As a human rights lawyer and a Korean-American, I am honored to take part in this month-long celebration of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) in the United States and to help advance the cause of human rights both within our country and across the globe.
One of the most urgent challenges the AAPI community must address – and one of the most egregious human rights abuses of our time—is the modern global slave trade: the crime of human trafficking.
Traffickers prostitute underage girls, force boys to beg on the streets, subject men to debt bondage in agriculture and factory work, and enslave women in homes as domestic workers. As we have seen in U.S. v. Lee and more recently in the U.S. v Global Horizons prosecution, this crime dramatically affects the rights of those of Asian and Pacific Islander descent on U.S. soil. Trafficking undermines the guarantees of the Thirteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
While the problem is massive and global, we are finally seeing progress through the growth of legal norms and regimes. One hundred and forty six countries are now parties to United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (Palermo Protocol), which supplements the UN Convention on Transnational Organized Crime. Palermo embodies the “3P” approach to combating trafficking – prosecution, protection and prevention.
Instead of focusing on only one face of the trafficking problem, Palermo calls on its member states not just to criminalize and prosecute trafficking in persons, whether sex trafficking or forced labor, but also to provide fundamental protections to its victims. The United States has stood at the vanguard in combating trafficking at home and overseas by promoting the “3P” approach and the ratification of Palermo. Under U.S. law, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) provides the foundation of our anti-trafficking commitment.
The annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, which ranks more than 175 countries on their anti-trafficking efforts and can result in serious restrictions on poorly performing countries, is a powerful diagnostic and diplomatic tool to aid us in this effort. More than 116 countries have now joined us in passing anti-trafficking legislation, but far more must be done. In the Asia and Pacific Island region, only three countries were given the highest rank last year, while the majority of countries remain in the bottom two ranks.
The United States is not above this scrutiny. Last year, through Secretary Clinton’s leadership, the United States was also evaluated and ranked according to the standards set forth in the TVPA and included in the TIP Report. Despite our high ranking, the report made clear how much we in the United States still must do to meet this challenge.
As Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, we must do more to help close these gaps, both at home and abroad. So long as anyone toils as a victim of trafficking in the United States, Asia or elsewhere, my office, our Department, and this Administration will continue to fight this plague wherever it arises. In the 21st Century, it is long past time for us to stop tolerating this kind of lawless global abuse of our fellow human beings.
Harold Hongju Koh is Legal Adviser to U.S. Department of State