Each January, the U.S. government marks National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Human trafficking is a crime that threatens human dignity and security around the globe. Human trafficking undermines the rule of law, exacerbates conflict and instability, and enriches transnational criminal organizations that victimize an estimated 25 million people around the world.
Trafficking is a problem in both the United States and Kazakhstan. One of my top priorities as U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan is working with local partners and the government to expand Kazakhstan’s efforts to combat this crime. For example, this week, Kazakhstani officials are in the United States as part of the International Visitor’s Leadership Program to learn from American experts about strategies to combat trafficking.
For many years, Kazakhstan has been both a transit and destination country for trafficking victims. The country has made noteworthy progress in improving anti-trafficking criminal legislation and assisting Kazakhstani victims of trafficking. However, Kazakhstan is increasingly becoming a destination country for traffickers, which brings new challenges. In 2019, Kazakhstan fell to the Tier 2 Watchlist in the U.S. State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report in part because of the need for legislative changes to counter these challenges. The TIP report calls on governments to respond to all forms of human trafficking with the most comprehensive and effective measures possible.
Just in the past few months, Kazakhstan has made important achievements in this area, such as increasing the punishment for trafficking. The United States is committed to partnering with Kazakhstan in implementing the report’s recommendations. The most urgent recommendations include increasing efforts to identify and assist trafficking victims, particularly foreign and forced labor victims; expanding support for foreign victims; and investigating and prosecuting more TIP crimes. These efforts are achievable but require a whole-of-government effort to change legislation and policies, as well as general attitudes about helping foreign victims.
Having lived in Kazakhstan in the 1990s and living here now, I know the warmth Kazakhstanis show towards guests. We all have so many wonderful stories about the great hospitality that has been shown to us by Kazakh hosts over the years. I hope Kazakhstan can find the courage to show that same legendary hospitality in caring for foreigners identified as trafficking victims, for example, someone who enters Kazakhstan seeking legitimate work, but who instead is taken advantage of and exploited by unscrupulous traffickers. When this occurs, it is our solemn duty to ensure that victims are restored to health and dignity, even if they are foreigners, the same as any traveler to a Kazakhstani home.
I want to address the misconception that combatting trafficking requires restricting a country’s legitimate need to protect its borders and enforce its labor laws. The necessary changes in legislation are focused on punishing traffickers and assisting victims, not opening borders. As we have seen in the United States, protection services for foreigners are a necessary part of the state’s criminal justice response. Not only is it the right thing to do, but by taking care of victims we can also strengthen the cases against the criminals who have trafficked them. A criminal exploiting foreign workers could also exploit Kazakhstani workers. We know that for victims to be willing to testify and provide evidence in a trafficking case, they need to feel safe and have their dignity secured.
Trafficking is a problem that affects us all and will continue to be a priority—that is why I am so thrilled to be sponsoring such a distinguished delegation from Kazakhstan to the United States this week, and to be continuing our fruitful partnership with your country