Today, the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held an annual hearing with representatives from the U.S. Department of State to review the 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report. The State Department released the TIP Report on June 27th, where Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for a “shared hope” among stakeholders that the 21st century will be the last to see human trafficking.
Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) presided over the meeting. He was joined by Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-MD), along with committee members Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Todd Young (R-IN), and Tim Kaine (D-VA). The Honorable John J. Sullivan, Deputy Secretary of State, and the Honorable Susan Coppedge, Ambassador-at-Large, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons represented the State Department as the hearing’s witnesses.
The hearing gave Deputy Secretary Sullivan an opportunity to highlight specific countries that improved, or dropped, in their rankings. Both Afghanistan and Ukraine moved off of the watch list to Tier 2, while China, one of the most talked about reductions, fell to Tier 3 status.
A majority of today’s discussion concentrated on two countries in Southeast Asia, Malaysia and Burma, whose TIP ranking improved in 2017,raising questions among the committee’s senators. Senator Menendez questioned Malaysia’s rise to Tier 2, stating that the sheer number of human trafficking victims in the country does not qualify its removal from the watch list. Malaysia’s climb from Tier 3 to Tier2-Watch in 2015 caused debate among government official, with some claiming that the decision was based on a political agenda. Ambassador Coppedge defended the State Department’s decisions, stating that rankings are determined purely off of the country’s efforts related to human trafficking.
Burma’s ranking was also questioned, specifically in regard to child soldiers. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently removed Burma, which moved back up to Tier 2-Watch after falling to Tier 3 in 2016, from a list of nations that exploit children as child soldiers; however the TIP Report, cite child soldiers as an abundant trafficking issue in the nation. Both witnesses stood by the Secretary’s decision, claiming that Tillerson made a factual interpretation based on the TIP Report’s findings that Burma recently released 112 child soldiers from government employment.
The witnesses also addressed the potential redesign of the State Department, stating that the TIP Report and anti-trafficking efforts will remain intact with a continued level of priority and integrity.
Shared Hope International works directly with anti-trafficking efforts in India, Nepal, and Jamaica. A blog covering these country’s 2017 TIP Report rankings will be released soon.
By Justin Pollard – Policy Intern, Summer 2017