Women and Foreign Policy Symposium: The U.S. Government Response to Trafficking

Wednesday, May 3, 2006
John Miller
Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State, Director, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, U.S. Department of State
Kavita Ramdas
President and Chief Executive Officer, Global Fund for Women

Council on Foreign Relations


ISOBEL COLEMAN: Good afternoon, everyone, I’m Isobel Coleman, senior fellow here at the Council on Foreign Relations. And for those of you who are just joining us now for lunch, welcome. And for those of you who have been with us for the previous two sessions on human trafficking, thank you for staying with us.

Every time that I organize a meeting here at the Council, I always get the comment, “Wow, there’s so many women in the room”—and this is true again today, but we are particularly appreciative for all the men who are here, since this is a very important issue. And I think we’ve had some very good discussion in the morning. We’ve gotten a lot of issues on the table, and Kavita will give us a quick summary. I want to thank you all for coming and introduce quickly Kavita Ramdas, who is the head of the Global Fund for Women, with whom we are co-sponsoring this event. And so I just give you my thanks for helping get this all organized, and Ambassador John Miller, who is here. Kavita will introduce him. But thank you all for coming. There will be a transcript of this meeting available, and a synopsis that will be sent out widely to various groups and policymakers, summarizing the core of the issues that we’ve been discussing today. So thank you.

KAVITA N. RAMDAS: Thank you, Isabel. I’d like to thank everybody at the Council on Foreign Relations, but particularly Isobel Coleman of the U.S. Foreign Policy and Women’s Program, her wonderful colleague Mehelika (ph), who has been such a resource to us as we’ve tried to pull this program together. I’d like to extend special thanks and appreciation to Lynn Chu (ph), the Global Fund’s AIR, or activist in residence, who has had over 25 years of experience and expertise in trafficking, and who, as many of you heard today, was responsible for pulling together the two-day summit on human trafficking that preceded this, our meeting today. So, Lynn (sp), thank you so much, and the planning committee who was involved with that, and all the activists who came both from outside the United States and from many parts of the United States.

My colleagues at the Global Fund for Women, board and staff, many of whom are here in the room and many of whom have made it possible for the Global Fund to take a lead in this difficult area. Ambassador Miller and I were just speaking about the fact that really it was an unknown field without much of a terminology. And when I came to the Global Fund in 1996, I was amazed to realize that there was already a circle on trafficking at the Global Fund for Women that was established in 1993, and culminated with a major conference in 1996. So thanks to all of you for making that possible.

Thanks also to many of you friends and supporters of the program here, of a commitment to being able to bring these issues to the table and particularly being able to ask the questions that make it clear that foreign policy and the concern about human rights and women’s rights in particular are not very separate.

It seems especially appropriate then to have with us somebody who has been given the task to be able to find a full list together and take a leadership role on this issue of human trafficking from the perspective of this country’s administration. Ambassador Miller, it gives me great pleasure to welcome you—not just because you’re a native New Yorker. I tried desperately to find interesting things. Did he play the piano? Was he an accomplished gardener? (Laughter.)


John R. Miller and Kavita Ram

John R. Miller, senior adviser to the Secretary of
State and director of the Office to Monitor and
Combat Trafficking Persons at the State Department,
with Kavita Ramdas, president and chief executive
officer at the Global Fund for Women.

RAMDAS: No, no, no. He did just come back from India, where he’s been twice this year—first to look at issues of sex trafficking, but most recently to deal with the question of bonded labor. And, with that, I am not going to go into a long detailed description of his extraordinary accomplishments, because you can read all about them—they’re in your hand-out, and I’m sure he wouldn’t want to take away time from that. But I will take a few minutes—and I mentioned this to him earlier—to summarize briefly for those of you who weren’t here with us for the morning session, how the fact that Ambassador Miller actually went to visit first was people who had been trafficked into sex work and then met with bonded labor in India, is so directly related to the issues that we talked about this morning. So the first time he sort of attempted to give us the broad overview. I ran into somebody who said, “God, I thought I knew something about trafficking, and now I’m really confused.” (Laughter.) And I think the confusion is because the panels have succeeded in exposing for us the complexity of the issues that are involved. There is no complexity about the fact that we would like to see trafficking abolished. That is something I think everybody in this room can agree to.

The first panel talked about what are the conditions that make this essentially trade in human persons possible. It talked about the fact that although in many instances when we say the word “trafficking” we presume it has to do with trafficking into the sex industry, that isn’t always necessarily the case. And indeed in some ways by conflating those two we fail to pay attention to equally egregious human rights violations that are going on in other fields, such as forced labor, slavery-like conditions and indebted bonded labor—which in India has been a problem for literally hundreds of years.

