About the Author: Ambassador Mark P. Lagon is Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State and Director of the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Read Ambassador Lagon's previous entry.
After Sri Lanka, I flew to Pakistan under the backdrop of political transition (I was there between the election and inauguration of the new President) and the threat of terrorism within that country (manifested in a bombing at the Marriott hotel just days after I left). I was impressed with the will of the Government of Pakistan (GOP) to address trafficking in persons (TIP) in spite of this context. I was impressed by how seriously the Federal Investigation Agency took transnational trafficking from a law enforcement perspective. In particular, while throughout South Asia prosecutions for TIP crimes all too rarely move forward, the GOP is following through with prosecutions and punishments of traffickers.
Also, I was struck by the confident, frank dialogue of this major South Asian democracy on TIP and its eagerness to have specific and direct exchanges about fighting human trafficking. They welcomed our constructive criticism in private and in public (such as at the forum co-hosted by the Ministry of Interior, in which I took part). It represented a refreshing tone of partnership on the sub-continent.
I also met with the NGO Trocaire, which educated me on the serious issue of bonded labor. While a modicum of bonded laborers have obtained freedom and restitution, there has not been a single prosecution under the 1992 law banning bonded labor. My team and I called for more serious law enforcement efforts against bonded labor. Observers associate bonded labor on the scale of millions with India, but bonded labor exists aplenty in Pakistan, tied up in powerful ancient landlord relationships in need of long-term reform. Caste remains a source of bonded labor as in India, although elites and the public don’t frequently admit it in a Muslim society. In addition, I noted that even with the strong law enforcement there needs to be practical steps to increase protections for victims of human trafficking.
My final stop was Jordan. In 1996, in support of the Middle East Peace Process and to bolster Jordanian economic stability and prosperity, the United States established Qualified Industrial Zones (QIZs) with free trade access for Jordanian exports containing Israeli content to the United States. Foreign workers comprise the bulk of the labor force in the QIZs. In 2006, reports of abuses and possible TIP conditions led the Government of Jordan (GOJ) to investigate and address problems. The GOJ is focusing on labor conditions in the QIZs, beefing up the number of labor inspectors newly trained to spot TIP. I was impressed with the GOJ’s efforts to seriously address these problems, which they consider deeply unfortunate. I was also encouraged by the Government’s plan to develop a shelter and a comprehensive anti-TIP law and am hopeful for action soon.
In lengthy meetings with GOJ officials, I urged for more prosecutions and punishments of convicted human traffickers. Specifically, I see a need for improved follow-through with prosecutions and for convictions with serious sentences for labor exploiters. I also urged the GOJ to guard against migrant workers who can be exploited as domestic servants and forced to work in harsh conditions. I pressed my interlocutors not to throw up their hands and say that private homes cannot be inspected, leaving this form of human trafficking hidden and ignored. The Jordanians expressed a willingness to take steps on this difficult problem.
As we struggle with this problem at home as well, we understand that eliminating trafficking in persons is complicated and difficult. In these four countries, partly as a result of our engagement, I believe we raised the level of awareness to this problem and strengthened the willingness to tackle the multi-dimensional threat that human trafficking poses.