New York, Feb. 11, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Yemeni civil society organizations believe justice and accountability can play a decisive role in establishing a lasting peace in Yemen, according to a new Open Society Foundations report. A Passage to Justice: Selected Yemeni Civil Society Views of Transitional Justice and Long-Term Accountability in Yemen highlights the leading […]
4 April 2015 – As the world marks the 10th anniversary of the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action today, the United Nations Secretary-General pointed to a decade of much progress in efforts towards eradicating the threat of anti-personnel landmines.
A total of 162 States were now Parties to the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention and the UN was playing a vital role in freeing the world from the threat of mines and explosive remnants of war and meeting the needs of victims and survivors and ensuring their human rights.
“Last year alone, the United Nations destroyed more than 400,000 landmines and explosive remnants of war and more than 2,000 tons of obsolete ammunition,” said Ban Ki-moon in a message to mark the International Day, which noted that the UN had also verified more than 1,500 kilometres of roadways, provided mine risk education to millions of people and trained thousands of military and police officers to handle and safely dispose of explosive hazards.
“I commend all who contributed to this success,” he said. “However, women, girls, boys and men continue to fall victim to landmines laid decades ago in places such as Afghanistan and Cambodia, and I am alarmed that these indiscriminate weapons are still being used in conflicts today.”
Civilians were also exposed to an increasingly wide range of explosive hazards, going beyond mines to cluster munitions, unsafe and unsecured weapons and ammunition, and improvised explosive devices.
“I am extremely concerned by the extensive use of improvised explosive devices by armed groups in Iraq, which poses a major threat to civilians,” he said. “In Syria, the widespread use of ‘barrel bombs’ and other explosive weapons in populated areas has caused great devastation and human suffering, leaving a legacy of explosive remnants of war that will remain a threat until their removal.”
This year’s theme for the Day, ‘More than Mines,’ reflects that changing reality. When explosive hazards block the way, food is not delivered, refugees and internally displaced people cannot safely return home, children cannot attend school and peacekeeping, peacebuilding and development efforts are hindered.
“On this International Day, I urge Member States to stay committed to the cause of mine action through financial contributions and political support, which is particularly crucial this year as the General Assembly debates assistance in mine action,” said the Secretary-General. “The proposed resolution will provide an opportunity to recognize that mine action is indeed ‘More than Mines’ and to recommit ourselves to working with affected states to reduce the menace of mines and explosive hazards.”
Want these clips delivered to your inbox? Sign up.
The UN Development Program is atop a new list published by the International Aid Transparency Index. And in case you were wondering, China is on the bottom. Overall, donor countries are off pace to meet their promise to join the transparency standard by the end of 2015. “A lot of progress was made at the political level in the early days of aid transparency, including a promise to publish aid information to an internationally-agreed common standard by the end of 2015,” said Rachel Rank, Director of Publish What You Fund. (Humanopshere http://bit.ly/1BSDrNG)
Man who brought Ebola to USA Dies…Liberian national Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States, died on Wednesday morning at a Dallas hospital. This was the first death of an ebola patient in the developed world. “Duncan became ill after arriving in the Texas city from Liberia on Sept. 20 to visit family, heightening concerns the world’s worst Ebola outbreak on record could spread outside of the three worst-hit West African countries. About 48 people with whom Duncan had been in contact are being monitored.” (Reuters http://bit.ly/1BSHk5p)
Most of the world’s governments are taking measures to reduce the worst and most hazardous forms of child labor, according to a major report released by the U.S. Labour Department. (IPS http://bit.ly/1vRfh6C)
Britain will send 750 troops to West African state Sierra Leone to help build an Ebola treatment centre, the BBC reported on Wednesday following a meeting of the government’s emergency response committee chaired by Prime Minister David Cameron. (BBC http://bit.ly/1t36PlQ)
The deadly Ebola epidemic could deal a $32 billion-plus blow to the West African economy over the next year if officials cannot get it under control, the World Bank warned Wednesday. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1BSF4uW)
Sierra Leone burial teams have gone back to work one day after organizing a strike over pay and abandoning the dead bodies of Ebola victims in the capital. (AP http://yhoo.it/1BSE75Y)
