Thursday, June 20, 2013











Some people leave Iraq, some people come in.  There's very little discussion of either departures or arrivals -- especially when they take place for for less than humane reasons.  Today, US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke of the issue of human trafficking.

Secretary John Kerry:  Thank you very much, and welcome, all of you, to this remarkable room, a room named after a Founding Father who was a lonely voice against slavery long before there was a United States of America. And it is called the Franklin Room, and you can see Ben Franklin looking over us from the wall over there above the fireplace. It’s fitting that we gather here today in this room in order to mark the importance of our country remaining committed to this message that we send to all of the world today.
Thank you, Ambassador. Thank you, Lou, for your kind words. Thank you most importantly, I think everybody here would join me in agreeing, you are a TIP hero and we thank you for everything you’ve done these past years. (Applause.) And I want to thank you and your team and everybody who works in the Trafficking in Persons Office. Thank you, all of you who are part of this effort today and those of you around the world who helped produce this report. There’s a lot of hard work that goes into this. This is a year-long effort. We’re already working on the next one and we will make measurements that are based in fact and common sense.
To our TIP Report heroes who have made a very long journey on very short notice, we welcome you here and we’re very grateful for your efforts. And everybody here will get to share in the remarkable individual, personal journeys that they represent.
When we think of the scale of modern-day slavery – literally tens of millions who live in exploitation – this whole effort can seem daunting. But it’s the right effort. And there are countless voiceless people, countless nameless people except to their families or perhaps a phony name by which they are being exploited, who look to us for their freedom and for the possibility of life itself. It’s no understatement to say that we are working to tackle an issue that millions of people assumed had been dealt with a long time ago.
But the problem unfortunately persists, and I hate to say in some places can grow, and the challenge continues. And that is why the inspiring examples that are here today remind us not just that we have work to do, but that the actions of a single person can make all the difference in the world and they can actually bring so many lives out of bondage, out of the shadows, out of darkness. So I thank our TIP heroes for their very personal individual commitment, for the example that they set. And I thank all of you, those here and millions of others who are out there waging this battle. I thank them all for their commitment.
I want to acknowledge Somaly Mam, who is a survivor, who was a TIP Report hero in 2005, and who is a hero every single day in helping women and girls who have been abused to try to get their lives back.
I’m also particularly happy to be joined here today by Congressman Chris Smith. I’ve worked with Chris on this stuff. There’s nobody more committed or dedicated. So thank you, Chris, for your strong voice and leadership in these efforts. (Applause.) Trafficking in persons is one of those rare issues that can bring people together across the aisles without regard to ideology and without regard to politics, and that’s the way it ought to be. I appreciate Chris’s advocacy on this issue. For years together in Congress, we were able to work on this and some other issues. And it’s no understatement to say that he was banging the drum on this long before many in Congress even knew the term “trafficking in persons” or understood what it really meant.
Lou mentioned a number of great American diplomats, but he left one out, and that was one of our first African-American ambassadors, Frederick Douglass. A century later, the Douglass family continues to fight against all forms of slavery. And his direct descendant, Kenneth Morris, who is the head of the family’s foundation, is here with us today. He just came from the Capitol, where today Douglass was honored at long last in our National Statuary Collection. And we welcome Ken here. Thank you for being here with us today. Appreciate it. (Applause).

I know that's a long excerpt but if the issue is important -- and it is -- it's important to recognize those who work on it.  Feminist Majority Foundation has noted, "The three most common forms of trafficking are labor trafficking, including child labor, child soldiering and sweatshop work; sex trafficking, including child sex tourism and 'mail order' brides; and domestic servitude."

