a little bit or aren’t doing the kind of work that we would see under the law. And I think one of the things that’s, of course, since the 2008 reauthorization that is of particular note under the U.S. law is what we call the auto-downgrade provisions of the law. This came into effect fully last year for the first time. The law in 2008 basically said that countries cannot be on that Tier Two Watch List that I described a minute ago for too many years in a row, because there was a concern, frankly, on the part of Congress that strategic countries and other countries were being given a bit of a pass and not being taken down to Tier Three but holding steady on Tier Two Watch Lists almost, it seemed to Congress I think, interminably.
And so they put a time limitation on that and – by which time a government has to either improve or will be dropped down to Tier Three on the report. There were seven such countries this year that were in that situation no longer eligible for a waiver in the U.S. national interest. And those were Afghanistan, Barbados, Chad, Malaysia, the Maldives, Thailand, and Venezuela. And what we’ve seen is the two – excuse me, three – of those Tier Two Watch Lists auto-downgrade countries were no longer eligible, and we concluded that there hadn’t been the type of sufficient progress to justify an upgrade. And those were Thailand, Malaysia, and Venezuela. And so each of those countries has now been placed on Tier Three in the report.
In the other countries – Afghanistan, Barbados, Chad, and the Maldives – in each of those countries we see fresh activity. We see new commitments to doing work. We see this notion of cases being done in the first place or victims being helped in new ways. And it’s certainly something that is welcome. And frankly, these are countries who may not have, if it weren’t for the pressure of the auto-downgrade and the good work of our men and women out at our embassies in those countries and others to work with them, might not have been able to make that journey.
I want to say two things about sectoral issues that we’ve been identifying that may be news to some. I think that many people may be aware of some of the abuses that we’ve been recognizing in the last few years in the fishing industry. And in fact we’ve seen the fishing sector now – 51 of the narratives in the TIP report this year are identifying abuses in the fishing industry. And that’s both men that are enslaved out on the boats out at sea and folks in the seafood packing huts and things like that.
But we’ve also seen forced labor in mining noted in the narratives of 46 countries and zero prosecutions or convictions around the world. So we’re very much looking for countries to step up on the mining sector, and that’s everything from things that we might call conflict minerals in Africa or conflict diamonds in North Africa, Northwest Africa, or what we see with the gold mining sector, for instance, in Peru and other places.
And sadly, just as we’ve seen in the fishing industry or the logging industry, there are follow-on effects of a subsidiary sex trafficking that happens – basically men who are enslaved in these camps, held in debt bondage through the old company store scheme, they then bring the women in to serve them as well. So whether it’s in Guyana, Peru, or other places like that, you end up seeing sex trafficking related to the mining sector. And we want to commend Senegal for being the only country in the world this last year who actually achieved a conviction of folks for holding girls in sex trafficking in that mining sector.
Lastly, just want to also point out that there is the child soldiers and Child Soldier Prevention Act list, which is part of the trafficking report each year. And this year one of the countries on that was removed, and that is Chad, as I mentioned earlier, who’s, I think, coming at this with a real energy now. And we hope that we’ll continue to see that on their part.
So I think perhaps we should turn it over and do some questions. Jeff, I’ll leave it back to you.
MR. RATHKE: Thanks very much, Ambassador. Operator, could you please inform everyone or remind them how to register – intend to ask a question?
OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, if you would like to ask a question, please press * then 1 on your touchtone phone. You will hear a tone indicating you have been placed in a queue, and you may remove yourself from queue at any time by pressing the # key. If you are using a speakerphone, please pick up the handset before pressing the numbers. Once again, if you have a question, please press *1 at this time. And a moment here for the first question.
MR. RATHKE: All right. That’s great. We’re ready to go to the first question then, so could you please call the first question, operator?
OPERATOR: Our first question comes from the line of Dana Hughes at ABC News. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you for doing this. I have a question about what role you see governance or the breakdown of governance in these rankings. For example, Thailand’s been downgraded and they had a coup. Chad is really increasing its governance. Do you see a direct correlation?
AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Well, it’s interesting, because the Thailand narrative and the Thailand ranking is based on everything that happened from April 1st, 2013 through March 31st, 2014. And so the coup that you mentioned didn’t happen within that time period. Obviously, there was some fraying around the edges within the Royal Thai Government, and yet the committed folks within the government who were trying to work on this within their own agencies, the – some folks at the Royal Thai Police and folks in the ministry of health and social development – they continued to go out and try to fight trafficking because it was something that they had that personal commitment to.
What we see that’s, I think, perhaps somewhat relevant to that in the Thailand situation that’s very much part of the – kind of permeates the narrative is the anchor on those good efforts of those good people that public corruption and complicity on the part of government officials then places around those who would try to do better. So I think that that kind of corruption and its effect on governance directly undercuts the good work of the folks who are trying to get everything right.
It’s interesting because I think that what we see is this is a rule of law problem. It’s a human rights problem as well. But there are a number of countries in which the government functions at a very high level that human trafficking victims simply aren’t on the radar. And I think that that’s reflected kind of throughout the report that rule of law only is going to work for trafficking victims if governments affirmatively try to bring it to bear on the plight of these vulnerable communities.
So while some of those kind of looking at instability and looking at general governance issues, there often seems to be some correlation. I think that we’ve also seen a lot of human trafficking in cases that are – in countries that are viewed as being governed well and that do well on indices, whether it’s Freedom House or otherwise.
MR. RATHKE: Okay, thanks. Could we move on to the next question, please?
OPERATOR: Okay, our next question comes from the line of Jo Biddle at AFP. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hello, good afternoon. Thank you very much. I wanted to ask you about sanctions. I know that there’s a possibility that downgrades can be accompanied by sanctions if the President so decides. And last year we saw Russia and China both downgraded into Tier Three. Were there any sanctions that were accompanied with that, and do you anticipate that with these new downgrades of Thailand, Malaysia and Venezuela that there could be sanctions forthcoming if they do not get their act together?
And I had a follow-up – a different question as well, but perhaps I’ll just ask that one first.
AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Of course. The sanctions determination is something that we’ll be turning to at this point. There are not just those three countries that are on Tier Three. In fact, there are 23 countries on Tier Three this year. But I think that what we look at each year is, first of all, we have to see what is it that the sanctions analysis has to look at. And first stop is to actually look at what foreign assistance we have because that’s really what we’re talking about. The sanctions here is whether or not the United States will continue to provide foreign assistance. So the first thing that we always have to look at is what is being provided to those particular governments and then also to look to see to what degree we’re providing aid that goes directly to helping fix the thing that we’re trying to solve. So you certainly wouldn’t want to halt the – any assistance that’s going specifically to increasing the capacity of our partners in those governments to fight human trafficking or to help its victims.
So those are some of the things that we’ll take into account as we work with the White House and as we give our recommendations to the President. At the end of the day, this is his decision. And last year, the three auto-downgrade countries that you mentioned – China, Russia, and Uzbekistan – the President decided that it was in the U.S. national interest and would promote the purposes of the trafficking law to waive sanctions against them as well as several other countries. And those are countries that we, again, are very much wanting to and feel we can engage with in order to move forward.
Last year, full sanctions were applied against Cuba, Iran, and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and partial sanctions were applied against the DR Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Sudan, Syria, and Zimbabwe.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you very much. And I wondered if I could ask about – I had another question. I wondered if I could ask about the situation in the United States. You give the United States a Tier One ranking, but I believe there have been some issues with money, funds running out for shelters for survivors, and there’s also an issue of, particularly in the sex trafficking, with children being treated as criminals rather than being treated as victims and ending up in front of courts or in cells instead of in – or in police cells rather than in shelters. I did note in the report that you say that there’s much more to be done still in the United States. What are you recommending specifically for the United States in terms of improving your own balance sheet?
AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Yeah. I mean, I think that to the notion of the funding issues, clearly a lot of social service providers, not just in the trafficking arena but others as well, that were depending upon per capita type of reimbursements from the United States Government, didn’t necessarily get those as quickly as they could have last year. We had a number of things, including the near – the government shutdown and the sequester and other things like that.
Our funding stream that HHS – the Department of Health and Human Services – does is actually – it is a per capita reimbursement. It’s not a kind of one-time grant at the beginning of the year that then the nongovernmental can draw down on. And one of the reasons for that is that there are thousands and thousands of service providers across the United States who may encounter a trafficking victim, and it may be that that’s not their fulltime job, so they wouldn’t be writing a grant specifically for that.
My understanding is that those reimbursements were able to continue and that folks have been backfilled for any monies that they spent on behalf of the trafficking victims. But I think it does show that there’s a need for better thought to be put in.
And that was one of the reasons why, on the plus side of the column this year, we announced in January at the White House the first-ever victim services strategy for the United States, which was brought together by the President’s interagency task force to actually look at this action plan. And we’re very proud of the fact that that was brought in with close consultation with survivors of trafficking, so that we could hear what it was that they had been through, what they saw as the shortcomings.
One of the things, frankly, that we’re having to deal with is a bunch of legacy systems. The child protective services systems in all of the states, each grew up independently and they grew up at a time before the Trafficking Victims Protection Act started looking at child prostitutes, for instance, as victims rather than as criminals. So going back to each state now and trying to get it so that they can make it very clear that these are not delinquent children but dependent children under each of the state laws and making sure that the child protective services understands that these are not criminals but victims is unpacking a multi-billion dollar effort across 57 states and territories as well as at the federal level.
So I think that, in looking at that and looking at the problems of the foster care system, et cetera, we’ve started to see not only the Administration but Congress focusing on that. But at the end of the day, all of the money that’s been appropriated for human trafficking work and all of the legislative fixes to some of those programs are just a drop in the bucket compared to the enormous child protective services structures that we need to turn around to recognize the trafficking victims in their midst.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. RATHKE: Okay. Thanks. Next question please.
OPERATOR: Next question comes from the line of Luis Alonso at AP. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. Good afternoon. Many thanks for doing this. I have two questions as well, if I may. The first one is I couldn’t find a regional summary of the report, so I would like to ask if you could please give – provide us with a comment on the Western Hemisphere, how – what the general trend, how many countries were downgraded – how many countries were downgraded, is it improvement or not compared to last year?
And my second question is, given – related to the unaccompanied minors that are coming through the south border from Central America, is – we all know that the United States has put all those kids into removal proceedings right now. If a big number of them end up being deported and go – sent back to their countries where there is extraordinary violence and many presence of human trafficking, do you foresee that the United States could drop the Tier One position because of this element of the unaccompanied minor who comes into America? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Well, let me answer that backwards with the second question first. I think that one of the things that we’re doing is that we are working with the governments in the region to try to improve not only the situation so that families don’t feel that they have to get their children out of harm’s way, whether it’s with gangs or otherwise, but also so that those children can be reunited with their families back home.
The law in question, of the unaccompanied alien minors, is looking to protect them, and which is one of the reasons why the Department of Health and Human Services is involved, unlike with adults who would be interdicted at the border. And in fact, one of the things that is done as part of the unaccounted – unaccompanied alien minor screening is to see whether or not those children were victims of trafficking in that situation. And as with all folks who come before the immigration judges and go through the system, we hope that that kind of screening would be able to help us find the people who need the particular services that trafficking victims so desperately need, and to be able to get them those services.