The second panel—I will also say briefly that we had an opportunity to talk about the somewhat controversial issues right at the end of that panel on how to consider and look at the question of prostitution and whether in fact it could and should be described as work. And I think what we heard back from the panel on that is that is so much dependent on the particular position of the people themselves in those situations and how they chose to articulate that.

In the second panel we heard about the ways in which the issue of trafficking is deeply connected to and affects efforts to advance public health in different parts of the world, both here in the United States and in what is known as the developing world and what, for want of a better term, might be referred to as the “second world,” or the world that is in transition, what was the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

We also heard very movingly from Sarah Mendelson about the strange nexus between the presence of peacekeeping troops and military troops in many different parts of the world and the presence of prostitutes and those who are trafficked into those areas because of perceived demand from those troops. And the fact that although we have opportunities to have better enforcement and the current law that we have actually does provide those opportunities, much more needs to be done in the actual implementation of those policies so that we can actually have prosecution where it could be more effective. That’s a very brief summary, but I am sure people will ask questions. I’m looking forward to that. And I’d like to begin by having you join the conversation and adding your voice to it.

As an organization that supports human rights groups in 160 countries around the world, we’re very acutely aware of the role of grass roots locally based organizations, what we might call civil society actors or otherwise sometimes referred to as NGOs. You’ve spoken in many public forums about the importance of these kinds of actors in the fight against trafficking. Clearly these are groups on the ground who understand the local circumstances, the political nuances, the culture and other problems that affect both victims of trafficking and also those who perpetrate it. Could you talk to us about how the office that you head has collaborated with groups on the ground to work on advancing the goals of your office?

MILLER: Sure, sure. Just one brief comment before I answer the question. When you mentioned that people are confused about the complexities of trafficking, the first step in clearing the air is to not use the word “trafficking in persons,” which is a euphemism. What we are talking about is modern day slavery and the slave trade. That’s what this is about. And it is appropriate that there are so many women in the audience, because while, yes, this is a health issue, this is a national security issue because of the link to organized crime and, yes, primarily it is a human rights issue, the fact of the matter is that we believe that as many as 80 percent of the victims of modern day slavery are either girls or women. And that comes about because the two leading categories of modern day slavery, the two leading discrete categories, are sex slavery and domestic servitude slavery.

Now, to get to your question: NGOs. We have a law in this country, and I believe it’s been commented on, the Trafficking Victim Protection Act. It would not have passed, Kavita, but for a broad coalition of faith-based and feminist groups who back at the turn of this century got behind this issue and brought it to the attention of Congress. The NGOs, non-governmental organizations, on this issue were well ahead of the governments in the world. There’s no question about it. And therefore, if you are going to address what we call the three Ps—prosecution, protection and prevention—certainly at least two of the Ps, maybe even all three, call for a great role for NGOs, protection in particularly. And as I go around the world—and that’s what I do—I meet with survivors, I meet with victims, I meet with NGOS and, yes, I meet with government officials to try to push them to do more. But as I go around the world and meet with NGOs, I see the work that they are doing. And this is the most effective work, and that’s why when President Bush announced his special anti-slavery initiative at the U.N. General Assembly in the fall of 2003, the $50 million initiative, he directed that most of those funds should go through NGOs to help survivors and victims. Specifically we’re engaged with about 266 different programs around the world. I’ll give you one or two examples. In Brazil and Cambodia we’re working with World Vision, where they are putting up billboards and signs—not addressed to Brazilians and Cambodians—addressed to English-speaking tourists that come to engage in child sex tourism. And child sex tourism is a big component of the international slave trade. In Cambodia we’re engaged with Hagar, which is a group that for the first time is offering on a large scale not only health and medical services, but education, job training, and even providing jobs to survivors. So those are just some of the programs. I could go on with several more, but let me yield to another question.

RAMDAS: Let me ask something that is a follow-up to that. How do you think about the dilemma between supporting NGOs that are local NGOs—we run into this a lot—


RAMDAS:—versus the international NGOs. Because in fact, if in fact as you correctly pointed out we were able to stop both slavery many years ago and get this bill passed in 2000, because of t he strength of our civil society, part of what we ought to be doing is strengthening civil society institutions that are indigenous to those countries. And yet in many instances those civil society actors are actually a thorn in the flesh of their governments, and are considered trouble makers. And often they simply don’t get the access to resources that large international NGOs who sort of sweep in and have the advantage of an American connection, and English-language proficiency do. How do you deal with that?

MILLER: You are so right. And you, since you were born in India, I mean let’s give an example. India is a vibrant society—vibrant civic society—as you know, many NGOs, including many NGOs working on the slave trade. You have a government that is, let’s put it this way, not as vibrant, and not only is not as vibrant, but takes months and months to even agree to let the United States, or for that matter international organizations, interact with their own NGOs. Our policy—our policy is to try to reach out to local NGOs, try to get to the smaller NGOs that are on the ground doing the work. It is easier said than done. There is no question about it. We are trying not just to favor big Beltway organizations. We are trying to get to the local organizations. But I’ve got to tell you some countries have NGOs and the government is fine with it. Some countries—I mentioned India as an example, where there is some resistance. Some countries that I have visited you can’t find an independent NGO. I was on the same trip—

RAMDAS: We call them GONGOs.

