Tag Archives: human rights

North Korea turning to human trafficking for foreign currency

WASHINGTON – To generate new income sources, the North Korean government has engaged in state-sponsored trafficking of its citizens, sending them to work as forced laborers in other countries and confiscating all or most of their wages, an issue of increased focus in the international community.

“I see it as just starting to get attention. It’s an emergent issue on the international agenda,” said Scott Snyder, senior fellow for Korea studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Both the Korea Economic Institute and the House’s Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission held meetings in Washington D.C. in April and May to address the trafficking.

North Korea, frequently ranked as the world’s worst human rights abuser, has lured between 50,000 and 60,000 citizens to work in industries around the globe with the promise they would keep their wages, according to a paper from the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights presented on Tuesday. Instead, the wages are sent to the North Korean government, generating as much as $2.3 billion per year.

Industries employing the laborers range from logging and mining to restaurants, and workers who complain or escape risk reprisal against themselves and their families who remain in North Korea, said Robert King, special envoy for North Korea Human Rights Issues at the State Department, at the House hearing.

Workers have been sent through bilateral contracts to around 40 countries, primarily Russia, China, Mongolia and nations in Africa, central Europe and the Middle East, according to a State Department Trafficking in Persons Report from March.

Snyder said the increased trafficking is one of North Korea’s ways of earning foreign exchange. Previously, the government sustained itself through other illicit means, such as drug trafficking, counterfeiting and weapon sales, but those income sources have been declining.

“They’re running a trade deficit with the rest of the world and it’s mostly shown in trade with China,” Snyder said.

“Whatever North Korea can do to make a profit it does, and much of it turns out to be illegal.”

One defector, Lim Il, told the Lantos commission that he had been a state employee in North Korea but went to Kuwait to work at a construction company, where he was required to put in 14-hour days under strict surveillance, with two days off per month.

“I think we were slave laborers,” Il said.

After escaping to the South Korean embassy, he learned that his salary had all gone to the Office of the Worker’s Party that manages foreign currency. “The money obtained through the export of laborers overseas [is] used as a personal fund for Kim Jong-un,” the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights paper said.

The U.S. and international community are facing difficulty curtailing the trafficking, said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch at the House hearing. The biggest reasons are that most of the work occurs in Russia and China, it provides North Koreans minimal exposure to the outside world which may help undermine the government, and officials have not decided whether to approach it from a sanctions or human rights perspective.

“To address this is going to require attention and focus from the international community,” Snyder said. “And the best way of doing that would probably be to make this an issue of concern for the counterparts.”

Published in conjunction with MarketWatch Logo

FOIA update: USDB releases Manual for the Guidance of Inmates (USDB Regulation 600-1, Nov. 2013)

WASHINGTON — On Monday, the United States Disciplinary Barracks’ Directorate of Inmate Administration released “USDB Regulation 600-1, Nov. 2013” entitled “Manual for the Guidance of Inmates” to the Medill National Security Journalism Initiative in response to an April 17 Freedom of Information Act request.

The 141-page document serves as the official rulebook for the treatment and behavior of inmates held at the military prison (including WikiLeaks firestarter Chelsea Manning) and addresses everything from media contact with inmates to rules regarding their appearance and hygiene.

The FOIA request was intended to increase transparency regarding the U.S. Army’s regulation of USDB inmates held at Fort Leavenworth, to better inform the press about rules regarding their contact with prisoners and to shed light on the status of civil liberties within the prison’s walls.

You can view the entire document below:

Critics call Obama’s Libya response weak

President Barack Obama came under heavy fire this week for remarks on Libya, which critics on all sides said amounted to little more than wishful thinking.

Indeed, the Lawyer replaced the Orator Wednesday afternoon. Obama said, “This violence must stop,” but offered limited ideas about how his administration will go about coordinating its end.

“The American people extend our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of all who’ve been killed or injured. The suffering and bloodshed is outrageous and it is unacceptable. So are threats and orders to shoot peaceful protesters and further punish the people of Libya. These actions violate international norms and every standard of common decency.”

The New Republic called the president out Friday for empty words.

“This ‘must’ denotes an order, or a permission, or an obligation, or a wish, or a will. It does not denote a plan. It includes no implication, no expectation, of action. It is the rhetoric of futility: this infection must stop, this blizzard must stop, this madness must stop…. Must the murder of his own people by this madman stop, Mr. President? Then stop it.”