As far as the hemisphere as a whole, I think that is some movement up, there is some movement down within the hemisphere. Perhaps the most notable downgrade in the hemisphere is not the Venezuelan story from Tier Two Watch List down to Tier Three, but rather the downgrade of Colombia, a country that’s been on Tier One for many consecutive years. I think that what it stands for is the notion that Tier One is not a reprieve, it’s a responsibility, and the responsibility to continue to investigate cases, to continue to seek out good victim care interventions, and to look at all forms of trafficking. The Colombians were focused so much on international sex trafficking of Colombians and transnational cases that cases of Colombians at home and others, whether it was in the mining sector, whether it was in the sex or domestic servants, simply weren’t registering. And as a result, we now see them on Tier Two.
So the movement on the one hand of Chile up to Tier One because of the new law that they passed a few years ago and their very aggressive stance in enforcing that new law unfortunately then is kind of paired with the Colombian situation, where a bit of stagnation cannot keep a country on the highest level.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. RATHKE: Okay. Thanks. Next question, please.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from the line of (inaudible) at US News and World. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about Thailand’s downgrade, specifically the government’s shortcomings, considering all the media reports this last year or so discussing their human trafficking problem and why the government has failed to really address it.
AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Well, as I said earlier – and I want to make it very clear that we know and we have worked with some very good actors in the Thai Government who are kind of on the front lines who are trying very hard to make a difference over there. But the widespread official complicity in human trafficking that continues to hinder their performance against sex trafficking and forced labor, the government as a whole did not demonstrate serious efforts to address that. It made few efforts to address forced labor and debt bondage among the most vulnerable communities – the foreign migrant workers, including in the fishing industry.
And even though we saw this notion of some better data collection and some – an uptick in investigations by the royal Thai police, those didn’t necessarily translate over into completed convictions. You’ll see in the report, for instance, a situation where some Burmese members of a conspiracy were arrested and ended up being sentenced to 30 years in prison for their role in trafficking men in the fish industry, and yet the Thai co-conspirator, who held 14 men in confinement as part of the slavery scheme, he ended up only getting three months as an alien smuggling conviction.
And so we’re looking at each of the cases that we know about. We’re looking at the situations on the ground to see – is this something that the bosses in the brothels and the bosses in the fishing packing sheds and things can simply brush off as business as usual? Is it something that they can bribe their way out of? Or is it something that has real teeth going forward? And we look forward to working with the Thais in the coming year to not only provide that real teeth, but hopefully achieve some real results.
MR. RATHKE: Okay. Thank you. Next question, please.
OPERATOR: All right. Our next question comes from Josh Stilts at Intrafish Media. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. Thanks again for hosting this. You said earlier that there were some 53 countries that have shown instances of slave labor or human trafficking in the fishing and seafood industries. Beyond Thailand, what other instances are you guys seeing?
AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: I think it’s actually 51. Sorry if —
QUESTION: Fifty-one, sure.
AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: — I misspoke. Well, we’ve seen, as far as a country that’s acting, the Indonesians have actually arrested some folks and there’s prosecutions going there. But there are some very nontraditional places. There – I don’t think a lot of people think of South Africa necessarily in this context, and yet the South Africans suddenly found themselves with a boatload of fishermen with – who had been basically shanghaied from Cambodia. We’ve seen in the Caribbean, in Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica, situations where this has been discovered on the boats; Costa Rica on the west coast, finding Chinese fishermen in these dire straits; African men and African children on boats in the gulf off of the Green Coast and everything kind of ranging down from Liberia all the way down to Nigeria.
And I think that that’s one of the things that the more we look at this, the more we find this in surprising places. There were reports this last year by Stella Maris, the apostolate of the sea, which is the Vatican’s kind of specialized unit of – I call them the sea priests, who go out on the boats to try to mission to the fishermen. And at a conference that the Pope hosted in – earlier this year with those priests, suddenly there were reports coming out from the fishery in Scotland of abuses up there.
So I think it’s something that we’re hearing about. We’re hearing about it on inland fisheries such as Lake Victoria and Lake Volta, but we’re also hearing about it in the Baltics and in, as I said, places as unusual as Scotland or South Africa.