Travelers arriving in the United States from Ebola-stricken Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea will face mandatory screening measures for the deadly virus as soon as this weekend, according to a media report on Wednesday. (CNN http://bit.ly/1BSHHNg)
The United Nations mission in Liberia says a second member of its staff has contracted Ebola. In a statement Wednesday, the mission said the international medical official is undergoing treatment, but did not specify their nationality. (VOA http://bit.ly/1t38QOU)
An angry crowd killed a Muslim man in the capital of Central African Republic overnight, decapitating and burning his corpse, and in revenge Muslims killed a taxi driver, witnesses said on Wednesday. (Reuters http://yhoo.it/1t36gYY)
A court in Tanzania granted bail to an opposition member of parliament on Wednesday and eight others after charging them with illegal protests for demonstrating last week against a draft constitution. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1t36X4F)
The new head of the U.N. Mission in South Sudan, Ellen Margrethe Loej, called for “the guns to fall silent” in South Sudan to allow the United Nations and aid agencies to stop focussing on protecting people from violence and start helping the young country to grow. (VOA http://bit.ly/1vRf8ji)
Somalia’s first-ever cash withdrawal machine has been installed in the capital, Mogadishu. (VOA http://bit.ly/1qjb0Cm)
The governments of Europe and the United States have criticized Israel for announcing it will build 2,600 new housing units in a sensitive part of East Jerusalem. (VOA http://bit.ly/1t39oUK)
The U.N. refugee agency on Wednesday said it was urging the European Union to overhaul its policy toward Syrian refugees, warning the number of fatal accidents at sea could rise further as winter approaches. (AP http://yhoo.it/1BSEQ71)
Pakistan is losing ground in the battle against polio, with the country suffering its worst outbreaks in more than a decade, but suspicions about the vaccine itself are also proving an obstacle. (VOA http://bit.ly/1BSMrlX)
Five Afghan men were hanged on Wednesday for the gang rape of four women despite the United Nations and human rights groups criticising the trial and urging new president Ashraf Ghani to stay the executions. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1BSDU2s)
Authorities sealed off villages in Myanmar’s only Muslim-majority region and in some cases beat and arrested people who refused to register with immigration officials, residents and activists say, in what may be the most aggressive effort yet to force Rohingya to indicate they are illegal migrants from neighboring Bangladesh. (AP http://yhoo.it/1BSEFbP)
Indian PM Modi, in his biggest attempt at fiscal change since he swept to power in May, has been less bold than some would wish, steering clear of reforming the most sensitive and costly benefits – food and fertilisers. (Reuters http://yhoo.it/1t356gf)
Rescuers and fishermen found eight survivors and 17 bodies Wednesday after two days of searching for a motorboat lost since its captain reported an engine failure off Indonesia’s main island of Java. (AP http://yhoo.it/1t35Zp4)
Cambodia enacted a regulation Wednesday to protect nightclub hostesses and other adult entertainment workers under the same laws that protect other workers’ rights, a move that was hailed by the U.N.’s labor body. (AP http://yhoo.it/1BSFZvx)
Protracted fighting in northern Myanmar is displacing entire villages, including those of ethnic Palaung, who say they need more help to build up local civil society groups to allow aid to flow more effectively to their people. (IRIN http://bit.ly/1t37p2K)
Colombia must invest at least $44.4 billion to implement a peace deal with Marxist rebels to end a 50-year conflict, says a senator who backs the current peace talks, adding the amount is much less than the cost of waging war. (Reuters http://yhoo.it/1t36nUv)
As sea levels rise, tidal flooding along the U.S. coast is likely to become so common that parts of many communities, including the nation’s capital, could become unusable within three decades, according to a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists. (Reuters http://yhoo.it/1t353AV)
Meet the Company That’s Bringing the LED Revolution to the Developing World (UN Dispatch http://bit.ly/Zep2i6)
When it comes to aid, learn from those who know what poverty is really like (Guardian http://bit.ly/1t37gML)
Alibaba.com: Supermarket for torture devices? (GlobalPost http://bit.ly/1BSHTfz)
A big deal in the ICC: 6 questions with GlobalPost’s Tristan McConnell http://bit.ly/1BSHWb2)
Rethinking US Foreign Assistance: MCC Tops US Government in Aid Transparency Again (CGD http://bit.ly/1t37eVl)
Alternatives to refugee camps: Can policy become practice? (IRIN http://bit.ly/1BSIKNb)
Marine Protection as Stand-Alone Goal for Post-2015 Agenda? (IPS http://bit.ly/1qjbpor)
How do donors imagine more effective humanitarian aid? (OECD http://bit.ly/1qjbLv4)
Africa On the Rise – a Myth or Reality? (New Times http://bit.ly/1qjcFYG)
Journalists Must Avoid Mass Hysteria Over Ebola (allAfrica http://bit.ly/1vRgIC1)
Want these clips delivered to your inbox? Sign up here.
