Menendez Remarks at Hearing on Politicization of Human Trafficking Report

Menendez Remarks at Hearing on Politicization of Human Trafficking Report

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following remarks at today’s full committee hearing titled: “Review of the 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report.”

Below are his full opening remarks as prepared for delivery:

“I want to start out by thanking you and the ranking member for supporting my call for hearings because all of the concerns and reservations that Senator Cardin had and expressed are mine and beyond. I would like consent to enter some background documents on Malaysian trafficking into the record, one from the Malaysian Bar Association, one from the international NGO Verite, and one from the United Nations.

“In the State Department’s own words, the Trafficking In Persons Report, ‘is the U.S. Government’s principal tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking’.

“We are here today because the integrity of this year’s report has been called into question. And that means our nation’s commitment to our most fundamental principles has been called into question.

“Secretary Kerry himself, in his introduction to this year’s Report, tells us that ‘justice is not just a matter of having the right laws on the books; we have to back those words with resources, strategies, and actions that produce the right results.’ That is true here, and that should be our aspiration for the countries in the Report. Sadly, I’m convinced that this year we have not met that standard.

“Under your leadership, Mr. Chairman, human trafficking was one of the very first issues that we tackled: one of our first hearings, the first comprehensive piece of legislation reported from this Committee, it demonstrated that it would be a priority for us and I salute you for that.

“Subsequent hearings in the House, and legislation on Modern Slavery, led by Senator Cornyn in April, kept the issue at the top of our concerns. And the same day that legislation passed the Senate 99-0, the Finance Committee added my amendment to prohibit Fast Track treatment for the worst human traffickers, those countries the TIP report ranks as Tier 3.

“That provision is now law, signed by President Obama as part of Trade Promotion Authority. There can be no doubt that our fight against modern day slavery is a bipartisan, bicameral commitment to put our principles into action.

“But several months ago, we began to hear reports, both in the press and from sources close to this process, that this year’s TIP Report was under exceptional pressure to shape the rankings to meet political demands, not the facts on the ground.

“I am sorry to say the rankings in this year’s Report, held up against the hard facts about human trafficking – and compared to the conclusions from the most respected and authoritative sources – appears in many instances to be the result of external pressure, not the independence and integrity we expected when we created this process.

“In my questioning I am going to focus on Malaysia, a candidate for the Trans-Pacific Partnership that is now in final negotiations, and Cuba, with whom we are seeking to restore diplomatic relations. Both countries were promoted from Tier 3 to Tier 2 Watch List in this Report.

“Here is what key groups tell us about what is actually happening in Malaysia: a July 22 press release from President of the Malaysian Bar states: ‘An upgrade at this juncture would thus be a hollow victory of form over substance. The lives of an untold number of individuals bear silent testimony to the conclusion that Malaysia has yet to earn any upgrade.’

“The UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in persons, in June of this year, and referring to same time period covered by the 2015 TIP Report said: ‘The rate of prosecution of trafficking cases also remains very low which perpetuates the impunity of traffickers and obstructs victims’ access to justice’

“Commenting on reports that Malaysia was going to be upgraded, David Abramowitz, with the Alliance to End Slavery & Trafficking said: ‘Recent press reports suggest that the State Department is recommending that Secretary Kerry take an immoral and unprincipled stand in this year’s Trafficking in Persons Report by concluding that the Government of Malaysia is making significant efforts to combat human trafficking in its country. Anti-trafficking groups including the coalition I work with are urging Secretary Kerry to reject this unnecessary capitulation to the Government of Malaysia and U.S. Government regional and trade experts.’

“And yet Malaysia has been upgraded in this year’s Report. It sounds to me that your conclusions are not shared by any other concerned observers.

“I also have serious concerns about politics having influenced the decision to upgrade Cuba from Tier 3. The 2015 TIP report acknowledges that there has been no progress on issues of forced labor. In the reporting period, the Cuban government conscripted thousands of doctors and medical personnel to serve overseas and there are serious questions about them being subjected to political pressures to participate, doctors being stripped of their passport while they are in a foreign country, and the Cuban government keeping over 70 percent of the wages provided to them by the World Health Organization. The 2015 TIP report also states that Cuba is a source country for adults and children, some as young as four years old, subjected to sex trafficking.

“Yet, the information on the scope of this issue is extremely limited, due in great part to Cuba’s refusal to allow any human rights organizations or international NGOs to monitor and investigate any cases.

“Only recently have they even agreed to permit an NGO to begin looking at this issue. Without any real information, I cannot see how an upgrade could be justified. Mr Chairman, when he released this report, Secretary Kerry said: ‘we have to be true to the principle that although money may be used for many things, we must never, ever allow a price tag to be attached to the heart and soul and freedom of a fellow human being.’

“I am saddened to think that the desire to achieve other political priorities was the price we set on the victims of human trafficking.”