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Trafficking in women could threaten U.S. aid

By Joseph Algazy, 07/13/2001 Ha'aretz Correspondent and Agencies


If the Israeli government does not take significant steps to halt trafficking in women, it will face U.S. sanctions. "Israel does not yet meet the minimum standards for combating trafficking in persons, and has not yet made significant efforts to combat the problem," the State Department said in a scalding report on human trafficking in 2001 issued last night.

The report cites Israel as "a destination country for women from Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, Brazil, Turkey, South Africa, and some countries in Asia." It includes Israel in a "Third Tier" list of 23 countries where human trafficking is endemic, but does note that Israel "has begun to take steps" to combat the trade - mainly in women for prostitution.

The countries named are Albania, Bahrain, Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Burma, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Greece, Indonesia, Israel, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Pakistan, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Sudan, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Yugoslavia.

The report was prepared under American legislation approved in October that calls for imposing economic sanctions in 2003 against countries that fail to act against traffickers or protect their victims. If the government does not take significant steps to end the human trade, Israel will have to face the sanctions.

Trafficking as a problem has reached "staggering" proportions around the globe, says the report. Research "clearly demonstrates that most governments are taking steps to curb this horrific practice ... of trafficked victims being subjected to threats against their person and family, violence, horrific living conditions and dangerous work places."

The "root causes," says the report, "are greed, moral turpitude, economics, political instability and transitional and social factors." The report says the Israeli government "recognizes that trafficking in persons is a problem, but devotes limited resources to combating it."

NGOs and some concerned state officials have strongly criticized the government for failing to take vigorous action against trafficking, especially given the sometimes violent practices of the traffickers and the significant numbers of women who are ferried into the country.

"In June 2000, the Knesset amended a 1997 prostitution law to prohibit the buying or selling of persons, or forcing a person to leave their country of residence to engage in prostitution. The penalties for rape and violation of the 1997 prostitution law require close to a doubling of sentences if the victim is a minor.

"The government has convicted one trafficker under the new legislation," the report comments laconically. The State Department says the government "has provided training to immigration officials at Ben Gurion airport," however "it has not formally begun cooperation with other governments on trafficking cases," but did work with Ukrainian officials on one case.

"The government has not conducted anti-trafficking information campaigns or other efforts aimed at prevention. Little protection is provided to trafficked persons," the report says. "Victims of trafficking are detained, jailed in a special women's prison separate from other female prisoners, and deported. Victims who are willing to testify against traffickers may be granted relief from immediate deportation, but the government does not actively encourage victims to raise charges against traffickers.

The report continues: "Israeli NGOs have encouraged victims to take legal action. Some victims have accused individual police officers of complicity with brothel owners and traffickers. The government provides limited funding to NGOs for assistance to victims."

Israeli law enforcement officials estimate that 85 percent of the prostitutes in the country are illegal aliens smuggled into Israel via Sinai. They say present laws do little to protect the women and enable the pimps and slave traders to operate with relative impunity.

A report under preparation by a committee including police and prosecutors is nearing completion and is expected to include recommendations for a separate hostel for prostitutes escaping the clutches of slave traders, protection for the prostitutes when they testify against pimps, and a legal defense mechanism that eliminates a relatively common occurrence of the pimps hiring lawyers for the women.


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