The State Dept's report is entitled "Trafficking in Persons Report 2013" [available at the link in PDF or HTML].   Human trafficking is a global problem.  It's not limited to Iraq.  It takes place in the United States, it takes place everywhere.  In fact, from the report, here's a US horror story:

 For over 20 years, the owners and staff of a turkey-processing plant subjected 32 men with intellectual disabilities to severe verbal and physical abuse. The company housed the workers in a “bunkhouse” with inadequate heating, dirty mattresses, and a roof in such disrepair that buckets were put out to catch rainwater; the infestation of insects was so serious the men swatted cockroaches away as they ate. Although the men were as productive as other workers, the company paid them only $15 a week (41 cents an hour) for labor that legally should have been compensated at $11-12 an hour. The employers hit, kicked, and generally subjected the men to abuse, forcing some of the men to carry heavy weights as punishment and in at least one case handcuffed a man to a bed. Supervisors dismissed complaints of injuries or pain, denied the men recreation, cellphones, and health care. The U.S. government filed an abuse and discrimination case against the company for damages under the Americans with Disabilities Act. During the trial, the attorney representing the men said: “The evidence is these men were treated like property…these men are people. They are individuals.” A jury awarded the men a total of approximately $3,000,000, the largest jury verdict in the history of U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

That company is Hill County Farms (aka Henry's Turkey Service) and Yuki Noguchi reported on the horrors for All Things Considered (NPR -- report is audio, text and transcript) May 16th:

YUKI NOGUCHI:  During the day, the men worked at a nearby processing plant, gutting turkeys under the watchful eye of a contractor called Hill County Farms, which was paid to oversee the men's work and living arrangements. Those supervisors hit, kicked, handcuffed and verbally abused the men, who were paid $2 a day. This went on for three decades, affecting 32 men. [Susan] Seehase (director of a support center) says medical exams later revealed the men suffered diabetes, hypertension, malnutrition, and festering fungal infections that had gone untreated.
SUSAN SEEHASE: Roots of teeth were exposed.

NOGUCHI: She says it went on and on because the men knew nothing better, and no one reported the abuse.

SEEHASE: Their life experiences didn't tell them that there was really another option for them. It's incredibly difficult to try to understand. And I have no explanation. And I don't know who can explain how this really happened.

 Again, human trafficking is a global horror.  One of the most common misconceptions?  As the State Dept report notes:

"Trafficking doesn’t happen here." Approaching human trafficking as a crime that occurs only in far off places ignores situations of forced labor or sex trafficking that may be happening closer to home. Human trafficking is not a problem that involves only foreigners or migrants, but one faced in nearly every corner of the world involving citizens who may be exploited without ever leaving their hometown.

The US Ambassador at Large to Monitor Combat Trafficking in Person, Luis CdeBaca,  notes in the State Dept report's introduction that an estimated 27 million people are trafficked worldwide but that, using data provided by the governments of various countries, "only around 40,000 victims have been identified in the last year."  The actual number, from the report, is 46,570 which is an increase from 2011 (41,210) but still lower than the high of 2009 (49,105) (please note these numbers begin with 2008).   Of the 46,570 identified in 2012, only 7,705 resulted in trials and a little over half of those trials resulted in convictions (4,746).  From those numbers on trafficking, it's broken down further for trafficking in prostitution alone, 1,153 went to trial and only 518 -- less than half -- resulted in convictions.  Again this is a global horror.

We do focus on Iraq here, so that's what we'll zoom in on.  The report notes, "Iraq is a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor."  Let's start with the trafficking of Iraqis:

Iraqi women and girls are subjected to sex and labor trafficking within the country and in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Iran, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia. An international organization reported cases of forced prostitution in the city of Tikrit; sex traffickers sell girls and women from Baghdad, Kirkuk, and Syria for the approximate equivalent of $1,000-5,000. Criminal gangs reportedly prostitute girls from outside of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR) in the provinces of Erbil, Dahuk, and Sulaymaniyah. An Iraqi official revealed that criminal networks have been involved in sex trafficking of boys and girls. An NGO reported that sex traffickers rape women and girls on film and blackmail them into prostitution or recruit them in prisons by posting bail and then forcing them into prostitution via debt bondage. An international organization alleged that police officers and other members of the security forces kidnapped women and girls and forced them into prostitution in Kirkuk and Salah ad-Din Provinces. Some women and children are pressured into prostitution by family members to escape desperate economic circumstances. NGOs report that women are prostituted in private residences, brothels, restaurants, and places of entertainment. Some women and girls are subjected to sex trafficking within Iraq through the use of temporary marriages (muta’a), by which the family of the victim receives money in the form of a dowry in exchange for permission for the woman or girl to be married for a limited period of time, during which she is subjected to labor and sex trafficking. Women are also subjected to forced domestic service through forced marriages and the threat of forced divorce, and women who flee such marriages or whose husbands divorce them are often vulnerable to further forced labor or sexual servitude. Criminal gangs reportedly subject children to forced begging and other types of forced labor.

