[Note: John Miller is the immediate past president of the board of directors at Discovery Institute.]
WASHINGTON (CNN) –The U.S. State Department is giving 15 countries — including allies Turkey and Greece — four months to improve their efforts to crack down on human trafficking or they could face sanctions.
The warning came with Wednesday’s release of the third annual report on human trafficking, which found a rise in the practice of forcing human beings into slave labor or sex industries.
“The transnational character of this crime means that countries of origin, transit and destination must work in partnership to prevent trafficking, protect its victims and prosecute those who are responsible for trafficking,” Secretary of State Colin Powell said.
The U.S. government recently estimated that approximately 800,000 to 900,000 people are sold across international borders every year. Between 18,000 and 20,000 are brought into the United States.
Those estimates do not include “internal trafficking,” which occurs within a country’s borders.
“In our 21st century world, where freedom and democracy are spreading to every continent, it is appalling and morally unacceptable that hundreds of thousands of men, women and children are exploited, abused and enslaved by peddlers in human misery,” Powell said.
He also said trafficking subverts government authority, threatens public health, and is linked to other criminal activity.
“This is an ongoing struggle,” said John Miller, director of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.
Traffickers are using “dramatic improvements” in transportation and communication to sell men, women, and children into slave-like situations with virtually no risk of prosecution, the report said. They also exploit the lack of political will by governments to tackle trafficking and its root causes.
Other factors leading the rise include the increasing demand for cheap labor and growing populations vulnerable to trafficking. The number of orphans in many developing countries is also rising dramatically, thanks to civil conflicts and HIV/AIDS, the report said.
The State Department issues its report to Congress under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, which ensures the punishment of traffickers and enhances victim protection.
Traffickers use threats, intimidation and violence to force victims to engage in sex acts or labor under conditions comparable to slavery, solely for the traffickers’ financial gain, the report said. Traffickers may be members of organized crime.
The report cites as an example a 19-year-old woman named Nina, from southeastern Europe. A trafficker recruited her to work as a waitress, but then raped, beat, and drugged her and forced her into prostitution.
Nina escaped only to be found again by her trafficker and kidnapped, the report said. Taken into custody in a police raid, the report said, Nina agreed to testify against her trafficker, but a police officer assigned to protect Nina gave away her location.
The traffickers were eventually caught and found guilty at trial, but later released on appeal. In order to save her life, the report said, Nina fled to another country and assumed a new identity.
Each country included in the State Department’s report is put into one of three tiers. Top-tier governments are those that fully comply with the act’s minimum standards for eliminating trafficking.
Countries determined to have made “significant efforts” at battling trafficking were put into Tier 2, and those with the worst records — governments that do not fully comply with the minimum standards and aren’t making significant efforts to do so — were placed in Tier 3.
The report puts 15 countries in Tier 3, including, for the first time, U.S. allies Greece and Turkey. The 15 countries face the prospect of sanctions and other consequences like U.S. opposition to funding from the International Monetary Fund.
“The administration looks forward to working with all countries” to eliminate “modern-day slavery,” Miller said.
State Department officials say Tier 3 governments will have four months to demonstrate that they are making efforts. Depending on how they respond, they may only face partial sanctions, or have them waived entirely for national security reasons.
“It has told the world we’re watching, and as people watch and turn light on a situation, the rats scramble,” said former Republican Washington state Rep. Linda Smith, an anti-trafficking activist.