The Obama administration is sending strong signals that it may expand its air assault against ISIS to Syria, despite the fact that such a move would probably contravene international law. First, National Security Council advisor Ben Rhodes tells NPR that the USA is not ruling out hitting ISIS in Syria. Then, the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey says this: “This is an organization that has an apocalyptic end-of-days strategic vision that will eventually have to be defeated. Can they be defeated without addressing that part of the organization that resides in Syria? The answer is no.” (NYT http://nyti.ms/1roTeo3)
Navi Pillay’s Parting Shot to the Security Council…Outgoing U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay gave her final briefing to the UN Security Council. Her tenure ends at the end of the month, where she will be replaced by Prince Zeid of Jordan–who just happens to currently serve on the Council. Pillay was rather unsparing in her criticism of the ways in which divisions in the council prevented adequete responses to urgent human rights catastrophes. Money quote: “I firmly believe that greater responsiveness by this council would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives” (VOA http://bit.ly/1s5wZiA)
The two U.S. patients who were treated for Ebola have been discharged from Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, where they had been in an isolation ward since returning from Liberia early this month. They are the first patients treated for Ebola on American soil. (NPR http://n.pr/1wdDjLp)
South Africa said on Thursday that due to fears over the spread of the Ebola virus it was banning travellers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone from entering the country, apart from its own citizens. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1s4VFrr
Up to 30,000 people could have used experimental treatments or vaccines so far in the world’s worst outbreak of Ebola currently plaguing West Africa, British scientists said. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1s4W4u4)
While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease – using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. (VOA http://bit.ly/1wdHWF4)
Hundreds of residents of a Liberian slum lined up to receive rice and water from government officials Thursday in their neighborhood which was sealed off from the rest of the capital in an attempt to halt the spread of Ebola. (AP http://yhoo.it/1we7vWy)
An emergency research call has been launched to help fight the world’s worst Ebola outbreak in West Africa, with the British government and the Wellcome Trust medical charity pledging a combined $10.8 million. (VOA http://bit.ly/1wdIlaI)
Children accused of being members of armed groups in the conflict in Mali are languishing in adult jails while human rights abuses continue, said Amnesty International. (ReliefWeb http://bit.ly/1wdC5jc)
A cash transfer scheme in Zambia provides a bi-monthly cash allowance of $25 and $50 respectively for vulnerable households and households where there are people with disabilities, to help people deal with shocks created by climate. (IPS http://bit.ly/1wdDTZq)
Uganda has been hailed as a success story in fighting HIV/AIDS, with prevalence rates dropping from 18 percent in 1992 to 6.4 percent in 2005. But activists fear a new HIV Bill will lead to lead to people shunning testing and treatment. (IPS http://bit.ly/1s4URmz)
The 40,000 people sheltering from South Sudan’s civil war in a flooded and crowded UN camp are enduring conditions “barely compatible with life and incompatible with human dignity”, and must be helped before disease and danger force them back into the conflict zone, MSF has warned. (Guardian http://bit.ly/1s4X0yA)
Fighting erupted in the Central African Republic capital Bangui, killing a humanitarian worker and injuring dozens of civilians hours after the UN said it would dispatch thousands of peacekeepers to quell religious violence. (Guardian http://bit.ly/1wdH2sh)
Human Rights Watch says South Sudan’s army used child soldiers during recent fighting against opposition forces in violation of international law. (VOA http://bit.ly/1wdIdI7)
The UN refugee agency called for East African countries hosting Somali refugees to make voluntary repatriation possible and sustainable. (VOA http://bit.ly/1wdIw5L)
West Africa must openly confront its political and governance weaknesses to curb the growing drug trade in the region, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said. http://yhoo.it/1wdIYkq
Former child soldiers in war-torn Somalia are being held in prison conditions in foreign-funded camps, “punishing” rather than rehabilitating them, the top UN children’s envoy said Thursday. http://yhoo.it/1s5wcOw
America has returned to war, of a sort, in Iraq with airstrikes that have intensified in recent days against Islamic State militants. But details about the execution of this limited campaign, which so far includes no reported U.S. ground combat, are thin. (AP http://yhoo.it/1we896t)
About 10,000 mourners on Thursday buried three senior commanders of the armed wing of Hamas who were killed in a predawn airstrike by Israel, the most significant blow to the group’s leadership since Israel’s operation in Gaza began more than six weeks ago.(NYT http://nyti.ms/1roUoQi)
Sri Lanka’s government is scrambling to ease the impact of record harvest losses on millions of farmers as the country enters its tenth month of an acute dry spell. (IRIN http://bit.ly/1s4SLTu)
