State Department Downgrades China, Russia on Human Trafficking

China, Russia, and Uzbekistan are simply not committed to addressing human trafficking. That's the takeaway from the State Department's new 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report, out Wednesday afternoon. After nine years each for China and Russia, and six years for Uzbekistan, on the State Department's watch list, the status of the three countries was downgraded this year to "Tier 3," the lowest rank, which includes "countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards [to address human trafficking] and are not making significant efforts to do so." Guinea-Bissau and Mauritania were also downgraded to Tier 3, joining the ranks of North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, among others.

According to the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST), Russia "ranks among the top 10 countries of origin for trafficked individuals," with as many as "130,000 sex trafficking victims ... in Moscow alone." The State Department report notes that while several Russian law enforcement and judicial bodies conduct "periodic training" on trafficking issues, the government does not investigate reported abuses. This includes the forced labor, documented by Human Rights Watch, being used to construct facilities for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Workers have had their passports and other documentation seized, pay withheld, and contracts violated.

The State Department report also includes a case study of 12 migrant laborers from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Trapped in Russia, they "were held captive for 10 years in a supermarket after being promised employment in Russia." The owners of the supermarket held their documents and "used threats of violence, beatings, and sexual violence to demand subservience." A brief investigation was closed after Russian "prosecutors claimed there was no evidence of a crime."

China is singled out in the report for, among other things, its "birth limitation policy and a cultural preference for sons," which has led to "a skewed sex ratio of 118 boys to 100 girls." To fill that imbalance, the report notes that China has an unusually high "demand for the trafficking of foreign women as brides for Chinese men and for forced prostitution." China is also the country of origin of many sex trafficking victims, with "Chinese sex trafficking victims ... reported on all of the inhabited continents" over the past year. Chinese men in forced labor were reported across Asia, in African mining operations, and in European agriculture. The Chinese government has run a series of public service announcements to raise awareness about human trafficking, and has addressed the issue on social media, including the popular microblogging site Weibo. But, the report notes in a particularly damning observation, "the government continued to perpetuate human trafficking in at least 320 state-run institutions."

In 2008, Congress legislated that, rather than keep countries on the government's watch list indefinitely, nations that did not show signs of improvement of human trafficking over a series of yeas would face automatic demotion, and China and Russia have since exhausted the maximum two years of waivers to prevent their downgrade. The Tier 3 designation opens China, Russia, and Uzbekistan to potential U.S. sanctions. In a statement, Rep. Ed Royce, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, suggested that more countries should be downgraded to Tier 3 and that the State Department report was "pulling punches."

Representatives from the Russian and Chinese embassies did not respond to requests for comment.



A Thematic Guide to Obama's Big Berlin Speech

President Barack Obama stood before the Brandenburg Gate on Wednesday and tried to make some history. 

In a speech that referenced a band of doomed protesters in East Germany, Immanuel Kant, and John F. Kennedy, Obama announced that he intends to cut America's nuclear arsenal by up to a third in pursuit of "peace with justice." The headlines from today's address will undoubtedly focus on this proposal, and whether the speech goes down as one for the history books will likely depend on Russia's willingness to shrink its nuclear stockpiles in tandem with the United States.

But the president's call for nuclear reductions was confined to a mere four paragraphs in an address that ran just over 30 minutes. The speech's real centerpiece was the idealist in Obama.

The president didn't exactly have an "ich bin ein Berliner" moment, but that isn't really Obama's style anyway. (Try to name a single memorable quote from an Obama speech. Really, I dare you.) If you want to understand how Obama sees America's role in the world today, the speech was highly instructive, and a window into the ideals that Obama aspires to -- even if he doesn't always meet them.

Here's a thematic guide to today's speech.

