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Colin Powell is the U.S. Secretary of State.

By Colin L. Powell

WASHINGTON -- Trafficking in persons is high on the Bush administrationfs priority list, as the president himself emphasized during his speech to the U.N. General Assembly last September. gTherefs a special evil in the abuse and exploitation of the most innocent and vulnerable,h he declared before the delegates.

We are genuinely gseized of the matter,h to use the standard diplomatic parlance, and the reason is obvious: The more you learn about how the most innocent and vulnerable among us are savaged by these crimes, the more impossible it becomes to look the other way. Women and girls as young as six are being trafficked into commercial sexual exploitation; men are being trafficked into forced labor; children are being trafficked into war as soldiers.

And the victims are not few. We estimate that 600,000-800,000 victims are taken across international frontiers. And that does not include those who are victimized within their own countries. The vast majority of victims, international and otherwise, are women and children.

Numbers so large can freeze our imaginations. But every case is different, and every case is monstrous. Consider just one example: Southeast Asian traffickers took Khan, an 11-year-old girl living in the hills of Laos, to an embroidery factory in a large city. She and the other children were made to work 14 hours a day for food and clothing, but no wages. When Khan protested this, she was beaten. When she protested again, she was stuffed into a closet where the factory owner's son fired a gun pellet into her cheek and poured industrial chemicals over her.

Such horrors, multiplied hundreds of thousands-fold, must not stand unchallenged. Under the president's direction, we have drawn unprecedented attention to the trafficking problem. The 2004 gState Department Report on Trafficking in Personsh to the President and the Congress, as mandated by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Report, puts pressure on countries whose performances are deficient.

Our monitoring system has three tiers, and if a countryfs practices land it in Tier 3, it faces significant sanctions. Several countries have cleaned up their acts to avoid Tier 3 status, and real people have been helped. Real lives have been saved, as a result.

Wefre also exerting ourselves more than ever to help victims of trafficking.

The State Department supports the Angel Coalition, which assists non-governmental organizations in Russia and is building an international hotline to improve investigations of trafficking rings and to obtain more convictions in court. USAID funds the International Justice Mission, an NGO active in fighting trafficking in Cambodia. The work of these and other groups is heroic, and gives us hope that ever more people are joining the battle against trafficking worldwide.

But we are not satisfied with our progress. Up to 18,000 cases a year afflict our own country, despite the redoubling of our efforts under the Protection Act. And we are not satisfied with our progress abroad because trafficking is linked to other problems of the gravest concern.

Trafficking is linked to international crime syndicates that peddle drugs, guns and false documents, as well as people. Trafficking is a global public health threat that helps spreads HIV/AIDs and other terrible diseases. And trafficking is a global security threat because the profits from trafficking finance still more crime and violence.

A host of international covenants and national laws already condemn and outlaw trafficking, and that is good. But agreements and laws must be honored and enforced if they are to matter. As we know from the campaigns of the past against piracy and the African slave trade, new norms take root only when the power of enforcement stands behind them.

That power cannot be just American power. Trafficking in persons is a transnational problem requiring transnational cooperation, and that cooperation is still wanting. We call upon all states to work harder and more closely together to close down trafficking routes, prosecute and convict traffickers, and protect and reintegrate victims.

All nations, too, must redouble their determination to prevent people from being lured into trafficking in the first place. We are not naive. The underlying sources of trafficking run deep. In many societies there is still a lack of basic respect and economic opportunity for women. Civil strife and corruption drive people to desperation, and into the clutches of traffickers. Racism plays a role, too, in some parts of the world.

Such evils cannot be eradicated in a single generation. Perhaps we cannot ever eradicate them entirely, but we can reduce and contain them. We wonft know what we can achieve, however, if we donft try. So we try; we fight. Other barbarities in human society have been made taboo and conquered. After all, legalized slavery and piracy were once common practices. Many believed such evils could never be eliminated, just as some thought that polio and small pox would be scourges of humanity forever.

They were wrong, and their fatalism was a part of the problem. As we know, for evil to triumph, it is enough that good men and women merely do nothing. We will not do nothing. Our goal regarding the crimes of trafficking in persons is the same as our goal regarding terrorism -- to stigmatize and stop it.

We fight not just for the victims, and potential victims, of human trafficking. We fight also for ourselves, because we cannot fully embrace our own dignity as human beings unless we champion the dignity of others.

(c) 2004, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Tribune Media Services International
For immediate release (Distributed 6/11/04)