Thousands of rescuers combed through the wreckage of homes engulfed by landslides in western Japan on Thursday in the slim hope of finding survivors, a day after a wall of mud claimed at least 39 lives. http://yhoo.it/1wdJuyZ
Flooding in Cambodia has killed at least 45 people since last month, officials said Thursday. (AP http://yhoo.it/1we7lyA)
Brazil expands labor rights for domestic workers through new legislation. (AP http://yhoo.it/1s50Jfy)
Police on Mexico’s Caribbean coast arrested 13 activists during a demonstration by Maya Indians against water rate hikes. (NYT http://nyti.ms/1roUtna)
South Sudan’s Looming Famine (UN Dispatch http://bit.ly/1nfAQq7)
How Uganda Stopped Previous Ebola Outbreaks (DW http://bit.ly/1s5yayk)
Microfinance in Jordan isn’t helping to empower women (Guardian http://bit.ly/1s5yvRI)
Can alternative economic indicators ever be any good if they are devised solely by experts? (From Poverty to Power http://bit.ly/1piMipH)
Shouldn’t “anti-poverty” and “pro-middle class” be synonyms? (Campaign for Boring Development http://bit.ly/1piMG7Q)
There always needs to be a product: ‘Self-reflection’, volunteering & the emerging development entertainment industrial complex (Aidnography http://bit.ly/1nfB7tn)
150 million bank accounts – is that enough? (IPA http://bit.ly/1piN32i)
A new study finds cancer affects even simple, ancient multicellular organisms — which means the disease and the deaths it causes may simply be a part of life. (NPR http://n.pr/1wdDd6u)
The international community needs to stop looking at neglected tropical diseases as a sub-Saharan African problem and realize that the G20 countries are now home to the “lion’s share” of the dangerous, debilitating, yet low-profile illnesses, a US expert has warned. (Guardian http://bit.ly/1s4Yf0v)
As Prepared for Delivery
Thank you, Phil. I’m glad to be in San Francisco, and with all of you here at the Commonwealth Club.
You’re here today because you understand the importance of Asia to America. This is especially evident in a Pacific Coast state like California. More than 5.5 million Asian-Pacific Americans live in California, and millions more Californians do business, study, or otherwise benefit from their ties with the region. California exported nearly $70 billion in goods to the region last year, more than any other state. And Asia matters to the entire United States – to our economy, to our security, to our families.
As a Pacific power and a trading nation, we can’t afford not to be in the Asia-Pacific. That’s why President Obama decided, before he even took office, to institute a long-term, strategic emphasis on the region. And I’m confident that strategy will extend far beyond his presidency, because we have strong bipartisan support for it – both parties understand the importance of Asia.
Now, there is a lot going on in Asia today, from the dramatic rise of China and the historic reforms in Burma, to the ongoing threat from North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, to the dangerous tensions in the South China Sea.
And while I know that as a topic, “strengthening regional institutions” probably ties for last place with “corporate tax policy” in its headline-grabbing power, it’s one of the most consequential undertakings in terms of American interests. And that’s what I’d like to discuss with you today — namely, the effort to shape a rules-based order that is stable, peaceful, open and free.
First let me say that the region I am responsible for–East Asia and the Pacific–is a diverse one. Northeast Asia, Oceania–which includes Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific island states–and then Southeast Asia, are all quite different.
Northeast Asia is home to two of our important treaty allies – Japan and the Republic of Korea. We’ve modernized defense cooperation with both countries to address the very real threat posed by North Korea. And we’ve deepened economic engagement through free trade agreements such as the one reached with South Korea.
Northeast Asia is also home, of course, to China–with which we’ve dramatically increased our engagement.
I was with Secretary Kerry, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, and other Cabinet officials earlier this month for the annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue covering nearly every area of our relationship with China, from concrete steps to combat climate change and wildlife trafficking, to preventing nuclear proliferation on the Korean Peninsula and in Iran, to facilitating business and investment between our two countries.
These exchanges show the conviction of both sides – as the world’s two largest economies, two of the strongest military powers, and the two largest carbon emitters – to cooperate on the world’s toughest problems whenever we can. And just as important, they show our shared commitment to tackle problem areas frankly and openly, instead of merely agreeing to disagree on issues like human rights or intellectual property protection.
Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific island states are extremely important partners. We’ve upgraded our defense cooperation with our Australian treaty ally, and we’re working to create jobs and shared prosperity with both Australia and New Zealand through the TPP trade agreement.
We’re also working with the vulnerable island states to protect the environment. Last month, Secretary Kerry hosted the “Our Ocean” conference, a first-of-its-kind diplomatic effort rallying heads of state, scientists and advocates from the Pacific Island nations and beyond to protect this shared resource.
But in many respects, the dynamic center of the region is Southeast Asia, and the ten countries that make up ASEAN.
