HomeNewsAnalysisRegional Gains in Human Trafficking Report Thanks to Method, Not Progress
ANALYSIS

Regional Gains in Human Trafficking Report Thanks to Method, Not Progress

HUMAN TRAFFICKING / 19 JUL 2012 BY GEOFFREY RAMSEY EN

The United States Department of State upgraded its assessment of five countries in Latin America in its latest report on human trafficking, but its flawed methodology suggests this has more to do with politics than any kind of regional trend.

On June 19, the US State Department released its annual Trafficking in Persons Report, which evaluates the progress made by foreign countries in the fight against human trafficking. This year’s report showed that the number of trafficking victims identified by governments around the globe had increased by nearly a third compared to last year, rising from 33,113 to 42,291. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton told reporters that this year’s report is a sign that the world is “making a lot of progress” against human trafficking, especially in terms of victim rehabilitation.

The State Department report uses a “tier” system to assess observance of minimum standards to combat human trafficking, where Tier 1 indicates full compliance, Tier 2 implies that a country is not fully compliant but is making progress, and Tier 3 means non-compliance. Countries may also be assigned a Tier 2 Watch List ranking, which applies to countries that are not making progress and are in danger of dropping to Tier 3.

Of the 29 countries that saw their rating on anti-human trafficking measures increase this year, five were in Latin America. The US promoted Panama, the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica to Tier 2, and raised Venezuela’s rating from non-compliant to partly compliant. In addition, Nicaragua has been categorized as a Tier 1 nation for the first time since the State Department began assigning tier rankings in 2005. It now stands with Colombia as the only two countries in Latin America to fully comply with basic legal standards for the elimination of trafficking in persons.

According to the Director of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Luis CdeBaca, the upgrades are indicative of a larger trend in Latin America. In a special briefing following the report’s release, CdeBaca attributed this development to an increase in political will to tackle human trafficking in the region. He also claimed that the Organization of American States (OAS), which organized an ambitious anti-trafficking plan for the region in 2010, has provided “a very positive framework in which countries can find a way forward.”

In spite of the optimistic statements of US officials, however, the State Department report is only an assessment of anti-trafficking laws, and not a reflection of the overall state of trafficking in persons. As noted in the document’s introduction, the tier system “is based more on the extent of government action to combat trafficking than on the size of the problem.” This distinction is especially important in Latin America, where state institutions are relatively weak and the rule of law is largely absent in rural areas. Although the State Department’s rating system ostensibly accounts for this by considering the number of prosecutions and successful convictions of traffickers in a country, this does not take into account the local scale of human trafficking. For instance, human trafficking in Uruguay – which is a Tier 2 nation -- for example, is far less endemic than in Nicaragua, despite the Central American country’s top rating.

Moreover, the tier system is flawed due to its reliance on cooperation with US authorities, a requirement which opens it up to politicization. In order to qualify for Tier 1 status, foreign governments must provide the State Department with their judicial records on human trafficking crimes for the past reporting period. Those that do not are penalized, and “presumed not to have vigorously investigated, prosecuted, convicted or sentenced such acts.” This is the likely reason why Cuba, a longtime adversary of the US, is the only country in the western hemisphere with a Tier 3 label. Although the report describes media accounts of a handful of sex trafficking arrests there, the island nation “did not respond to requests for information” on the matter.

Because of these flaws in the tier system, the changes in this year’s Trafficking in Persons Report cannot be interpreted as indicative of a region-wide crackdown. Ultimately, the illegal trade in human beings for sexual exploitation or forced labor remains a serious problem in Latin America, one which will not likely be solved by judicial measures alone. While strong legal deterrents are important, the phenomenon is fueled by deeper socioeconomic causes like poverty and unemployment, factors that are more difficult for governments to address.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

HAITI / 23 MAR 2022

A wave of violence has rocked the small Haitian town of Croix-des-Bouquets, shining a light on how this strategic area…

GENDER AND CRIME / 11 FEB 2021

Ongoing interceptions targeting sex trafficking rings operating between Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago have revealed the extent to which Venezuelan…

BOLIVIA / 25 JUL 2022

Venezuelan gang, Tren de Aragua, has gradually become one of South America's main criminal threats, with Chile its latest target.

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Escaping Barrio 18

27 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an investigation charting the story of Desafío, a 28-year-old Barrio 18 gang member who is desperate to escape gang life. But there’s one problem: he’s…

THE ORGANIZATION

Europe Coverage Makes a Splash

20 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an analysis of the role of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport as an arrival hub for cocaine and methamphetamine from Mexico.  The article was picked up by…

THE ORGANIZATION

World Looks to InSight Crime for Mexico Expertise

13 JAN 2023

Our coverage of the arrest of Chapitos’ co-founder Ovidio Guzmán López in Mexico has received worldwide attention.In the UK, outlets including The Independent and BBC…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Shares Expertise with US State Department

16 DEC 2022

Last week, InSight Crime Co-founder Steven Dudley took part in the International Anti-Corruption Conference organized by the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, & Labor and…

THE ORGANIZATION

Immediate Response to US-Mexico Marijuana Investigation

9 DEC 2022

InSight Crime’s investigation into how the legalization of marijuana in many US states has changed Mexico’s criminal dynamics made a splash this week appearing on the front page of…