MR. RATHKE: Okay. Thanks. Next question please.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Maya Rhodan from the TIME magazine. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. Thanks again for the call. I have a question about the LGBT community and how – can you just speak to how instances of trafficking that involve LGBT people were factored into any of the rankings or if there are any countries where this is a particular issue or if there’s still more digging around that needs to be done on that?
AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: I’m very glad you raised that. It is something that we’re seeing more of. I think that it’s something that, because it’s been so taboo for a lot of countries to even admit that these communities are part of the social fabric, much less worthy of protection, that in some ways we’re just kind of opening the bidding on this issue. I think a lot of folks are aware of and know of issues of survival sex of the homeless kids who are in many ways trying to put together their own families and their own communities. But I think a lot of folks, whether it’s in the public health arenas or even in the LGBT activist communities, have tended to look at that and not see the pimps and the controllers that sometimes are behind that.
And we’re seeing in a number of countries around the world – I remember last year, when I was in Kenya, for instance, the interplay, the horrible interplay between on the one hand the effects of terrorism in the northeast and even in Somalia, with families trying to get their kids out of that area so that their sons don’t have to be fighters for Shabaab, and then they end up in sex trafficking down on the coast in the tourist zones. And I think it’s one of those things where, because of attitudes against the LGBT community, a lot of folks that were even working or willing to talk about other forms of trafficking were having a very hard time even wanting to admit that those young boys might have been in human trafficking situations.
And this happens in the United States. There was a case, I think it was last year, in the Atlanta area where a man was convicted for human trafficking of a teenaged American kid who, frankly, he lured in because of that kid’s loneliness and seeking to have some meaning as he struggled with his own sexuality.
So it’s something that we’re going to be looking at a lot more carefully. It’s like the fishing issues a few years ago, where we had just started to hear it, and then now that we’re looking for it, we’re seeing it in a lot of different places. I think that we’re going to be seeing more coverage of this in the coming years. And we’ve started having conversations with some of the key players in the United States, like the Human Rights Campaign and others, so that we can bring to bear the folks who are working in the affected communities.
MR. RATHKE: All right. I see – I think we have three questions remaining, so we will go through those, and then we will wrap up from here. So, operator, could you call the next question?
OPERATOR: All right. The next question comes from Jeanine Stewart at Undercurrent News. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you for having this, first of all. So first off, I’m wondering two things. How much has human – has the human trafficking problem grown in the fishing industry in 2013 over 2012? I’m just curious, is this a growing problem or is this just something that we’ve become more aware of with Thailand in the spotlight over it? And also, how much certainty is there in the investigation? Can you reveal anything about how they were conducted or how sure the State Department is that Thailand’s officials were complicit in some of the human trafficking that occurred? Because I – since I know that the Thai Government has said that’s not true. So how do we weed through the “he said, she said” on that one?
AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Well, I think that what we’ve seen in – as far as complicity in Thailand is whether – it’s not just in fishing but in a number of different sectors, the very reputable researchers, whether it’s your Human Rights Watches, whether it’s Transparency and some of the other indices looking at corruption as an issue. But specifically, there’s I think been some very good reporting even by the media as opposed to by academic researchers or others as to the involvement of Thai officials. And that’s something that’s reflected in the narrative.
One of the things that’s also reflected in the narrative is then how the parts of the Royal Thai Government have responded to that type of reporting by journalists being charged with criminal defamation —
AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: — journalists and the folks who are willing to reprint articles even being charged. So that notion of not only is there, we think, good and solid reporting by a number of different actors, whether it’s, again, activists, academics, or journalists, but also the work that’s being done increasingly now by the food industry itself. And we very much encourage the seafood industry to start looking at these supply chain issues. We know that they can trace their product from the store shelf all the way back to the particular boat. We’ve seen the bar codes on the tubs, the plastic tubs of shrimp in the packing shed that are required that if there’s a health outbreak, they can take it all the way back to the particular shed, take it all the way back to the particular boat.