Let me first say a few words about each.
Our ally the Philippines is a stable democracy with strong economic growth. We completed an enhanced defense cooperation agreement during President Obama’s visit in April, which enables us to better address common security challenges and provide relief for disasters, such as Typhoon Haiyan. Our economies also continue to grow closer, with two way trade reaching $24 billion last year.
We have strong partners in Indonesia and Malaysia, both pluralistic and tolerant Muslim-majority nations with growing economies. Indonesia’s recent presidential election shows the strength of their democracy. And President Obama’s recent visit to Malaysia highlighted our growing economic, people-to-people, and security ties.
Singapore is an influential and effective economic, diplomatic and security partner. Brunei is a major energy producer that, while small, has been a valuable partner for us on crucial regional issues like renewable energy and free trade.
Vietnam, of course, has a complicated history with the U.S. But our relations are now flourishing. Trade is increasing dramatically as Vietnam’s economy grows. And we’re forging closer security ties, even as we encourage greater political openness and respect for human rights.
We cooperate with Laos and Cambodia on a range of development issues, and we also push them to adhere to global standards of human rights.
With our longtime treaty ally Thailand, despite the recent setback of a military coup, we remain committed to our enduring friendship.
Perhaps no other country shows the promise of this region better than Burma, which has made a turn of historic proportions towards democracy and reform.
But that turn is by no means complete. Burma faces many challenges, and the success of its reform process is by no means certain. Burma is working to negotiate a lasting peace to end the world’s longest running civil war. It is grappling now with the key issue of constitutional reform, of military versus civilian control over its government, and of who it deems eligible to serve as head of state.
It continues to face hard choices in determining how to resolve an ongoing humanitarian crisis in Rakhine State. On that issue, we have seen some positive movement in the past week, as the government announced its intent to welcome the return of assistance providers, like Doctors Without Borders, and put forth its strategy on how to bring access to livelihoods and security back to populations that have been living tenuously for many months because of ethno-religious violence and discrimination.
Secretary Kerry will be very focused on seeing how this process is proceeding, when he visits in early August. He, and then President Obama when he visits in November, will be keen to get a sense of Burma’s preparedness for its landmark elections next year. The world will be watching, and we will continue to stand with the government and people of Burma as they enter this testing period. So we will continue to press Burma’s leaders to protect and respect all of their peoples, and their human rights and fundamental freedoms. And we will continue to support that country’s transformation.
That’s the overview of Southeast Asia today. The region’s economic dynamism and strategic importance has made it a particular focus of this administration – the ‘rebalance within the rebalance,’ if you will.
These ten countries have many differences, but they are bound by the conviction that they can achieve more together than they can apart. But before we talk about where they’re headed, it’s important to know how they came together.
Today’s ASEAN began in 1967 when the Vietnam War was heating up, and the Cold War seemed never-ending. In this uncertain world, five Southeast Asian nations signed a Declaration that they would support each other as they sought to build prosperous, independent states.
Now, nearly half a century after its founding, ASEAN has doubled to 10 nations with more than 620 million people, and a GDP of $2.2 trillion.
As Southeast Asia has grown and developed, ASEAN’s relations with the U.S. have grown as well. Under our Trade and Investment Framework Agreement signed in 2006, we have deepened our economic ties.
Since President Obama decided in 2009 to sign the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation–a treaty that ASEAN has extended to key neighbors–we’ve deepened our political ties as well. This is shown by the President’s decision to participate annually in the East Asia Summit, as he will again this year in November. This commitment to enhanced engagement with ASEAN is a key feature of the rebalance.
And we’re strengthening our ties with ASEAN across the entire U.S. government. Take this past April, when Secretary Hagel, USAID Administrator Raj Shah, and U.S. Pacific Commander Admiral Sam Locklear hosted defense ministers from the ASEAN nations in Hawai’i. This was the first-ever ASEAN meeting here in the United States–a recognition that our security and prosperity are more intertwined than ever before.
For instance, California already sells over $11.6 billion worth of goods to ASEAN. Exports to ASEAN support more than 90,000 California jobs [in 2012]. And both of those numbers can grow a lot more. Your state also stands to gain from more tourists and students from the region.
And ASEAN matters to the entire United States. We had $206 billion worth of trade in goods last year. ASEAN is our fourth-largest export market and trading partner. With a diaspora reaching across America, the region contributes to our culture. And sitting astride vital trade routes, it is important to our security.
A stable Southeast Asia that meets the aspirations of its people–for economic growth, clean air and water, education, and a voice in how they’re governed–is in America’s national interest. And one of the best, most efficient ways for America to help the region meet its aspirations is by investing in ASEAN.