MILLER: Yes, GONGOs, right. You know what GONGO means? government-organized NGO. That’s the kind they have—China, Saudi Arabia, two countries that I visited in the last two months also—so when you say, Oh, work with the local NGOs, sometimes this takes some doing.

RAMDAS: Let’s—that’s absolutely right, and I think that what we can agree on is that we need to do a lot more in terms of being able to continue to support those kinds of groups.

I’d like to switch for a second to how the—what other instruments the office has to be able to advance your goals of abolishing the practice of trafficking. The TIP report uses this tiered system. It’s a system that one could argue is both a carrot and a stick, but in many instances it does provide a way to shine a spotlight on offenders or those who are simply not doing enough. A few years ago a courageous Israeli women’s right group that the Global Fund has come to know and supported, raised the issue of their government’s complicity to some extent in the trafficking of young women from former Soviet countries. Their report caused Israel to drop—and I’m not quite sure where on the scale, whether it was from one to two or from two to three—but other allies of the United States, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, have similarly failed to live up to expectations of ending human slavery.

Can you talk a little bit more about how you deal with those issues and how and whether you feel in fact this system encourages real movement or whether it, you know, is a big incentive in some way for people to be transparent of what in fact they’re really doing.

MILLER: Sure. This is the 2005 Trafficking in Persons report. Our regret is that we were not able to carry hundreds of copies up from D.C. But, Gannon—if you raise your hands, if you give Gannon a card afterwards we’ll mail you a copy of the report. Of course in June the 2006 report comes out. So let’s talk about this issue. Yes, this is a very ingenious law that Congress passed and strengthened. It calls for rating of countries, and it even provides some carrots and sticks. It provides some program funding and it also provides, in addition to the shame and embarrassment of getting a poor rating, the possibility—the possibility of some sanctions, which could take the form of reductions in certain kinds of aid—not humanitarian aid, for example, but certain other kinds of aid.

I think this report is serving a very useful purpose. You mentioned Israel. Israel was put on tier three several years ago, and they moved. They moved, set up a shelter, toughened their laws, started cooperating with embassies in other countries in sex trafficking. This is not to say that Israel doesn’t have a problem. They have a severe labor trafficking problem, which I think at this point is worse and in more need of attention than the sex trafficking problem.

The other countries you mentioned—Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait—if you will look at last year’s report, ended up on the lowest tier, tier three. The possibility of sanctions was purely theoretical, since we don’t give Saudi Arabia aid. However—however, I think the shame and embarrassment was there. My staff and I have visited these countries. I can’t say that there’s been much progress in Saudi Arabia, although they’re starting to talk about the issue. But in a country like the United Arab Emirates there has been some progress: the rescuing of hundreds of camel jockeys and repatriation, the setting up with UNICEF of a shelter. Similarly, if you look at examples, countries that have been in this lowest tier in June, in the three months that they are given to shape up before facing the possibility of sanctions, you see a lot of steps taken. We put two allies, Greece and Turkey, on tier three my first year in the office, and it was amazing what happened in the succeeding 90 days. Well, the first day they denounced the report, okay, as U.S. meddling. That was what we expect. But then amazing things happened—anti-trafficking laws passed, shelters set up, funding for NGOs, arrest of traffickers. This past year Jamaica was one of the countries in tier three—a furor in the Jamaican press. Let me tell you, they’ve got some active free press in Jamaica. I mean, the justice minister and I were on the front page for days. But the fact of the matter is after they vented their displeasure, some very positive steps were taken, including the setting up of a special anti-trafficking police unit. So I think we are seeing with the report, coupled with engagement from our embassies, coupled with the support of the president, the secretary of State and both parties of Congress—I encourage members of Congress whenever they go anyplace to bring this up—when you put all that together, we’ve started to make some progress. I don’t want to build it up too much. We’re starting, and we can see some indicators of this—we’re starting to make some progress in addressing 21st century slavery.

RAMDAS: Along the same lines in the earlier panel talking about security, the sort of nexus between security issues. There was a concern that perhaps, although there’s a lot of rhetoric around the importance of addressing questions on trafficking, particularly in the case of NATO and the whole role of military forces and security forces, that there hasn’t really been much action. And I’m curious whether within the State Department, on the one hand your office pushing for these tougher standards, higher standards, and on the other hand colleagues who are trying to advance very different national interests of the United States, whether those are military or security wise, do they ever come into conflict? And are you able to have any influence on your colleagues in other part of the—and maybe beyond the State Department? We heard more specifically from Sarah about the Department of Defense.

