Japan blasted over human trafficking

Kyodo

The United States said Monday that Japan is not doing enough to fight human trafficking, putting it on a special watch list of countries that are on the verge of falling into the worst category.

In its annual report on human trafficking, the U.S. State Department urged Japan to employ all resources and boost efforts to combat the problem, including increasing investigations, prosecutions and convictions of trafficking crimes and providing better assistance to victims. “Japan is a destination country for Asian, Latin American and Eastern European women and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and sexual exploitation,” the report says. “Japan’s trafficking problem is large and Japanese organized crime groups that operate internationally are involved.”

The department put Japan, which was designated as a Tier 2 country in last year’s report, on the newly created Tier 2 Watch List, citing a lack of a comprehensive law against human trafficking and victim protection efforts.

The National Police Agency declared in March that only 83 women were trafficked into Japan and forced to work in the sex industry in the whole of 2003, up 28 from the previous year.

John Miller, director of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, said at a news conference, “We believe that there has been a tremendous gap in Japan that has a huge problem with slavery, particularly sex slavery, a tremendous gap between the size of the problem and the resources and efforts devoted to addressing the problem.”

Colombian Ambassador to Japan Francisco Sierra, who also attended the news conference, said 4,000 women from his country have been trafficked to Japan for sexual exploitation and other purposes, urging the Japanese government to tackle the problem.

The U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act, enacted in October 2000, requires the department to submit an annual report to Congress on the status of severe forms of human trafficking.

Under the act, the department classifies countries into three tiers.

The worst, Tier 3, represents a group of countries that do not fully comply with the act’s minimum standards and are making insignificant efforts to reach compliance.

These countries could be subject to cutoffs in nonhumanitarian and nontrade-related U.S. aid, such as military, educational and cultural assistance, unless they improve their records in the coming months.

Tier 2 countries do not fully comply but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance, while Tier 1 nations are in full compliance with the act’s minimum standards.

This year, the department introduced the Tier 2 Watch List category for countries that are in the danger of falling into the Tier 3 category in next year’s report.

In this year’s report, the department singled out 10 countries, including North Korea and Myanmar, as Tier 3 nations, down from 15 the year before.

The other Tier 3 countries this year are Bangladesh, Cuba, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Guyana, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Venezuela.

The department put a total of 42 countries on the newly created Tier 2 Watch List, including Georgia, India, Laos, Mexico, the Philippines and Russia, in addition to Japan.

Japan, which lacks a comprehensive law against human trafficking, currently employs the Penal Code and a variety of labor, immigration and child-welfare statutes to carry out limited trafficking-related prosecutions, the report says.

“These laws provide for up to 10-year prison terms and steep fines, but actual penalties have been far less severe,” it says.

At the news conference, Miller, who visited Japan in February, also said Japan lacks efforts to protect victims of human trafficking.

“If you look at the victim-protection effort, when the victims number in the thousands, I found only two small shelters in Japan willing to take trafficking victims,” he said. “I visited them both. They each have eight to 10 beds.”

Miller urged Japan to assume greater leadership in the fight against human trafficking as “one of the leading and wealthiest democracies in the world.”

“If Japan takes the lead and takes the steps that they have indicated that they will take, this will be a big, big step forward,” he said.

Countermeasures eyed

Staff report Senior government officials said Tuesday they intend to step up measures against human trafficking after Japan was placed on a U.S. government watch list for its lack of efforts in eradicating the practice.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda told his regularly scheduled news conference that the government will work closely with relevant ministries and agencies to bolster steps to prevent human trafficking.

The government in April set up a liaison body grouping four ministries and agencies to deal with the problem. The group’s main aim is to have the Diet ratify a United Nations protocol to prevent human trafficking during its next ordinary session.