The Cable

Will the State Department sanction China and Russia for human trafficking?

Every year the State Department issues a report on human trafficking abroad, and this year it faces an awkward challenge in deciding how to deal with two huge countries with poor trafficking records -- China and Russia.

In last year's Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, both China and Russia were on what's known as the Tier 2 Watch List, which is the second-worst rating a country can receive. The rating is reserved for those countries that fail to meet the minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) and also have a high number of trafficking victims and fail to show evidence that that they are working to improve their actions on human trafficking. 

Countries cannot stay on the Tier 2 Watch List forever, and this year the State Department must either promote Russia and China to Tier 2 status or demote those countries to Tier 3, the lowest classification, which is shared by the likes of Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. Tier 3 status opens those countries to sanctions from the U.S. government.

"I am particularly concerned about the government of China's record," Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) said a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing Thursday. "The government of China has been on the Tier 2 Watch List for eight consecutive years in large part because its plan to fight human trafficking is inadequate, unevenly implemented, and the government of China has not been making significant efforts to comply with the minimum standards." 

An "automatic downgrade" from the Tier 2 Watch List was added by Congress to the law in 2008. A country can remain on the Tier 2 Watch List for two years, after which the president can waive a downgrade to Tier 3 for two more years. Both China and Russia have now reached that limit.

"China, Russia, Uzbekistan, Republic of Congo, Iraq, and Azerbaijan have now had at least four full years of warning that they would face downgrade to Tier 3 if they did not make significant efforts to prosecute traffickers, protect victims, and prevent trafficking.  Now their time on the Tier 2 Watch List is up," said Smith. 

Smith has been a longstanding opponent of China's one child policy, which has resulted in gender imbalances throughout China that create a magnet for the trafficking of women from all over Asia. China also forcibly repatriates North Korean trafficking victims who face severe punishment or death when they are returned to the DPRK.

"The government of China is failing not only to address its own trafficking problems, but is creating an incentive for human trafficking problems in the whole region," he said.

Russia doesn't have procedures in place to identify and deal with trafficking victims not does it have an overall plan to deal with trafficking, Smith added.

"Russia is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children who are subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking," the State Department's 2011 report stated. "The Government of the Russian Federation does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Despite these efforts, however, the government failed to demonstrate evidence of increasing efforts to address human trafficking over the previous reporting period."

China has been on the Tier 2 Watch List for a total of 7 consecutive years; Russia has been on the watch list for 8 years. 

Mark Lagon, the State Department's former ambassador-at-large for trafficking in persons,  testified that China is the country to watch most out of the 6 countries currently on the Tier 2 Watch List. He said that a huge number of Chinese suffer in the laogai, or "reeducation through labor" prison camps, in China.

"Some local authorities compel children to perform manual labor in farms or factories in so-called ‘work-study' programs-again notably applied to Uighurs," he said. "Onerous child labor in brick kilns is often left unfound or undisturbed by authorities. Absent addressing a number of these problems, China deserves to finally be placed on Tier 3 after eight years on a so-called ‘Watch List.'"

Logon also said that of all the countries being discussed as possible candidates for downgrade to Tier 3, "Russia is the one which clearly is moving backward, not forward, on addressing human trafficking, despite active U.S. efforts." 

The TIP report is set to come out in June. The State Department's Office of Monitoring and Combating Trafficking in Persons is run ably by Amb. Luis CdeBaca, but the position of undersecretary of state for civil society, democracy and human rights, which sits above that office, is vacant. That means the final tier evaluations might be adjudicated by Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, Lagon said

"Burns was particularly kind and frank when I came to Russia in 2008 as ambassador-at-large and he was ambassador to that nation. He confirmed Russian authorities did not look at human trafficking as a human rights matter, instead seeing it as only a security and immigration enforcement matter," he said. "Russia is backsliding, and he should note that."

The Cable

Kerry: Sequestration will force cuts in Israel aid

U.S. aid to Israel will be cut next year if the sequester goes into effect again, Secretary of State John Kerry testified Wednesday.

"Israel got a plus-up in the budget, I think to $3.1 billion total. But that is subject to sequester, as is everything, and we're not able to undo that," Kerry testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "So there will be a plus-up, but then there will be a reduction from the plus-up. It's still a net plus-up, but there is a sequester that will apply to everything, including Jordan, Egypt, Israel."

Kerry's math didn't match the State Department's fiscal 2014 budget request, released last week, which stated that the $3.1 billion requested for aid to Israel in fiscal 2014 is only $25 million more than was appropriated for the same account in fiscal 2012, before the sequester existed. A Congressional Research Service report from March 2012 states that the fiscal 2014 request is exactly the same as the fiscal 2013 request. How much aid to Israel would be cut due to the sequester is unclear.

The State Department's fiscal 2014 budget request doesn't account for the sequester because President Barack Obama included his own deficit reduction plan in the budget request, which is meant to avoid the need for the sequester. But if Congress doesn't go along with the president's plan, the sequester will kick in again next year and force cuts across the board at State.

"Sequester, folks, was not supposed to happen. That was the theory," said Kerry, who was on the supercommittee in 2011 that failed to achieve a bipartisan compromise on deficit reduction to avoid the sequester. "And we're living with it, and so we have cuts that we don't want. And that's the absence of making the policy choice itself. So, yes, there will be cuts under sequester."

The State Department's new budget request also includes $370 million for the West Bank and Gaza, which the State Department said "will help advance a negotiated, two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by working with the Palestinian Authority (PA) to build the institutions of a future Palestinian state and deliver services to the Palestinian people."

Kerry, who has traveled to the Middle East three times in his first two months as secretary, defended the aid the PA and asked Congress to give him a chance to "find out what is possible" with regards to restarting the Middle East peace process. He warned this might be the last chance for the Israelis and the Palestinians to reach a negotiated peace agreement.

"I'm not going to come here today and lay out to you a schedule or define the process, because we're in the process of working that out with the critical parties. But in my meetings on both sides, I have found a seriousness of purpose, a commitment to explore how we actually get to a negotiation, and we all have some homework to do. We're doing that homework," he said. "But I can guarantee you that I am committed to this because I believe the window for a two-state solution is shutting. I think we have some period of time, in a year to year-and-a-half to two years, or it's over."

Kerry also lamented the ongoing confusion atop the PA, which included the resignation last week of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Fayyad will stay on as a "caretaker" for a period and will remain involved in Palestinian affairs, Kerry said, but his departure creates confusion for everyone working on the peace process revival.

"Somebody here has got to tell me who's going to take the place of either Salam Fayyad -- and now that's up for grabs -- or Abu Mazen," Kerry said, referring to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose future is also unclear.

Neither Abbas nor Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu is currently convinced that the other side is going to make the concessions necessary for peace, but a recent breakthrough on economic development in the West Bank is a positive sign, Kerry said. He was clear to say that the economic cooperation was progressing on a parallel track to the political cooperation, rather than being all part of one process.

"So everybody needs to kind of not react the normal sort of tit- for-tat, stereotypical way, give peace a chance by providing some opening here for the politics and the diplomacy to work," said Kerry. "That's what both sides need to do. That's what I believe both sides are prepared to do. And the proof will be in the pudding."