The large population of internally displaced persons and refugees in Iraq are particularly at risk of being subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. An international organization observed that Syrian refugees in the Domiz refugee camp in Dahuk, Iraq, are particularly vulnerable to trafficking. Specifically, women may begin commercially dependent relationships with Iraqi men, men enter into employment without contracts, and children are increasingly pressured to engage in begging. In previous years, some Iraqi refugees in Syria reportedly contracted their daughters to work as maids in Syrian households, where some of them were reportedly raped, forced into prostitution, or subjected to forced labor. In other instances, Iraqi refugees’ children remained in Syria while their parents departed the country in search of improved economic circumstances, leaving the children vulnerable to trafficking. Previously, Iraqi sex trafficking victims deported from Syria on prostitution charges were vulnerable to re-trafficking by criminal gangs operating along the border. Iraqi refugees who involuntarily return to Iraq from Syria are highly vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking, due in part to the fact that female and child returnees typically do not have a support network or community to which they return.

 Some Iraqis are trafficked within the borders of Iraq, some are trafficked outside the border to another country.  What of those non-Iraqis who come to Iraq hoping for work or fleeing violence in their own countries?

Iraq is also a destination for men and women who migrate from Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Pakistan, Georgia, Jordan, Ethiopia, and Uganda and are subsequently subjected to involuntary servitude as construction workers, security guards, cleaners, handymen, and domestic workers. Women from Iran, China, and the Philippines reportedly are subjected to forced prostitution in Iraq. Some foreign migrants are recruited for work in other countries such as Jordan or the Gulf States, but are forced, coerced, or deceived into traveling to Iraq, where their passports are confiscated and their wages withheld, ostensibly to repay labor brokers for the costs of recruitment, transport, food, and lodging. Other foreign migrants are aware they are destined for Iraq, but once in the country, find the terms of employment are not what they expected or the jobs they were promised do not exist, and they are forced to live in work camps with substandard conditions. The Government of Nepal continues to ban its citizens from migrating to Iraq for work.

The report classifies Iraq as a "Tier 2" country and explains, "Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA's minimum standards but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards."  TVPA stands for "Trafficking Victims Protection Act."  How did it garner that rating?  From the report:

The Government of Iraq does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but it is making significant efforts to do so. The government conducted some investigations and at least one prosecution under the 2012 anti-trafficking law. The government also established an anti-trafficking department in the interior ministry, which collected human trafficking law enforcement data and operated the newly established anti-trafficking hotline. The inter-ministerial Central Committee to Combat Trafficking in Persons was active in furthering the government’s anti-trafficking efforts throughout the reporting period. The committee met multiple times, publicized its meetings to raise awareness about trafficking, and included participants from international organizations, foreign governments, and NGOs. Despite modest improvements in law enforcement efforts, the government failed to investigate or punish government officials complicit in trafficking-related offenses. Moreover, the government demonstrated minimal efforts to identify and assist victims of forced labor and sex trafficking, including those incarcerated for prostitution violations. The government continued to arrest, detain, and prosecute victims of forced prostitution and prohibit NGOs from operating shelters to protect sex trafficking victims. Nonetheless, law enforcement officials worked, on a limited basis, with NGOs and international organizations to refer some victims to protection services. The government also established a location for a temporary and permanent shelter for trafficking victims and drafted shelter guidelines.

Last January, Iraq's Deputy at the Ministry of Interior, Adnan al-Assadi, was quick to proclaim to Alsumaria  that he was on the job and was letting the European Union know, adding, "These workers enter the country either legally or illegally and some companies oppress them, hurt them or ridicule them in an inhumane way."

Does anyone else see a problem?

How about the fact that he's only focusing on the trafficking of non-Iraqis and his statements ignore the fact that Iraqis are being trafficked (in and out of Iraq).

He might need to refer to the State Dept's remarks on common misconceptions.