Strengthening regional institutions is a long-term strategy. We pursue it because it’s essential to building the foundations for progress–from ease of trade, travel and transport, to systems for resolving legal disputes, to the ability to act together on pressing issues like environmental protection. We all benefit from a rules-based system.
Strong institutions harness a powerful force. A force you see in both daily life and in international politics–peer pressure. In fact, ASEAN shows that the best way to create positive peer pressure in the long term is through strong institutions.
ASEAN is working towards forming a cohesive economic community by next year through lower barriers and increased trade volumes with each other. For the U.S. economy, this will mean easier and more efficient market access to all 10 ASEAN countries. And in the longer term, a more prosperous ASEAN will be able to buy more American exports–from farm products to manufactured goods, to services.
Even as ASEAN pursues its ambitious agenda of internal integration, it has taken on the challenge of bringing the entire Asia-Pacific region closer together. This fills an important gap – APEC is a forum for economic cooperation, but there was no forum in the region where countries could deal with political, security, and humanitarian issues.
So in 1997, ASEAN started meetings with Japan, South Korea, and China… then with Australia, India, and New Zealand… and four years ago with the United States and Russia, bringing the number of world leaders attending what is now known as the East Asia Summit to 18.
The growth of the East Asia Summit shows ASEAN’s measured advance on the international stage as the hub that connects the region.
Less visible than the leaders’ summit, but even larger, is the ASEAN Regional Forum, an annual gathering of foreign ministers and other senior officials representing 26 countries from Pakistan to the Pacific Rim, and the EU.
This is perhaps the region’s most important ministerial meeting of the year, and it takes place in a few weeks in Burma. Secretary Kerry and his counterparts will discuss political and security issues, and begin fleshing out the agenda for the East Asia Summit, or EAS, which President Obama plans to attend in November.
Why the emphasis on EAS? In Europe, we’ve seen for decades how a region can develop effective institutions tailored to their unique needs, such as NATO and the OSCE. Those organizations have helped tackle regional, political, security and humanitarian problems. We believe the EAS can become the premier forum for addressing pressing issues in the Asia-Pacific region. But it is relatively new, and members are still trying to shape it to increase its usefulness and effectiveness.
We joined EAS because, as an Asia-Pacific nation, we want to be at the table for a strategic discussion about how we build and shape the institution over time.
Let me give you a little preview of the issues that will be at the top of Secretary Kerry’s agenda. We expect to advance collaboration on issues ranging from non-proliferation to humanitarian assistance and disaster response.
Disaster response is incredibly important, since the Asia-Pacific is hit by 70 percent of all natural disasters, costing the region $68 billion annually over the past ten years.
We have worked closely with partners, including China, on improving regional responses to problems and accidents such as oil spills, for example. We are supporting the EAS declaration on Rapid Disaster Response, helping spread the lessons learned in the Philippines from the recent Super-typhoon Haiyan, and working to improve the capabilities of ASEAN’s Centre for Humanitarian Assistance and disaster relief.
We’ve also teamed up with regional partners to develop a strategic plan for exercises that will prepare us to better coordinate delivery of life-saving relief in future disasters. And we are preparing to host an ARF climate change adaptation workshop to help countries protect their people from this growing problem.
In addition to advancing these areas of collaboration, we will have frank discussions about pressing political and security challenges. In recent months, the main security challenge facing ASEAN has been tensions in the South China Sea.
This is, of course, most important to the countries with overlapping territorial and maritime claims there. Let me note up front that the U.S. is not a claimant and does not take a position on others’ claims to land features in the South China Sea. So the United States can be impartial. And we are impartial; we are not taking one claimant’s side against another.
However, peace and stability in the South China Sea is important to the international community, because the South China Sea is essential to the global economy. Up to 50 percent of the world’s oil tanker shipments, and over half of the world’s merchant tonnage, pass through the South China Sea. National interests like freedom of navigation, international law, the peaceful settlement of disputes, and unimpeded commerce are at stake.
Rival maritime and territorial claims have existed here for decades, as countries jostle over islands, shipping lanes, historically rich fisheries, and more recently, oil and gas reserves.
The claimants have, at various times, shown that cooperation in the South China Sea area is possible. They have jointly explored for and managed resources. The Philippines and Indonesia peacefully settled a 20-year maritime boundary dispute just outside the Sea earlier this year. China and Vietnam have settled similar issues in the past. And some claimants have jointly developed energy resources further away from disputed land features.
