I would like to extend my thanks to the distinguished panel of experts present today at this hearing. There is no timelier topic than trafficking in persons, as Congress will soon debate the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2011 (TVPRA).
The Helsinki Commission has been devoted to the fight against trafficking in human beings in the United States and internationally for more than 20 years. Now more than ever, as the world struggles through economic turmoil and traffickers take advantage of the impoverished and vulnerable, we must remain committed to this fight. In my capacity as Chairman and now Co-Chairman of the Helsinki Commission I contributed to the 2008 TVPRA. Additionally, I convened several hearings to galvanize U.S. government contributions to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in its efforts to combat this trend. The OSCE remains a leader among multilateral organizations in facilitating international coordination to end trafficking and we must better utilize its unique competencies.
Today, millions of people want to escape their impoverished situation in search for a better life for themselves and their families. Unfortunately, traffickers know this and exploit their vulnerabilities. It’s a sad reality when human life has been transformed into a marketable commodity to which unscrupulous criminals have turned to and yet receive lesser sentences than those who traffic drugs. This fact is most evident when you look at prisons throughout the world filled with drug traffickers in contrast to the few and declining number in international convictions for human trafficking, making trafficking in human beings a high-profit low-risk crime.
Even as we build momentum and awareness to combat trafficking in persons, criminals have not slowed down their operations. They are finding new ways to avoid law enforcement, adapting their operations to the effects of globalization and exploiting modern technology to broaden the scope of their illicit enterprises. Without a doubt, the new age slave trade is a transnational crime that bears resemblance to its tumultuous history, yet finds new sophisticated ways to maintain its grip besides our most guided efforts.
Whether it’s major international and highly structured criminal organizations like the Russian or Albanian Crime Syndicates or loosely connected networks of specialized criminal entrepreneurs, trafficking in human beings is mostly the business of organized crime. The diversity in actors engaged in human trafficking demonstrates the complexity and danger of this heinous crime. It also demonstrates how many vile people out there are willing to enslave others for personal profit.
Trafficking networks often run alongside other forms of organized crimes like migrant and drug smuggling, money laundering, fraud and corruption. Porous borders, corrupt officials and high unemployment rates are among the many factors that fuel this grievous crime.
Our own backyards have been polluted by this scourge, as organized criminal gangs are engaging in prostitution rings using the internet to recruit and exploit women and children into a life of sexual slavery. High profile cases of labor trafficking have also demonstrated how complex this crime can really be. Labor trafficking rings have brought hundreds of legal migrants into our country under what seem like legitimate businesses. These criminal truly operate transnationally in such an organized matter, that they enslave their employees in front of our very eyes and we do not see it.
Last month, the OSCE Office of the Special Representative and Coordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings organized an expert seminar on leveraging anti-money laundering regimes to combat human trafficking. At this event experts and scholars alike, including some from United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), came together to ponder the emerging challenges of this transnational crime. Innovative efforts like this to increase our comprehensive response to trafficking and identification capacity are vital.
The U.S. Government as well as the many multilateral organizations like the OSCE and the United Nations recognizes trafficking for sexual and labor exploitation as a threat to security and peace keeping efforts. The United Nations Convention against Transnational Crime and its Protocols and the recently released White House Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime have both recognized this fact. It is essential that we enhance our political commitments in these venues to match the evolving trends of exploitation and counter the increasing sophistication of organized trafficking networks.
I thank our accomplished witnesses for joining us today to help us formulate more effective strategies to address these new challenges. I look forward to their contributions.