Marshall Islands Rejects U.S. State Department Report On Human Trafficking

RMI insists it be removed from Tier 3 status; the lowest ranking

By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, July 22, 2016) – The Marshall Islands sharply criticized the latest U.S. State Department trafficking in persons report that lists this western Pacific nation as a “Tier 3” trafficking destination, the worst ranking in the global annual report. The government demanded that the State Department remove it from Tier 3.

The government “strongly rejects the Republic of the Marshall Islands’ grading in the report along with several of the world’s worst regimes,” Marshall Islands Foreign Minister John Silk said Wednesday in a statement.

“The Marshall Islands attaches great importance to combating trafficking in persons,” Silk’s statement said. “It is with regret that the findings of the report have displayed a total disregard of the ongoing efforts of the national taskforce on human trafficking and its partner law enforcement agencies and non-governmental organizations to tackle trafficking.”

The Marshall Islands and Papua New Guinea are the only two Pacific island nations to receive the worst ranking in the annual Trafficking in Persons report, released June 30. Twenty-seven countries received the Tier 3 ranking, an increase from 23 in the 2015 State Department trafficking evaluation. It is the second year in a row on Tier 3 for the Marshall Islands.

“The Republic of the Marshall Islands is a source and destination country for RMI women and children and women from East Asia subjected to sex trafficking,” said the State Department report. “RMI girls are recruited by foreign business owners to engage in prostitution with crew members of foreign fishing and transshipping vessels that dock in Majuro. Some of these foreign fishermen may themselves be subject to conditions indicative of forced labor on ships in Marshallese waters.”

The Marshall Islands “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so,” said the report.

But the Marshall Islands disputed U.S. trafficking charges. The Marshall Islands “does not accept that (it) is a destination, transit and source of women and children subjected to sex trafficking,” said the Foreign Ministry statement. The U.S. report offers “no verifiable data or information as to the basis of their assessment —whether it is based on verifiable hard evidence, or simply on rumors and hearsay is a question that remains to be answered — but the report incorporates these as though they are based on real evidence.”

The U.S. report “understates existing mechanisms and legislation in the books that criminalize trafficking in persons which are adequate as prosecutable activities,” the statement said. “The legislative framework is already there.”

Silk’s statement said the State Department failed to work within the framework of the Compact of Free Association, the treaty governing relations between the two countries, in terms of reporting human trafficking violations in the RMI or the United States.

“Instead of working with the RMI to actually address these issues, the Department of State has chosen to unilaterally publish an unsubstantiated report on human trafficking accusing the RMI of doing nothing to address the issues without having any actual knowledge of RMI efforts,” the Marshall Islands said. “The RMI government at the highest levels acknowledges that trafficking in persons is an unjust act and violation of human rights and that it is illegal in the RMI.”

The U.S. report acknowledged efforts by the government’s National Task Force on Human Trafficking to conduct outreach education about trafficking. But the report also said that a national action plan submitted by the task force to the government’s cabinet last year had yet to gain endorsement. The Marshall Islands acknowledged that the national action plan has not yet been approved by Cabinet, but said it would be submitted soon for approval.

The National Task Force on Human Trafficking, whose work is funded by the U.S. government, “has brought together government, non-governmental and civil society organizations to address the issue of trafficking in persons in the RMI,” said Silk in the statement. “Capacity building and training have been held for law enforcement and service providers for victims of human trafficking.”

Silk’s statement said the Marshall Islands “remains committed to enhancing various measures to combat this crime.”

The Marshall Islands is a close ally of the United States, relying on Washington for about 60 percent of its annual national budget.

Silk’s statement expressed concerns about the “transparent political motivations of this year’s rankings which brings into question the integrity and impartiality of the report. It is against this backdrop that the RMI government stands in strong opposition of the report’s speculations and conclusion and demands that the U.S. Department of State removes the RMI from the Tier 3 list of nations, where it clearly doesn’t belong.”

Marianas Variety
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