MILLER: Well, let’s take the two areas, Department of Defense in one area, and then let’s take international organizations. And I think it is a fact that if you look back at the sex trafficking part of trafficking, there are links—there have been link historically to military—militaries of the United States, of all nations. We have had in the last year some very good cooperation from the Department of Defense. It started—our office interacted—it started with the Department of Defense issuing a zero tolerance on trafficking order a couple of years ago, and we pointed out—well, that’s fine, but how does the soldier or sailor who is going to a brothel know whether the person is a trafficking victim? Do they say, “Are you a trafficking victim?” If they are, they’re not going to admit it, particularly with the brothel owner or the trafficker present. So the Department of Defense looked at this, and then issued a new order. They changed the military code of justice so that it not only was an offense to engage in trafficking, but it was an offense to engage in prostitution. And they backed it up—

RAMDAS: Well, not “engaged,” but to avail of the services—

MILLER: By, by. And they backed it up with a training program that we helped design that is now given to all troops that go abroad.

RAMDAS: Do you think that’s realistic, Ambassador Miller? I mean, throughout time—I mean, part of the reason this has existed for so long is that in fact this is as old time, everywhere that there’s been—from Alexander in India to common militaries.

MILLER: You’re absolutely right. It’s the oldest form of oppression. That’s not what you expected me to say, right? (Laughter.) But it’s interesting. When I was in Korea, I asked the commander, I said, “You know, commander, I was in the army decades ago. Is this really going to have an effect?” And he said he would be surprised, he said. I said, “How is this training being received?” He said—and he’s not saying everything’s perfect, but he pointed out some interesting factors. He said the troops are receiving it well, and he said, “Ambassador, you have to understand that the make-up of today’s army is different than when you were in. When you were in, years ago, the average enlisted man was 18 years old, had not finished high school, and was not married. Today the average enlisted man is in his mid 20s, has generally had years of college, has finished high school, had some years of college and is married.” The stereotypes, that we must just accept this from militaries, I don’t accept. And I think the Department of Defense is coming to a position where they don’t accept it.

But now I want to talk about the other international peacekeeping, because, yes, nations like Sweden, the United States, are taking the steps to start addressing this problem. Unfortunately, the military that today we can document is the biggest promoter of trafficking are the U.N. peacekeepers. I’m sorry to say that. It started in the Balkans. It has continued in the Congo. The secretary general sent his own investigator.

RAMDAS: But those are made up of people from many different countries.

MILLER: Many different countries—103 countries contribute towards U.N. peacekeeping. And Prince Zeid, a fine man from Jordan, went down to investigate this sex-for-food scandal, and sent back a report to the secretary general—it’s available—it talks about scores and scores of allegations of child rape and trafficking, and leaves little doubt what’s been going on. And there’s one paragraph that sticks out, and that paragraph says: “Mr. Secretary General, it is good that the United Nations has a zero tolerance policy on trafficking. Unfortunately, there is zero compliance with zero tolerance.” And so what you have now, you have countries, governments like the United States and Japan, trying to push the United Nations to address this issue. And you have meetings and hearings. However—however, despite the meetings and hearings, we don’t see much progress on the ground yet in terms of training and discipline. We hope this gets there, because it would be a shame, given our other foreign policy objectives, if United Nations peacekeepers were known less for peace than for rape.

And as a sign of U.S. concern in the recently enacted Trafficking Victim Protection Reauthorization Act that the Congress passed in December and the president signed in January, there is a new section asking that in this report we evaluate international peacekeeping forces such as the United Nations, and asking specifically for a report before future authorizations by Congress of peacekeeping missions. So I am hopeful - I am hopeful that the rest of the nations of the world will join us and move the United Nations to action.

RAMDAS: I’m hopeful as well, and I think that that hope for me comes less from the perspective of thinking that we can actually enforce behavior and more from the perspective of something else you’ve spoken about, and I think all of us in this room would strongly concur with, which is things have to change in terms of how women’s position and role is perceived. Within many of these cultures, within military cultures - I told you earlier I grew up in a military family - when my mother raised the issue of domestic violence in the Indian navy, the Indian navy just tried to shut her down and said, “No, we don’t have domestic violence in the Indian navy. It doesn’t happen.” Well, it happens in all navies and all armies. And part of that I think goes back to certain cultures’ assumptions about what women’s role and place in society is. You’ve talked about the need for addressing this on the prevention side of the treaty, and yet I think it would be very important to hear from you how your efforts in that regard are viewed. We certainly heard a lot.

I mean, when you mentioned that Greece and Turkey dismissed it as U.S. meddling, many times in human rights we hear cultural apologies for completely unacceptable treatment. And we know that it isn’t until people themselves mobilize to demand a better position for themselves and to take for themselves their own rights that that changes. But it’s not always welcomed. What is your office trying to do to support that?