Obama doesn't believe history is dead

And yet, more than two decades after that triumph, we must acknowledge that there can, at times, be a complacency among our Western democracies.  Today, people often come together in places like this to remember history -- not to make it.  After all, we face no concrete walls, no barbed wire.  There are no tanks poised across a border.  There are no visits to fallout shelters. And so sometimes there can be a sense that the great challenges have somehow passed.  And that brings with it a temptation to turn inward -- to think of our own pursuits, and not the sweep of history; to believe that we've settled history's accounts, that we can simply enjoy the fruits won by our forebears. 

What is "peace with justice," you ask?

Peace with justice means free enterprise that unleashes the talents and creativity that reside in each of us; in other models, direct economic growth from the top down or relies solely on the resources extracted from the earth.  But we believe that real prosperity comes from our most precious resource -- our people.  And that's why we choose to invest in education, and science and research.


Peace with justice means extending a hand to those who reach for freedom, wherever they live.  Different peoples and cultures will follow their own path, but we must reject the lie that those who live in distant places don't yearn for freedom and self-determination just like we do; that they don't somehow yearn for dignity and rule of law just like we do.  We cannot dictate the pace of change in places like the Arab world, but we must reject the excuse that we can do nothing to support it. 


Peace with justice means pursuing the security of a world without nuclear weapons -- no matter how distant that dream may be.  And so, as President, I've strengthened our efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, and reduced the number and role of America's nuclear weapons.  Because of the New START Treaty, we're on track to cut American and Russian deployed nuclear warheads to their lowest levels since the 1950s. 


Peace with justice means refusing to condemn our children to a harsher, less hospitable planet.  The effort to slow climate change requires bold action.  And on this, Germany and Europe have led. 


Peace with justice means meeting our moral obligations.  And we have a moral obligation and a profound interest in helping lift the impoverished corners of the world.  By promoting growth so we spare a child born today a lifetime of extreme poverty.  By investing in agriculture, so we aren't just sending food, but also teaching farmers to grow food.  By strengthening public health, so we're not just sending medicine, but training doctors and nurses who will help end the outrage of children dying from preventable diseases.  Making sure that we do everything we can to realize the promise -- an achievable promise -- of the first AIDS-free generation.  That is something that is possible if we feel a sufficient sense of urgency. 

Obama, the peacemaker

And finally, let's remember that peace with justice depends on our ability to sustain both the security of our societies and the openness that defines them.  Threats to freedom don't merely come from the outside.  They can emerge from within -- from our own fears, from the disengagement of our citizens. 

For over a decade, America has been at war.  Yet much has now changed over the five years since I last spoke here in Berlin.  The Iraq war is now over.  The Afghan war is coming to an end.  Osama bin Laden is no more.  Our efforts against al Qaeda are evolving.

And given these changes, last month, I spoke about America's efforts against terrorism. And I drew inspiration from one of our founding fathers, James Madison, who wrote, "No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare."  James Madison is right -- which is why, even as we remain vigilant about the threat of terrorism, we must move beyond a mindset of perpetual war.

Obama, the JFK redux?

And we should ask, should anyone ask if our generation has the courage to meet these tests?  If anybody asks if President Kennedy's words ring true today, let them come to Berlin, for here they will find the people who emerged from the ruins of war to reap the blessings of peace; from the pain of division to the joy of reunification.  And here, they will recall how people trapped behind a wall braved bullets, and jumped barbed wire, and dashed across minefields, and dug through tunnels, and leapt from buildings, and swam across the Spree to claim their most basic right of freedom.  (Applause.) 

The wall belongs to history.  But we have history to make as well.  And the heroes that came before us now call to us to live up to those highest ideals -- to care for the young people who can't find a job in our own countries, and the girls who aren't allowed to go to school overseas; to be vigilant in safeguarding our own freedoms, but also to extend a hand to those who are reaching for freedom abroad.

This is the lesson of the ages.  This is the spirit of Berlin.  And the greatest tribute that we can pay to those who came before us is by carrying on their work to pursue peace and justice not only in our countries but for all mankind.