In 2002, the ASEAN nations and China signed a Declaration on Conduct in the South China Sea. The Declaration, among other things, said that the parties would resolve disputes peacefully and in accordance with international law, and would refrain from actions that would escalate disputes, such as setting up new outposts on unoccupied features. And they agreed to work toward a more detailed Code of Conduct.
But tensions have flared over the years as well, and this year, they are running high. No claimant is solely responsible for the state of tensions. However, big and powerful countries have a special responsibility to show restraint. China’s recent pattern of assertive, unilateral behavior has raised serious concerns about China’s expansive claims, and its willingness to adhere to international law and standards.
Tensions spiked recently when China sent a deepwater drilling rig and armed ships into an area near the Paracel Islands that Vietnam also claims. The resulting weeks-long confrontation resulted in damaged ships, including the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing vessel, and damaged relations, including anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam.
At the same time, public evidence indicates the claimants are upgrading outposts on small land features in the South China Sea. What worries me is that China’s projects are far outpacing similar upgrades that other claimants are making. This important, resource-rich area should not be heavily militarized.
And actions off the water can raise tensions as well.
All parties should be able to bring disputes for adjudication under international law if they conclude that regular diplomatic efforts will not succeed. The Philippines has done this in a dispute with China over the validity of its claim that a 1948 Nationalist Chinese map “proves” that China owns the land and water within a “9 dash line” in the South China Sea.
But instead of engaging constructively and arguing its case as the Tribunal has proposed, China has pressured the Philippines to drop its case, and attempted to isolate the Philippines diplomatically.
International law, not national power, should be the basis for pursuing maritime claims in the South China Sea.
The United States works to lower tensions and help the parties peacefully manage their disputes in several ways. We have told the claimants – including the Chinese – directly and at the highest levels, of our growing concern. And we’ve encouraged all sides to avoid provocations and make clear claims based on international law.
We’re working with ASEAN and the international community to promote regional structures and arrangements, like a meaningful Code of Conduct, to lower tensions and manage disputes.
Rules and guidelines work best when they’re agreed to by the parties, through institutions that build habits of cooperation.
The U.S. is also investing more than $156 million in the civilian maritime capabilities of allies and partners in the area over the next two years. This includes equipment, training, and infrastructure. And it augments our own security presence in the region, which has been enhanced by the rebalance.
These are steps the U.S. is taking. But the claimants are the ones who must manage and settle the disputes. They are the ones who must generate the peer pressure – who must hold themselves to high standards, and then set an example for each other.
For instance, China and ASEAN already committed under the 2002 Declaration on Conduct to avoid activities that “would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability.”
However, these problematic activities are not well defined. We are urging China and the other claimants to have a conversation about what activities are acceptable to each of them – both to help reduce tensions now, and manage differences in the long run.
We have called for claimant states to define and voluntarily freeze problematic activities. The exact elements of a freeze would be decided by consensus among the claimants, and would not prejudice the competing claims.
We’ve offered these ideas, in greater detail, both in public and in private. And we plan on advancing this important discussion at the upcoming ASEAN Regional Forum meeting in Burma.
Over time, strong institutions can influence the conduct of all their members, helping to avoid conflict and incentivize peaceful resolution of disputes. We see beneficial outcomes of positive peer pressure with environmental issues, in trade, and human rights. It doesn’t work every time, but it’s responsible for enormous progress.
The Asia-Pacific region has almost limitless potential, if it can avoid the pitfalls ahead. Strong institutions are key – not just to avoid and resolve disputes, but also to lower barriers to trade, and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The U.S., as a resident Pacific power and participant in many of the region’s institutions, will do all we can to strengthen those institutions even further.
We do this through our alliances and our security partnerships–and through our growing business and people-to-people ties, in which California plays an incredibly large role. And together, the American people and our government will continue to help provide a foundation of peace and stability on which the region can grow.
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.