So far, the U.S. has focused on pursuing sanctions and resolutions geared at pressuring longtime Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi into ceasing the attacks he has launched against the opposition, his own citizens.

The United Nations Security Council issued a statement Tuesday denouncing Libya’s abusive crackdown, and asking the dictator to act with restraint and respect for human rights.

Politico reported Thursday that the Obama administration also plans to support a Security Council sanctions resolution, expected to be introduced by the United Kingdom Friday.

Meanwhile, as the politicians and diplomats have gone about officially decrying the bloodshed, the situation has continued to escalate. Clashes between pro-government forces and the opposition moved into Tripoli Friday, with more reports of security forces firing indiscriminately into crowds of protesters.

Reports from inside the country indicate the resulting casualties could now number in the thousands, said Navi Pillay, UN high commissioner for human rights.

Speaking at an emergency session of the UN Human Rights Council Friday in Geneva, she said: “We owe [the Libyan people] our solidarity and protection from violence.

Obama said in his speech Wednesday that human rights are not negotiable, but has not presented specific consequences if the Libyan leader, who has vowed to fight to his “last drop of blood,” doesn’t stop.

Such repercussions need to be made clear and soon, a New York Times editorial said Thursday. Otherwise, the newspaper said, Qadhafi will kill hundreds or even thousands more of his own citizens in his struggle to keep power.

“There is not a lot of time. Colonel Qaddafi and his henchmen have to be told in credible and very specific terms the price they will pay for any more killing,” the Times editorialized. “They need to start paying right now.”

Amidst problems, US expected to rank well in human trafficking report

WASHINGTON–For the first time, the United States will include itself in the State Department’s Annual Human Trafficking report, to be released in June.

Though the department has been tight-lipped about the report’s contents, contributors anticipate the first U.S. ranking will be favorable. But some say such good news would reflect a bias in this notoriously political document.

“From what I’ve seen, we should be on the watch list,” said Nathan Wilson, CEO of Project Meridian Foundation, an organization that trains officials in how to deal with human trafficking.  “I’m not expecting the annual report to reflect the true situation.­” ­

The annual report has been around since the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, a result of then First Lady Hillary Clinton shining a light onto the global issue during  the 1990s, when the transnational crime is believed to have grown exponentially.

Trafficked humans often start their journeys in a consensual arrangement where they pay to get smuggled into the United States, but often end up working for years in jobs where they are exploited or even beaten,  imprisoned and sexually abused.

The State Department has ranked a growing number of countries ­in their efforts to prevent and address human trafficking. Information in the report comes from law enforcement officials, non-governmental organizations and state and local governments. The report then categorizes 175 countries into tiers.

  • Tier 1 countries meet the minimum requirements outlined in the TVPA.
  • Tier 2, generally the largest category, includes countries making some effort to combat human trafficking, but are not meeting all TVPA requirements.
  • Tier 2 Watch List countries have major trafficking problems or have had a recent backslide on prevention efforts.
  • Tier 3 countries have a long way to go in their efforts to combat human trafficking.

Thousands – conservatively estimated at 14,500 to 17,500 – of foreigners are trafficked into the United States every year. Yet, up until this point, the global report has addressed the problem in the U.S. by attaching the Department of Justice’s report as an addendum. The U.S. was left out of the ranking system, thus making a direct and similar comparison to other countries impossible.

Labor Trafficking:

Conjuring notions of a foreign land, sex and children, experts agree that human trafficking remains generally misunderstood in the U.S. Half of human trafficking cases do not explicitly involve sex, and many people assume that because the U.S. has robust law enforcement and social services available, victims will have a way out, Austin said.

“It’s psychological,” she said, explaining that many victims feel helpless and unable to break free of captivity even if they are not physically forced to stay. “People may have options, but they don’t think they do.”

Two recent cases presented at the Department of Justice’s 2010 National Conference on Human Trafficking demonstrated the nature of the half of U.S. trafficking cases that fall in the labor category.

They’re as ubiquitous ­ as hotel cleaning and nannying, and as American as South Dakota and Texas.

U.S. v. Farrell and U.S. v. Nanji both cast U.S. trafficking as a modern form of forced labor thrust upon unsuspecting people and perpetuated by ignorance of rights and mounting fabricated debt, experts explained.

Human trafficking in the U.S. is less about the stereotype of duping and kidnapping and more about coercion, said Ambassador Luis CdeBaca of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons in his opening remarks at the conference.