I would say when you look, Kavita, at the slave trade in the world and you look at the causes—and, of course, there are many causes, ranging from poverty to organized crime—but given who composes most of the slaves in the world today, one of the major causes—attitudes towards gender. There’s absolutely no doubt about this. It’s attitudes towards gender.

And when people awaken, for example—and we see signs of this. In Sweden, they passed a law—you know, historically people get uncomfortable about this, but let’s state the obvious. If you’re talking about sex trafficking, there’s—

RAMDAS: We have to be willing to talk about it.

MILLER: You have to talk about prostitution. As the deputy prime minister of Sweden told me at the first meeting I went to, without prostitution there is not sex trafficking.

Okay, if you’re going to talk about changing the attitudes, you look at some of the steps that are being taken around the world. Let me just cite a few. In Sweden, for the first time you had a country saying, “Well, we’ll decriminalize the actions of the women engaged in prostitution and criminalize the conduct of the traffickers, the brothel owners, the pimps, and the, quote, ’buyers.’” And this was a change in gender attitudes.

Then you have Korea starting to move in the same direction, because almost half a million women signed a petition saying, “Wait a minute. You’re always picking on the women.”

In the United States there are some signs, too. And let me give you two of the signs. You have an organization in San Francisco, SAGE, that a few years ago went to the authorities and said, “Why is it you always punish the women? Why don’t you punish the men?” And the leader of this group, Norma Hoteling, was very shrewd. She knew that if the men were punished, nothing would happen, at least on the first offense. So she said, “On the first offense, fine them $75. Give the $75 to me, and we’ll have a school where they’ll be introduced to trafficking victims, so they will understand that, yes, around the world the surveys show not only children, of course, are—(inaudible)—trafficking victims. But even with adults, the majority, the vast majority, want to get out. They will understand it’s not just some victimless activity they’re engaging in.”

That school has had tremendous success. There are now similar schools, not all run by that group, in 15 cities. This January that same law I referred to, the reauthorization of the Trafficking Victim Protection Act, for the first time you have Congress authorizing the attorney general to give grants to state and local law enforcement authorities and education groups that not only try to educate on the demand side, but try to see that enforcement moves to the demand side.

So I do see signs of a change—signs; I never try to, you know, get too rosy—but I see signs of changes in the attitudes towards gender. And those changes will be good in the fight against trafficking—not just sex trafficking; they’ll be good in the fight against all kinds of trafficking, particularly including domestic servitude trafficking.

RAMDAS: Absolutely. It seems, though, that the U.S. is in a somewhat different position than it was when I was growing up in India, in which it was seen to be clearly a supporter of women’s rights and women’s advancement and gender equality.

In particular, do you feel that our lack of having signed something like the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women or things like the global gag rule have impacts on the notion of gender equality that come back in an adverse way to affect your ability to kind of take a clear leadership role in this?

MILLER: I don’t think it’s adversely affected my role in the fight against trafficking. I’m aware of the convention you referred to that President Carter signed in 1980 and has been through six Senate hearings. It hasn’t gone anywhere.

The key convention on trafficking is the United Nations Protocol on Trafficking, which the United States has signed and ratified. And that’s what people around the world mostly talk to me about. Maybe they even talk too much about it, because unfortunately I’ve got to say that some of the worst offenders in the world have signed that protocol.

I wish people that signed U.N. protocols really thought them through and figured out, “Oh, we’re going to really abide by them,” because it is an advisory protocol. But that’s the international covenant that gets talked about on my trips abroad.

RAMDAS: Let me end with, I think, another aspect in which we certainly see a lot of the ways in which women are disproportionately affected particularly. I was at the large rally on May Day at Union Square around migrant rights.

And I think there is a real question, for those of us who are concerned about preventing trafficking and preventing the exploitation of human beings, for us to try and find a more rational way to understand how these two issues, migration and immigration policy, on the one hand, and the exploitation and the slave trade in human beings, on the other hand, are or are not related to each other.

And I’m curious how you are thinking about that right now, given the huge debate in Congress about migration, which so far, at least, seems to have not mentioned at all any implications for the kind of work that you’re involved with.

MILLER: Yeah. Well, that’s a very interesting question, because many—I find when I travel around the world, Kavita, many governments conflate smuggling and trafficking. They think it’s like one and the same. I say, “What are you doing about the slave trade?” Oh, we’ve stopped this illegal smuggling of immigrants.

Of course there is some overlap. But one thing you have to—if you leave this room, I hope you will remember this. Somebody can be smuggled, and not necessarily a trafficking victim. Many people are smuggled; they’re voluntary. Okay, somebody can be a trafficking victim and not necessarily smuggled. If you look at Europe and Japan, 90 percent of the trafficking victims, maybe more, came in legally to the country. In this country we have both kinds of trafficking victims.