If he seemed defensive at the start of the year, he had every reason to be.  For years now, Iraq's government has claimed it was addressing (and solving!) the issue.  In 2009, Rania Abouzeid (Time magazine) reported on the efforts of the Iraqi government to respond to State Dept condemnation on this issue.   Abouzeid also noted:

As a story detailed, trafficking in Iraq is a shadowy underworld where nefarious female pimps hold sway and impoverished mothers sell their teenage daughters on the sex market. (See pictures of a women's prison in Baghdad.)

Do we need to repeat that in bold a few more times?

The reason I ask is, for years now, starting with the New York Times 'reporting' that women who had died were "prostitutes," through the more recent attempt this year of AFP to pimp that lie, we have noted it is nonsense.  If a group of women die, why would you besmirch their names?

Can a woman in Iraq be called anything worse than a prostitute?   Had she been branded that and lived, she would have risked being murdered in a so-called 'honor' crime.  The New York Times, to its credit, backed off from that nonsense.  It seemed to be long gone.  And then?  Dropping back to the May 22nd snapshot:

Alsumaria adds that an attack on a Baghdad home left 10 women and 4 men dead, an armed clash in Mosul left 1 rebel dead and two Iraqi soldiers injured, and they update the toll on the Kia mini-bus bombing noting 1 dead and seven injuredFars News Agency reports 1 corpse was discovered by Camp Ashraf.  AFP insists that the Baghdad home was a brothel.  They provide no quotes from neighbors maintaining that and, after the attack, they weren't allowed to enter the home so apparently AFP's confessing to visiting it before the attack?  They note, "Soldiers and police mainly armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and pistols cordoned off the site, which was visited by high-ranking officers."  Considering the stigma attached to prostitution in Iraq, I'm always amazed at how glibly some outlets are when it comes to making that charge about the just murdered.  They don't even wait a day.  They can't ever prove it, but it's apparently the thing to say when women die: "Prostitute."  Since they're so comfortable with it, maybe the need get off their little asses and start reporting on who is visiting these alleged brothels?  Or would that take all the fun out of their smearing dead women?  And note, it's not an even an 'allegation,' it's presented as fact.  Because smearing Iraqis -- especially dead Iraqis -- has always been a favorite hobby of the western press.

Can AFP explain how, the day the women died, the 'news' agency is able to say they were prostitutes?  Were their johns AFP correspondents?

If not, what are they basing it on?  Hearsay.  Imagine that, Iraq might be just like every other country on the face of the earth in that it has nosy and judgmental neighbors.

The neighbors don't know anything, they've just formed judgments.  Like the Iraqis who attacked the LGBT community formed judgments.  No one deserves to be harmed or attacked for the 'crime' of falling in love.  But not only did it happen, some of the targeted men and women weren't even gay or lesbian.  But they got targeted because of small minded, nosy neighbors.

Why AFP would want to help that along is beyond me.

But let's assume for just one second that the women in that house 'entertained' men.  That still doesn't mean they were prostitutes.  They might not have been willing sex-workers, they may have been the victims of human trafficking.

If that is the case, then AFP not only besmirched their reputations, AFP also allowed these women to be defined by the very criminals who trafficked them.  Maybe in light of the State Dept's report today, AFP can take a look at that?  And among the misconceptions mentioned in the report that AFP might want to consider in light of their 'reporting'?  Try this one:

 “She’s free to come and go.” Popular images of human trafficking include dramatic kidnappings and people held under lock and key. More common, but less visible, methods of control include psychological coercion, debt bondage, withholding of documents and wages, and threats of harm. As in domestic abuse cases, observing a person out in public or taking public transportation does not mean that she is free from the effective control of her trafficker.

(By the way, we were being kind May 22nd. Since we're addressing it again, the author of that report was W.G. Dunlop.)

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"
"Allawi calls out the US"
"Barack's unconstitutional and undemocratic spying"
"James Gandolfini"
"On my infant son and on the community"
"Everything old is new again"
"go matthew"
"Praise for the San Diego Union-Tribune and Mark Walker"
"Chicago Pride can't stop fawning over Barack"
"Movies you can watch over and over"
"Carly Simon, Janis Ian, Cher and Tina Turner (and the sexism of the music world)"
"The government's disarm con"
"The thrill is gone"