OSCE summit to address human trafficking

November 30. Central Asia Newswire

By Martin Sieff

OSCE summit to address human traffickingThere’s only one way the 56 nations of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) can truly combat human trafficking and that’s to launch multilateral, broad -based initiatives that strengthen laws and their enforcement in all the afflicted member nations, according to those dealing with the problem.

And the OSCE authorities who battle the scourge of human enslavement across the Northern Hemisphere will be making that point at the OSCE summit which opens Wednesday in the Kazakh capital Astana.

Those officials believe that the success or failure of the massive 68-nation, two-day summit – which includes the organization’s 56 member states and 12 other national delegations – will in part be measured by the steps it takes to implement the recommendations of a massive OSCE human trafficking report published in May.

Human trafficking is a global scourge. The British Broadcasting Corporation reported this week that human trafficking around the world is now a $32 billion industry.

The most recent United Nations Global Report on Trafficking in Persons concluded that 80 percent of the victims identified by state authorities were victims of sexual exploitation. It was based upon data collected from 52 countries.

The OSCE’s own report documented 25 cases of human trafficking across the OSCE region, including examples from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. But OSCE experts point out that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Among the Central Asian instances of trafficking investigated in this year’s OSCE report was a family-led prostitution ring which trafficked young women to work in Chinese brothels. The Uzbek authorities confirmed 30 such cases from this gang alone.

The OSCE report also documented cases of young Central Asian women from poor countries who were recruited or enticed into captivity and who were then transferred through other countries such as India and Turkey to destinations in Dubai and the United Arab Emirates.

Part of the problem is that Central Asia suffers from long, complex borders whose states do not have the manpower or, in the case of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the budgets to police them.

In the 19 years since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, a massive security vacuum has opened in the heart of Eurasia and transnational criminal forces – large and organized as well as small-scale – have moved to take advantage of it.

And human traffickers most often prefer to operate through the poorest parts of otherwise effective states, diplomats dealing with the issue told Central Asia Newswire (CAN). They particularly prefer states like Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan where the national structures are weak, and where state security forces are preoccupied with other challenges such as clan conflicts, Islamist extremism or inter-ethnic community tensions.

The OSCE report also documented, however, widespread abuses and human trafficking rings in powerful and wealthy OSCE nations such as the United States, Italy and Britain.

To combat the problem, OSCE trafficking officials are hoping the Astana summit will adopt the 20-point plan trafficking officials have formulated to combat the scourge. They also hope that special attention will be paid to child trafficking.

“In line with the recommendation of the OSCE Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking in Human Beings as well as regional and international standards, states should strengthen cooperation and collaboration in their anti-trafficking efforts at national and transnational levels,” the May OSCE report said.

That strategy is at the heart of the OSCE diplomatic push in Astana on the human trafficking issue, OSCE sources told CAN.

The United States and Russia, the two most influential powers at the Astana summit, both support the OSCE initiative. But they have strong differences on how it should be implemented.

The United States sees combating human trafficking within the U.S.’ broader agenda of promoting human rights and democracy throughout Central Asia. Washington supports increased resources being directed to combat the problem, but wants to act within the existing OSCE structure.

The Russian government sees the scale of the problem as an argument to give the OSCE stronger organizational powers to channel aid and resources to national governments within the OSCE. It wants to radically restructure the OSCE to give it more teeth.

Though what form the solution will take is uncertain, the OSCE summit provides one of the globe’s best opportunities to draw the attention of the world and to harness the resources of its major powers to address the tragedy of human trafficking.