So I think we have to keep that in mind. I think where we can be more sensitive in terms of immigration, instead of—where I think we’re starting to make progress is our immigration authorities, I think immigration authorities around the world, have to look at people coming into a country in certain circumstances, not just as an illegal, but they have to ask themselves, “Is this person a trafficking victim?”

Under our law, under our law, which probably goes further than any law in the world, we seek cooperation from trafficking victims, legal or illegal. And they get benefits. They get services. They get resident stays. There’s even a possibility ultimately of citizenship.

So these are ways that we can better address this issue when we think about immigration. But don’t—I worry about just lumping the two together.

RAMDAS: Thank you, Ambassador Miller. I know that there are people in the audience eager to ask questions as well.


RAMDAS: I’d like a second to mention to everybody, which I didn’t do at the beginning, that this session is actually on the record. I’d also like to say that if I was moderating an event at the Global Fund, I would have a flower to wave at you if you talk too long. So I will remind you that your question should be a question to Ambassador Miller and it should be short.

Please introduce yourself. There are people with mikes in the audience. And please go ahead.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. I’m Rob Cushion (sp) from the Open Society Institute. Your report cites the Netherlands as a positive example in the fight against trafficking. And at the same time, the government of the Netherlands has legalized prostitution.

Now, under U.S. law, if an NGO is receiving U.S. government money to work on these issues, it has to have a policy in place opposing prostitution and trafficking. If such an NGO receiving U.S. government money wanted to take private money from another source and go out and study the Dutch example, maybe study the relationship between legalized prostitution and trafficking, maybe study the impact of legalization on health status, could an organization do that consistent with U.S. law? If they did the study and they found some positive effect, could they publicize that? And if they chose to advocate change on the basis of the evidence, could they do that?

RAMDAS: Thank you.

QUESTIONER: And if the answer to any of these questions is no, do you think that this U.S. law and policy is a sensible one? Thank you.

MILLER: Okay. I’ll—

QUESTIONER: He needed a bouquet. (Laughter.)

MILLER: I’ll try to—I may not be able to answer every one of the questions because I’ve forgotten some of them, but I got the general thrust. It started with the Netherlands, which has many anti-trafficking programs—prevention, prosecution, protection—which, under the law, led to a tier one rating.

Nonetheless, we have strongly urged on the Netherlands that—our opposition to legalization. I’ve visited the Netherlands and I’ve seen the statistics from their sex rapporteur, showing from the early ’90s the increase in victims. I’ve said to the Netherlands, “Look, if you’re really regulating, why don’t you go into the red-light districts? Why don’t you interview the people to find out if, as some NGOs allege, 50 or 60 percent are trafficking victims?” They haven’t been willing to do that. It’s a very important economic sector in the Netherlands.

Now, the second part of your question related to U.S. policy.

RAMDAS: And use of funds.

MILLER: Yes. Our anti-trafficking policy says that Congress has approved these provisions unanimously, near-unanimously; they’re part of executive order. We have taken the position that prostitution, legalized prostitution, tolerating prostitution, contributes to the phenomenon of trafficking as well as being demeaning to women, which the research overwhelmingly shows.

And therefore, it makes no sense to give taxpayers’ funds to a program that would fight trafficking and then recycle the people back into prostitution. Therefore, we require that an organization that asks for our funds say that they will not use these funds to advocate or support the legalization of prostitution.

Organizations are free to disagree with that. They’re free to do any study they want. We welcome data from all sources—the Netherlands on one side, Sweden on the other, all in between. We welcome information. But right now our policy is no. Given the link between prostitution and trafficking, it makes no sense to fight trafficking on the one hand, and at the same time promote prostitution.

RAMDAS: Other questions. In the back there, yeah. Please introduce yourself.

QUESTIONER: Yes, thank you. Jodi Jacobson, Center for Health and Gender Equity. Thank you very much.

Two questions, actually, one of which is relatively quick. You said earlier—I won’t need a bouquet, I hope—you said earlier that 80 percent of victims are women and girls and that the two major categories are sex slavery and domestic servitude and slavery. And I wonder, what is the methodology for arriving at that conclusion? If you could elaborate on that specifically, and then, following on to just your comment now about the requirement that organizations that receive either anti-trafficking or HIV funds sign a pledge not to promote, support or advocate for the legalization of prostitution, given that there is no guidance for that pledge, what the pledge actually means; what the language of “promote, advocate or support” means, and given that we’ve seen the effects on the ground of the limitations of speech, the limitations of programming that has been proved to be effective in helping people who are in commercial sex (work?).

I wonder, what’s holding up the guidance? Why can’t we get that guidance to explain what the policy actually means? And what civil society engagement will you encourage in developing and commenting on that guidance?

RAMDAS: Thank you.

MILLER: Okay, again, I may not remember every question in that statement.

RAMDAS: The first one was domestic servitude.

