From Cuba to Uzbekistan: Politics in the TIP Report?

In July the U.S. Department of State (DOS) released its 2015 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report. The report ranks countries based on efforts to meet the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s (TVPA) minimum standards. This year there were some surprising results. The State Department’s senior political staff—disregarding the recommendations of the experts within the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP Office) who compile the report—apparently inflated some countries’ rankings.

The TIP Office recommended that both Cuba and Uzbekistan receive a Tier 3 ranking, the lowest possible, indicating that they’re neither complying with the minimum standards nor making significant efforts to do so. Instead they were placed on the Tier 2 Watch List, meant for countries that have a significant or increasing number of human trafficking victims and do little to combat the problem, but are making efforts to comply. The stark difference led members of Congress and anti-trafficking groups to accuse the DOS of politicizing the TIP Report.

Secretary of State John Kerry recently met with leaders from five Central Asian countries, including Uzbekistan. The group then issued a Joint Declaration of Partnership and Cooperation, which highlighted nine areas for multilateral commitment. One such item: “Enhance cooperation to prevent and counter transboundary threats and challenges such as terrorism, trafficking of weapons of mass destruction, illicit drugs, and human beings.” But the TIP report shows that the Uzbek government continues to compel adults and children into forced labor during the annual cotton harvest.

On July 20th—seven days before the TIP Report’s release—Cuba and the United States re-established diplomatic relations. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) called the decision to upgrade Cuba’s ranking “the worst form of politicization of an important anti-trafficking tool.” He noted that the country has yet to establish a single law identifying labor trafficking as a crime, indicating that the upgrade “sends a chilling message that the U.S., at least under this president, is more interested in its historic Cuba policy than it is in challenging the Castro regime to protect Cuba’s youth from human trafficking exploitation.”

The TIP Report remains a powerful tool for the United States to combat slavery. But even the appearance of politicization can undermine its effectiveness. To maintain the report’s integrity, whether in Cuba, Uzbekistan, Malaysia, China, or any hotspot of human trafficking, politics must stay out of the way.

For more information on Human Rights First’s efforts to combat modern day slavery, read our blueprint: How to Dismantle the Business of Human Trafficking.


Published on November 13, 2015


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