Representatives from more than 25 mainly former Communist countries in Europe and Eurasia have concluded at a conference in Germany that human trafficking poses a threat to their national security and democratic development. Officials at the meeting say they are beginning to make progress toward elaborating a global response to the challenge, but that far more needs to be done.
Human trafficking has become one of the most lucrative sources of income for organized crime. The International Organization for Migration estimates that it generates more than $8 billion a year.
With all that money filling the coffers of criminal gangs, police officers and other security officials sat down this week at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in the German resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, to discuss the threat from trafficking and how to cope with it.
U.S. Navy lawyer Captain Keith Allred, the moderator at the proceedings, outlined the dangers posed by trafficking.
"Organized crime uses this income in a variety of ways to destabilize governments, to put into power those who favor them and their business operations, to blackmail public officials and, in countries where corruption is still part of the political landscape, then anyone who has a lot of money is able to corrupt government officials," he said.
Captain Allred also notes that human traffickers use the same routes as drug traffickers and arms smugglers. So, anything that facilitates one of those activities, facilitates the others as well. All three, he says, tend to destabilize countries and regions.
But he adds the threat from trafficking also has a more subtle component.
"Source states, the states from which humans tend to originate and be trafficked from see this as a demographic threat in which the best and the brightest, their young and their virile next generation of people, are being enticed abroad and kidnapped abroad and permanently depriving the source nations of the human power that it will take to run a society," said Captain Allred.
Conference participants note that there are some positive trends. Prosecutions of traffickers have increased, most notably in Ukraine, one of the key source countries
Laws are being amended to make it easier for prosecutors to obtain convictions. Police forces are working together more closely to confront the threat. And, in a blow to trafficking in such places as the Balkans, U.S. and other NATO soldiers are banned from patronizing prostitutes.
"Whereas, in the past, much of the demand for trafficked women, for sexual services at least, came from military forces posted abroad on peacekeeping or other kinds of deployment, now that part of the demand should be dried up by the fact that it is a crime in the United States for their armed forces to patronize a prostitute and all the NATO nations have agreed not to permit their forces to do that either," Captain Allred said.
But there is a lot more to be done. Without mentioning any country by name, Captain Allred says that, in some developing democracies, the rule of law is weak, corruption among public officials is greater and gangs are stronger.
"Part of the solution to that problem is funding from other Western European countries and American continental sources to help strengthen and train the police forces in these countries and to increase their levels of awareness," he said. "It is a global problem, and the beauty of this conference is that we are making steps toward a global response."
But in struggling economies like those of former European and Eurasian communist states, there are hundreds of thousands of people who are desperate for gainful employment. Captain Allred says many of them are willing to risk being recruited for a job in another country even when they know they could be sold into virtual slavery.