So since we know that the shrimp and the fish is traceable in those instances, we think also that what the particular captains and what the labor brokers that are working with them are doing needs to be something that comes under the microscope for the companies and their consumers as well.
MR. RATHKE: Okay, our penultimate question please, operator.
OPERATOR: All right. Our next question comes from Dmitri Zlodorev from ITAR-TASS. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hello. My name is Dmitri Zlodorev. I am from ITAR-TASS news wire service of Russia. You placed Russia to the third group, and how you would characterize the U.S.-Russian cooperation in this area? And am I right that right now you are not plan to impose sanctions against Russia? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Thank you, Dmitri. We can’t speak to sanctions at this point in time. It’s something that the White House will be looking at for all of the countries on Tier Three, and so I can’t speculate as to what would happen on that. I think we had talked about that a little bit earlier as far as last year was concerned.
But your question as far as what kind of cooperation between the United States and Russia on this, we’ve had a – I think a good dialogue over the years on human trafficking with our Russian counterparts. And we’re looking forward to what we hope will be some efforts in the coming year. We know that the government submitted an anti-trafficking action plan to the National Security Council and at this point has not heard back. We think that that certainly would be a very good step, to have a public and transparent anti-trafficking action plan. And it would be a sign of political will on the part of the Russian Federation.
One thing that I would like to say as far as U.S.-Russian cooperation is that we have been able to continue to work together over the last year to announce a trafficking shelter in St. Petersburg with space contributed by the municipality – so Russian government funding – and support from the United States Embassy in Moscow. Now that shelter is only going to be able to hold and serve eight trafficking victims, and the scope of trafficking in Russia that’s pointed out in the report, with the migrant foreign workers and others, is many, many more than that. But we do feel that it’s a good step and that we hope that working together, the Russian Government and the United States Government and the Red Cross partners will be able to provide a better life to the women who are able to avail themselves of that shelter.
MR. RATHKE: Okay, thank you. Next question, please.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Teresa Busa from EFE. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. I wanted to ask you about the specific case of Venezuela. I wonder if you could comment on that: how bad the situation is and what are the most worrying trends, and how is the U.S.-Venezuela cooperation in this area?
AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Indeed. Well, thank you for your question. I think that we were – a few years ago, as you know, Venezuela was brought up off of Tier Three in recognition of a number of cases that they were investigating and what looked like a commitment to working jointly between the police and the health service. And unfortunately, this last year we just haven’t really been able to see those same type of efforts. There’s a little bit of awareness raising and tourism training, but unlike most of the countries in the world, there’s not an interagency coordinating council that’s been brought together around the issue. There’s not an action plan or even a draft action plan. There’s no formal mechanism to identify the victims, and there’s no shelters that are designated for trafficking victims. In many ways, it seems that all of the victim care in Venezuela is being done by the nongovernmental organizations or by the international organizations.
And so we call on Venezuela to step up and to be involved in the victim care. And there’s so little public data on law enforcement that it does not appear that there were any reported convictions in 2013, as opposed to in 2012, where at least we were able to identify one person convicted of sex trafficking.
So as with all of these countries, we very much want to continue to be able to work together on this. This is a shared problem. It affects Venezuela, it affects the United States, and it affects the Western Hemisphere. And so we’ll be looking for ways in which we can continue to try to engage with the Venezuelans.
MR. RATHKE: Operator, we would have time for one final question, if there are any in the queue.
OPERATOR: All right. We did have one final question from Matthew Russell Lee at Inner City Press. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Sure. Thanks a lot, and thanks for taking the question. I was looking at Myanmar – Burma – and also at Sri Lanka. And in both cases, it seems to say – the report seems to say that that government is either, in the case of Burma, directly involved in trafficking in coercion; or in the case of Sri Lanka, suspected of complicity in it. So in those two cases, I wondered as the U.S. sort of re-engages with Myanmar or Burma, how does this issue get raised and how is it going to be resolved? And the same in the case of Sri Lanka where there’s this human rights inquiry. Is this – what can be done in terms of actual government complicity in trafficking?
AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Well, it’s interesting. Let me start with Burma. We – this is one of the first things that we re-engaged on. I was in Burma within I think about three weeks or a month after Secretary Clinton took her first historic trip there, and when I met with Aung San Suu Kyi, one of the things that was very interesting to me was that she recommended to me that I needed to talk to her jailor. And I asked her, “What do you mean?” And she said, “The guy from the secret police who was assigned to me to be my warden all of these years would bring me articles on human trafficking off of the Internet, and we would talk into the night about how we would work together to help end human trafficking and slavery for our people if things ever changed.” A lot of people forget that she spent her Nobel Prize money while she was in prison. She sent it World Vision, an NGO, to provide food and shelter for about 200 Burmese trafficking victims in Thailand. The first place that she went after she was able to travel was to the shrimp-packing sheds in Thailand where so many Burmese are affected by this crime.
So it was interesting to see not only her, but then eventually what came true is the new head of the anti-trafficking unit – the central body against trafficking in persons for the Burmese Government in the new era – is the very person who she recommended to me that we should work with. He’s written a book on trafficking; he’s gone to other parts of the region. I think there’s a real desire on the part of the Burmese Government to engage and to bring on some of these modern approaches.
And to that end, they even passed a law abolishing the 1907 Villages and Towns Act, which is what gave them the legal ability to enslave their own people. So the notion of giving that up as part of the process of opening up to the outside world. I think that, as with every country, there’s a long way to go, and we’ll continue to work with them. We have an established and formal dialogue with them that was agreed to by both presidents during President Obama’s visit a year and a half ago, and it’s something that I’ve been to Burma for that dialogue and will be, I think, going again in the fall for the second round of that. So we’re – in that situation, I think that we’ve got a formal way to work with them.
Sri Lanka on the other hand, I think that that’s a bit of a work in progress. We don’t see – first of all, we’re not digging out of the years of exclusion from the international community that we had seen with the Burmese Government, but we’ve got this notion of three years in a row the trafficking statute that they have, which is a pretty good one – it prohibits all forms of trafficking, which not every SAARC country, not every country in the region has laws that prevent forced labor as well as sex trafficking – and yet three years in a row without any convictions, no services really for male trafficking victims, sex trafficking victims punished, and the folks who come home from overseas, no real way to screen for or help them the way that other source countries like the Indonesians and the Filipinos have.
So I think that there’s a long way to go, but they have this inter-ministerial structure that they have now adopted, and I think that for us both here in Washington and at the Embassy in Colombo it provides us some interlocutors who we hope that we’ll be able to work with going forward.
QUESTION: Just one follow-up on Burma. Do you see this issue of the Rohingyas, is it – does it make them susceptible to trafficking, this kind of stateless status? And how – do you have more – do you see this – do you see it through the light of trafficking, or is it a separate issue?
AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Well, I think that we see with any displaced and vulnerable communities that are suffering from social exclusion, and I think that the plight of the Rohingyas has pretty been – has been pretty well documented. That is the type of population in which we often see in this type of situation.
Now, I mean, obviously, we remain concerned about all of the humanitarian issues that are around the Rohingya and other vulnerable ethnic and religious communities. We actually shed some – a little bit of light on this both in the Burma narrative but also, frankly, in the Thai narrative as we’re looking at the exploitation and even alleged sale of Rohingya refugees once they get to their destinations as they’re moving for all these different reasons.
QUESTION: Thanks a lot.
MR. RATHKE: Okay, thank you very much, participants. That’s the end of our question period. Want to thank Ambassador CdeBaca once again and thank you for your questions. A reminder this call is on the record but it is embargoed until the end of the Secretary – Secretary Kerry’s rollout event. Thanks once again, and we’re signing off here.