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Friday, April 18, 2014

Micronesian leaders slam human trafficking report
Presidents, governors wrap up summit today

Presidents and governors from around Micronesia gather for a group photo during the Wednesday opening of the 19th Micronesian Chief Executives' Summit at Fiesta Resort & Spa in Garapan. (Haidee V. Eugenio) Federated States of Micronesia President Emanuel Mori and Marshall Islands President Christopher Loeak took issue with the U.S. State Department’s 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report that listed their islands under a Tier 2 watch list for human trafficking and sex trafficking—labels that these leaders say do not reflect the real situation in their area and hurt their image and economic development.

Mori and Loeak are among the region’s leaders currently on Saipan for the 19th Micronesian Chief Executives’ Summit that is taking up issues of common concerns and solutions including climate change, environment, healthcare, education, and economic development.

They raised their concerns during discussions yesterday afternoon on the topic, “Preventing Human Trafficking in the Pacific Region,” whose presenters were U.S. Attorney Alicia Limtiaco and Sarah Thomas-Nededog, vice president for Westcare Pacific Islands.

“I personally challenge the State Department to give us the proof, to tell us who is doing [trafficking] and where. Unfortunately, their response was, ‘this is our own report, we don’t need to share our information with you.’ If it’s going on in the Marshall Islands, we’d like to know who’s doing it so we can help stop it,” Loeak said at the summit.

Loeak said the Marshall Islands have “very strong” laws on violence against women.

He said he also informed the U.S. State Department that its report “does not help us in the international community,” adding that their international development partners whom they ask for financial assistance for programs “tend to shy away [from us] because they think we are involved in human trafficking.”

“That’s why we have to be cautious as to how we classify the region or individual countries in terms of human trafficking,” Loeak said.

Of areas in Micronesia, both the Marshall Islands and the FSM are listed by the U.S. State Department as under Tier 2 watch list.

It means the country is where “absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing,” and where there is failure to provide evidence of “increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year.”

Under Tier 2 watch list, the determination that a country is making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with minimum standards was based on commitments by the country to take “additional steps over the next year.”

The U.S. State Department’s report says the Marshall Islands “is a destination country for women from East Asia subjected to sex trafficking. Foreign women are reportedly forced into prostitution in bars frequented by crew members of Chinese and other foreign fishing vessels,” among other things.

The same report says FSM “is a source and, to a limited extent, a destination country for women subjected to sex trafficking. Some reports suggest FSM women are recruited with promises of well-paying jobs in the United States and its territories, and are subsequently forced into prostitution or labor upon arrival.”

FSM has four states: Pohnpei, Yap, Chuuk, and Kosrae, whose governors and representatives are also on Saipan for the ongoing summit.

Palau was also listed under Tier 2, which means the country’s government does not fully comply with minimum standards but is making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with those standards.

The CNMI was also tagged as a “destination and transit location for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking.”

Besides the CNMI, four other U.S. insular areas—Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands—have also been identified in the same report as either transit, destination, or source for human trafficking, forced labor, and sex trafficking.

CNMI Gov. Eloy S. Inos, current chairman of the MCES, said the U.S. Attorney’s Office may be able to communicate these concerns to the U.S. State Department.

“It does not make us look good in the international arena, not one to be proud of, but I think we can all agree on trying to curb this,” he said, adding that the best approach would be to “prevent” it.

Thomas-Nededog, the presenter at the MCES on sexual exploitation violence and human trafficking, said those involved in human trafficking look at communities that are most vulnerable, the most at-risk. These include communities with sluggish economies and those where people are less educated, making their people more vulnerable to trafficking.

“So we come together jointly to say, ‘look, if we make ourselves less vulnerable, less attractive to these international schemers, they won’t come to us,’” she said, addressing Micronesian leaders.

Limtiaco briefed Micronesian leaders about ongoing regional efforts to respond to and combat human trafficking, a form of modern-day slavery whose victims could be girls, women, boys, and men.

She said victims do not necessarily come from another country or island, as she also talked about “domestic trafficking.”

Limtiaco, in a later interview, said the comments and concerns raised at the MCES will be shared within the regional task forces and coalition on human trafficking.

In her presentation, Limtiaco said unlike drug trafficking, wherein a person sells the same drug only once and profits from it once, human trafficking involves selling victims “over and over again” and profit from them as often as they can.

The three-day Micronesian Chief Executives Summit, held at Fiesta Resort & Spa, wraps up today.

Yesterday’s presentations included those on the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, regional transportation, regional energy, regional shark sanctuary in Micronesia, healthcare initiatives, the Regional Invasive Species Council, the Micronesian biosecurity plan, climate change, and the Micronesian Challenge.

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