Seriously. “Mobile phone users in the Central African Republic who try to send text messages are getting the response: “SMS not allowed”. “The use of any SMS by all mobile phone subscribers is suspended from Monday June 2, 2014, until further notice,” the ministry said in a letter to mobile phone operators in the conflict-torn country. It said the decision was made by Prime Minister Andre Nzapayeke. Since last week there has been a resurge of violence in the capital Bangui, as well as a call for a general strike relayed by SMS in the past few days.. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1nOJUb6)
Conflict Minerals Legislation Taking Effect…For the first time, nearly 1,300 UScompanies have filed reports on whether the products they manufacture or sell are made with minerals that have bankrolled conflict in the Great Lakes region of central Africa. (IPS http://bit.ly/1pRlQRX)
UNICEF officials in South Sudan said that men in uniform are occupying at least 30 schools in five different states, interrupting the education of tens of thousands of children whose lives have already been disrupted by six months of conflict. (VOA http://bit.ly/1nOGPrz)
Health officials are warning that a cholera outbreak in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, which has left 23 people dead and forced more than 670 others to seek treatment, could be getting worse. (IRIN http://bit.ly/1pRj0fV)
South Sudan can only avoid famine if a shaky ceasefire holds and people displaced by more than five months of fighting are able to return home in the next few weeks to plant crops before the rains, a senior U.N. official said. (Reuters http://yhoo.it/1nOIFJ3)
Senior United Nations officials are in the DR Congo to draw attention to the fact that continued insecurity and a decrease in financial resources is causing millions of people to go hungry. (UN News Centre http://bit.ly/1pRm8s7)
As security forces in Kenya continue to round up and detain thousands of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, most of them Somali, an agreement between the UNHCR and the Kenyan and Somali governments on the voluntary repatriation of Somali refugees is coming under strain. (IRIN http://bit.ly/1pRiSwE)
While the number of patients appeared to be in decline, new cases of Ebola have been reported in Guinea and Sierra Leone. The virus has already affected more than 300 people in West Africa. (MSF http://bit.ly/1pRp1ZK)
Separate groups of gunmen in Libya shot dead a Swiss national working for the International Committee of the Red Cross, fired a grenade at the prime minister’s office and tried to kill a renegade general on Wednesday. (Reuters http://yhoo.it/1nOMmOP)
Saudi Arabia announced a jump of nearly 50 percent in deaths from the MERS virus after re-examining old data that also showed the number of infections since 2012 was a fifth higher than previously reported. (VOA http://bit.ly/1nOGxRD
The International Organization for Migration reports tens of thousands of migrants have been rescued while making the perilous sea crossing from Libya to Italy this year. (VOA http://bit.ly/1pRjmCZ)
The coup in Thailand is causing problems for hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from neighboring Cambodia and Burma. (VOA http://bit.ly/1nOGIfP)
Indonesia’s health ministry and child protection advocates are calling for chemical castration for convicted pedophiles. (VOA http://bit.ly/1nOH0mR)
Japan has temporarily halted its official development assistance to Vietnam as Hanoi continues its probe into bribery allegations on a railway project. (VOA http://bit.ly/1pRjMcx)
The World Food Program says it distributed more than 2,500 tons of food in North Korea last month, the largest amount so far this year. (VOA http://bit.ly/1pRk0k3)
United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay called on China to reveal the truth about the army’s violent suppression of mass pro-democracy protests on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square 25 years ago. (AP http://yhoo.it/1nOJEsF)
Mexico increased the minimum prison sentences for kidnapping to 40 years after a dramatic surge in the crime in recent years. (BBC http://bbc.in/1nOFXmI)
Although Venezuela has 520 long rivers, taps often run dry, many poor neighbourhoods depend on tanker trucks, water rationing remains a reality, and in some areas water quality is very poor. (IPS http://bit.ly/StJMzt)
Making Democracy Soup in Africa: how one bad ingredient can spoil the lot (African Arguments http://bit.ly/1hajpdf)
Is Brazil’s social/economic miracle running out of steam just as the World Cup arrives? (From Poverty to Power http://bit.ly/1kLQjvE)
Will US take global environmental lead by cutting coal emissions? (Humanosphere http://bit.ly/1nOI764)
Why Malawi took so long to declare an election winner (ODI http://bit.ly/1ocLu4p)
The importance of Live Below The Poverty Line (WhyDev http://bit.ly/1jSiicY)
Lessons for Australia from DFID’s underperforming private sector development efforts (DevPolicy http://bit.ly/1ocLQYQ)
The New Chinese-Backed Infrastructure Bank: Will it Tame the Corruption Dragon? (The Global Anticorruption Blog http://bit.ly/1jSjsW2)
Aiding institutional reform in developing countries: lessons from the Philippines on what works, what doesn’t and why (ODI http://bit.ly/1pRj9Qk)
What non-food items best meet needs of women and girls in emergency situations? (GSDRC http://bit.ly/1pRlLxG)
Italy announced plans to give citizenship to children born of refugees who have been granted asylum, as the government faced growing anti-immigrant sentiment over an influx of migrant arrivals by sea. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1pRoFm9)
The UK government’s $629 million Newton Fund aims to ‘end the need for aid’ in 15 countries by fostering ties between researchers in developing countries and the UK that will boost their economic development. (SciDevNet http://bit.ly/1nOQ0Z6)
75% of Australians think poverty reduction most important for aid: Lowy Poll (DevPolicy http://bit.ly/1jSjfC5)