MILLER: But the first one focused on research. And this is—there’s a strong need for research in this area. All the estimates that you see from governments, international organizations, our government, UNICEF, NGOs, our estimates; no question about that.

Why are they estimates? Because victims don’t stand in line and raise their hands to be counted. I mean, that’s the obvious answer. You can’t take a census of victims. The methods that are used—we had a big conference on this a few months ago, and the statisticians came up with all mathematical-sounding formulas.

But to me—and I don’t understand all these formulas—it sounded to me like you take the law enforcement data, the prosecutions and the victims involved, you take NGO data of victims served, you take academic treatises, you take news media reports, and then you have some extrapolation factor. Now, they would describe it differently.

But let’s put it this way. Nobody—while there’s a need for better research, nobody disagrees that this is one huge problem. If you meet the people I have met—if you meet Kacha (ph) in the Netherlands, who came from the Czech Republic at 19 with a broken family thinking she was going to get a job in a restaurant and the trafficker takes her and other women and turns them over to a Dutch trafficker, they seize their papers, they take them to a brothel—she says, “No, I don’t want to work here.” They say, “Yes, you will.” “No, I won’t.” “Yes, you will, if you want your two-year-old daughter back in the Czech Republic to live.” And she did year after year.

You meet people like that. You meet people like Lourdes (sp) in Bangkok, from the Laotian hill country, trafficked, retrafficked, dumped at an embroidery factory working 14 hours a day, rebelling, getting beaten, stuffed in a closet, industrial chemicals dumped on her. You see case after case after case of people like that. You know it’s huge. You know we need better research.

The second part of your question was on guidance. Some of this relates to what the agencies that deal with AIDS funding are doing. I can only tell you in the trafficking area, where the law is as I’ve outlined. We’ve had no problems explaining this to NGOs. We’ve had no problems giving guidance. I’d be happy to have somebody explain why they can’t do anti-trafficking work because of this pledge. You’re welcome to get in touch with my office.

I gave a DVC—there we go, State Department acronyms—digital video conference when I was in India; 100 organizations, Indian organizations, on U.S. policy. And a lot of these organizations were involved in the fight against AIDS. A lot of them were involved in the fight against trafficking. And I explained, we want to do both.

RAMDAS: Could you use—

MILLER: But we don’t want to promote prostitution. And I explained, “You’re welcome—nobody’s opposed to distributing condoms. Nobody’s opposed to getting better conditions. But we will not tolerate the continuation of slavery.”

And they had no problem understanding our position. I got applause at the end—100 different NGOs. I think those out in these countries, wrestling day by day, know that you can fight trafficking, you can fight AIDS, and you don’t have to recycle people back into the oldest form of oppression.

RAMDAS: Thank you, Ambassador Miller. Other questions? Mr. Sorensen (sp).

QUESTIONER: Ambassador, thank you—is the mike on?

RAMDAS: Yes, it is.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Ambassador, thank you for your public service. I was interested in your statement just now that nobody—I assume that means nobody in the U.S. government—is opposed to the distribution of condoms. (Laughter/applause.)

Well, does that mean that the United States government is going to restore its support for the World Population Fund and it’s going to start permitting funds to the anti-AIDS program that permits the distribution of condoms, from which women are getting infected and dying by the tens of thousands? And it sends a clear message of gender attitude that’s inconsistent with everything you’ve been talking about.

MILLER: Well, you’re talking about population policy. And I’m not an expert on condoms, but I know this. This government has distributed millions of condoms throughout the world. And let me tell you, when you say, “Oh”—you talk about condoms and condoms. When people talk about this, I think of the transatlantic slave trade in the 17th century. And I’ll tell you why I think about it.

That trade—we like to look back. We think, “Oh, this was a struggle between the pro-slavery forces and the abolition forces.” No, it wasn’t. The main group for, quote, “reform,” early on were the regulationists. They said, “Look, let’s register these slaves. Let’s see that they get better food. Let’s see that they get better mattresses. Let’s even put a doctor on the ships. Let’s get better ventilation.” And the slave trade went on and on and on.

So I would say if somebody says, “Let’s get better ventilation in factories today” as an answer to forced labor, I would say, “Fine, who can be against that?” If somebody says, “Let’s distribute condoms in order to help with the health of those that are involved in the sex trade,” I would say, “Who can be against that?” But this is—these measures are not a substitute for the abolition of slavery. And we have slavery in the 21st century, and it is time that we put our energies to abolishing it.

RAMDAS: Thank you, Mr. Miller.

There’s a question in the back. Lynn. Yes.

QUESTIONER: Ambassador, Tony DeStefano of Newsday. It’s good to see you again, sir.

The General (sic/means Government) Accountability Office has an assessment going on of U.S. policy on trafficking. It was engendered in part by the concern of the Judiciary Committee that U.S. strategies reflected by the Department of State are not being reflected in similar policies by the United Nations. There’s a lot of other concerns that the chairman addresses.