In the Farrell’s case, a husband and wife operated a South Dakota Comfort Inn behind what Michael Frank, trial attorney for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division Criminal Section, called a “cloak of legitimacy.” Frank described a situation that looked fine on the surface – a large corporation where the defendants called Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents asking the workers to be removed.

But beneath the surface of happy employees and copies of paychecks. officials found a sordid operation where Filipino workers felt so entrapped by false debt that they returned to their payless jobs even after leaving the country.

“They feared for their lives,” Frank said.

But after the recent trial and sentencing, the trafficking victims are living happily in the U.S.,  Frank said, and Mr. and Mrs. Farrell are serving sentences of 5 and 3 years.

Unlike the case against the Farrells, only one Nigerian woman was involved in U.S. v. Nanji. Trial attorney Susan French’s defendant was a Nigerian mother held captive by a Texa_s couple who forced her to care for their children for eight years, seven days a week, sending what totaled around $300 back home to Nigeria.

The defendant put up with the children sleeping in her room, separation from her own children and rape, but eventually forced sodomy was too much for her, French said.

The Nanji­s were found guilty on all accounts and are awaiting sentencing.

From a public health and human rights standpoint, this is a national security issue, CdeBaca said.

Experts expect that ranking U.S. efforts to prevent and deal with cases such as these will legitimize the issue of trafficking in the U.S. and expose the weaknesses in the system.

“It is significant that United States is including itself in the ranking. Other people might say it’s just a gesture or symbolic, but it shows we are willing to look at ourselves critically – showing others that we are holding ourselves to the same standards,” Andrea Austin, spokeswoman for Polaris Project said.

Some point to abuses in Mexican drug war

WASHINGTON–Mexican President Felipe Calderon and U.S. President Barack Obama used Calderon’s recent trip to Washington to reaffirm their mutual support for the fight against drug cartels on both sides of the border.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called the fight a priority, and both Democrats and Republicans have proposed beefed-up security measures on the U.S. side of the border. Most recently, Obama announced plans to send 1,200 National Guard troops to the southwest border.

Congress has appropriated about $1.3 billion in anti-crime and drug funding for Mexico through the Merida Initiative, a multi-year program launched in 2007 that also targets criminal organizations in Central America and the Caribbean.

But the militarization of the fight against drug cartels on the Mexican side of the border, and U.S. support of the effort, has raised red flags in some quarters over escalating violence as well as human rights violations and corruption in the Mexican military and justice system.

At a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing on drug enforcement and the rule of law May 18, Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch, criticized the human rights record of the Mexican military and the lack of accountability for human rights violators. Calderon has relied heavily on the military in his effort to quell the drug cartels.

“Too often local leaders respond to public demands to get tough on crime by condoning abusive practices that not only undermine the rule of law by violating basic rights but also fail to curb crime,” Vivanco said.

In the three years since Calderon launched a military crackdown on drug cartels, about 22,700 people have been killed in drug-related violence.

Beyond the violence, Vivanco’s testimony pointed to alleged abuses by the military, including rape and killings, as well as at least 100 people who claimed to have been arbitrarily detained and then tortured to obtain false confessions since 2009.

Vivanco said that last year Congress should not have given Mexico the 15% of its funding under the Merida legislation that is conditional on fulfillment of human rights requirements. A State Department report to Congress highlighted some issues, including lack of transparency in the military justice system, but found that Mexico had met the four human rights conditions.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., chairmen of the subcommittee, was also the sole senator in attendance at the hearing, as his colleagues were occupied with debating Wall Street reform. Durbin called the fight against drug cartels a priority but said the United States has a responsibility to see that its aid does not fuel human rights abuses.

“The military in Mexico in many instances operates with virtual impunity, resulting in limited success in stemming drug violence and human rights abuses that rival and surpass often the corruption of the law enforcement system they were sent to replace,” he said.

Officials from the State Department and Department of Justice testified that Mexico has made significant reforms. The Calderon administration has taken steps to remove suspect law enforcement officials, customs officials and judges and to reform and modernize its judicial system, with U.S. assistance.

David T. Johnson, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, wrote in his testimony that institutional reforms in Mexico are a work in progress.

“The strategy that the U.S. Government is pursuing with the Government of Mexico is an effective, long-term program, not a temporary ‘quick fix’,” he wrote.

As the drug war continues in Mexico, it’s a debate that will likely be played out many times.