Top Senators Blast State Department's Manipulation of Human Trafficking Report

Friday, August 7, 2015
Earlier this week, a Reuters investigation uncovered how the State Department's trafficking experts were politically overruled on their bottom-tier ranking of Cuba's forced labor and human trafficking abuses by the Western Hemisphere Affairs Bureau, led by Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, tarnishing the integrity of the U.S.'s Trafficking in Persons report.

Yesterday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on the political manipulation of the report.

It was not a good day for the Obama's State Department.

From Roll Call:

Foreign Relations Panel Blasts Human-Trafficking Report

Testimony from a State Department official Thursday did little to dispel claims that an annual human-trafficking report was driven by politics.

State Department Undersecretary Sarah Sewall defended the integrity of the report, which upgraded the status of Malaysia and Cuba, to three members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by citing the report’s criteria, Secretary of State John Kerry’s public comments, and her own assessment — but occasionally declined to comment on internal deliberations.

The committee was unconvinced.

“This is possibly the most heartless, lacking-of-substance presentation I’ve ever seen about a serious topic,” Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said. “I don’t see how anybody could believe that there was integrity in this process.”

Committee members claimed both countries’ upgrades from Tier 3 to Tier 2 Watch List in the Trafficking in Persons Report were based on politics, allowing the Trans-Pacific Partnership to continue along a fast-track path with Malaysia included, and helping justify recent renewed relations with Cuba.

Corker threatened to subpoena State Department documentation regarding the preparation of the report if it wasn’t promptly turned over.

One of the panel’s main points of contention was that the results of the improved human trafficking situation were minimal at best and the upgraded status disincentivized either country from continuing to progress.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who has been one of the most outspoken critics of the report and of human rights violations in Malaysia and Cuba, cited a recent Reuters article claiming the TIP office’s recommendations were overruled 14 of 17 times by diplomatic bureaus and that the TIP office recommended that neither country be upgraded.

“We don’t comment on internal deliberations,” said Sewall. “What I can tell you is that the reporting that was done by the TIP office and the team at the state department was thorough and fact-based.”

“I feel for our witness, I know she has to come up here and do what she does,” Corker said. “This may be the worst day she’s ever had in her service to have to say the things that she’s reading to us right now.”