MILLER: United Nations?

QUESTIONER: United Nations, yes. The U.S. policies are not being reflected in similar strategies by the United Nations. There are a lot of other concerns as well. I wanted to know if your office has been in touch with GAO on this and if you share these kinds of assessments that the chairman has raised in getting this inquiry underway.

MILLER: Well, this is the first time that I’ve heard that a GAO survey of all trafficking programs was caused by differences with the United Nations. I’ve never—the differences—I know there’s a survey, and I hope it will lead to good results and more effective and coordinated trafficking programs.

The only—I don’t know where the differences would be with the United Nations except we have been critical of U.N. peacekeeping, as I was earlier. The U.N. rapporteur, special rapporteur on trafficking, just came out with a report which I wholly endorse. She talked about legalization, for example, of prostitution increasing the demand and saying that legalization should be discouraged. So there’s no disagreement with the U.N. and this government on that.

So I don’t know—you’d have to be more specific and maybe even come up later and tell me what the differences are with the U.N. There are challenges. There are definitely challenges. When you have as many agencies as we have engaged around the world, there are always challenges of duplication and coordination. And there is the challenge that you mentioned earlier, Kavita, of trying to get funding in an effective way to the organizations that are out in the trenches.

RAMDAS: Do you want to take the clarification now?

MILLER: Yeah, sure.

RAMDAS: Okay, back here.

QUESTIONER: Just to clarify, and so I’ll read you from the letter the chairman sent to the GAO, “However, the strategies of the Department of State are not reflected in parallel programs by the United Nations, nor are the accomplishments obtained by these efforts,” presumably the U.S. efforts, “reflected in any actual measurable reduction in human trafficking.”

MILLER: Well, it sounds—I don’t know whether that’s meant to be a criticism of United Nations efforts or U.S. efforts. I guess it could be interpreted both ways.

I look forward to their conclusions. And if we can find ways to improve either United States efforts or United Nations efforts, I’m all for it.

RAMDAS: Question in the back. Yeah. This is going to be the last question. I’m afraid we’re almost out of time. So please identify yourself.

QUESTIONER: (Inaudible)—Wellesley College. I’m an anthropologist and I did research in Korea around U.S. military—(inaudible). And I’m also doing research on the anti-prostitution laws introduced in 2004 that were identified by Ambassador Miller’s office as the best practice in combating trafficking.

When the laws were introduced, it was implemented with severe crackdowns on the sex trade. For the first time in Korea’s history, thousands of women in prostitution took to the streets twice to protest against the laws. Fifteen of them went on hunger strike to protest against the laws because they want their means of livelihood. Their voices were not heard.

As a result of the laws, a lot of women ended up working in more underground forms of commercial sex, and therefore subjected to more vulnerable abuses. Many of the other women in prostitution tried to seek channels to go overseas to work in prostitution.

RAMDAS: Do you have a question?


RAMDAS: Please.

QUESTIONER: Ambassador Miller, explain how are these laws best practices in combating trafficking?

MILLER: Sure. We have a difference on what happened there. You describe women protesting. There were some protests by women engaged in prostitution, appearing with their brothel owners in the background. Those protesters were very few compared to the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of women and the women’s organizations that pushed for a change in that law.

Those women decided they had had it with the lopsided enforcement of the laws in Korea. And I fully sympathize with them. They decided that the present system, or you could say the past system in Korea, wasn’t working. There needed to be a new direction.

This is my last comment. It is easy to go backwards. It is easy to go back to the regulation systems that failed in the 19th century. But I think, for abolition to succeed in the 21st century, we have to be looking at what Sweden, what Korea is doing, even what India is starting to look at. We have to look at new ideas such as I mentioned in the United States.

What all of you have to consider—you have many problems, many issues on your plate. You’re very intelligent, learned. Many of you have probably read much academic literature in this field.

I would urge, if you have the time, spend some time talking with a victim. Go to GEMS and Rachel Lloyd here in New York City. Go to Washington, D.C. and Polaris Project. When you go abroad, talk with the survivors and victims. And then think, “What can I do, either through my church or civic organization or on my own or with an NGO, what can I do to take up where our forefathers left off, to finish that job and abolish slavery?”

And thank you all for your interest.

RAMDAS: Thank you, Ambassador Miller. (Applause.) I want to thank everybody here. I hope that we can indeed look forward to a day in which I think the environment—what we didn’t get a chance to discuss is Sweden has been so successful in being able to do that because they also changed so many of the other terms, including the economic conditions under which women are unable to have access.

And so, perhaps as we think about abolition, we can talk and agree on abolition of trafficking. We don’t all necessarily have to agree on abolition of everything else.

Thank you all for joining us, and we look forward to it. (Applause.)









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