WASHINGTON (BP)–Though the Trafficking Victims Protection Act has been law for over a year now, the newly formed State Department office in charge of implementing the act has been nonchalant at best in making progress, say members of the House International Relations Committee.
“Like all laws, this law is only as good as its implementation … and frankly, I have been deeply concerned at the slow pace of implementation of the [TVPA],” said Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), the legislation’s primary sponsor in a report from CNSNews.com.
“A year after the enactment of this legislation, the State Department office … has only recently begun to get up and running,” Smith said.
At the time of its passage the TVPA was designed to “put an end to modern day slavery,” or the trafficking of human beings — the buying and selling of women and children into the sex trade, and the trafficking of men, women and children into slavery or involuntary servitude.
The legislation allowed for a Trafficking in Persons Office within the State Department, which has the job of offering assistance to those countries who have made strides in stopping the illegal trade of persons within their borders. Also, the Department of Justice was delegated the authority to prosecute traffickers.
The TVPA also allows for some economic sanctions in the way of non-humanitarian aid to countries complacent with the practice.
Under Secretary of State Paula Dobriansky reported to the committee that over the past year, the Trafficking in Persons office has been fully staffed and has made progress in getting some 85 countries to sign onto a U.N. protocol on trafficking.
“Many of our posts are reporting a higher degree of interest, awareness, and, more importantly, action since the release of the report,” Dobriansky said. “This increased interest is indicative of a larger positive trend as many more countries are increasingly taking this issue seriously.”
However, Robert F. Boyd, assistant attorney general for civil rights, said the Justice Department, which has the responsibility of prosecuting those caught trafficking persons into the U.S., has made modest progress in rounding up offenders.
Boyd reported that almost 50,000 persons continue to be illegally trafficked into the U.S. each year.
“Human trafficking cases are labor-intensive and time-consuming matters, often involving many victims and requiring the full-time involvement of multiple attorneys and investigators,” he said. “Nevertheless, the Department of Justice prosecuted 34 defendants in FY 2001, more than four times as many as in the year before.”
Boyd added that the Justice Department has opened investigations into 634 allegations of trafficking, and as of October, 89 investigations were pending.
Smith acknowledged that due to recent events surrounding Sept. 11 and the turnover in administrations the implementation process has slowed.
“I know that many things move too slowly in the first year of a new administration, and that since September 11 our attention and resources have been diverted elsewhere,” he said. “From now on, we do not have a minute to spare.”
International Relations Committee Ranking Member Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) said the U.S. can’t afford to take a lackadaisical approach to ending the trafficking of persons.
“We must remember that it is not only radical ideologues such as the Taliban who have oppressed women, but also criminal syndicates motivated by base greed,” Lantos said. “Our efforts to assist trafficking victims not only provides new hope and opportunity to the vulnerable, but also a powerful demonstration of the best American values.”
Pierce is a staff writer for www.CNSNews.com. Used by permission.