US: Israel not doing enough to fight human trafficking

State Dept. report urges Israel to increase prosecutions, punishment of labor traffickers; MK: Gov't doesn't take problem seriously.

women_311 (photo credit: Bloomberg)
(photo credit: Bloomberg)
Israel is not fully complying with the minimal standards to eliminate human trafficking, but is making considerable efforts to do so, according to the US State Department’s 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report released on Monday.
While Israeli authorities have taken steps to fight human trafficking, “the government continued to take inadequate steps, however, to identify and protect labor trafficking victims and prosecute and convict labor trafficking offenders in the reporting period,” the report states.
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The report refers to Israel as “a destination country for men and women subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking.”
It recommends a series of steps to improve the situation, and calls on authorities to “significantly increase prosecutions, convictions, and punishment of labor trafficking offenders (including “employers”) and offenses; ensure that labor trafficking crimes are prosecuted under labor trafficking statutes; and ensure trafficking victims are not penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.”
It also calls for the government to deploy more labor inspectors and translators to work in sectors that employ a high numbers of foreign workers, and to bring an end to practices such as “binding,” which restrict workers’ ability to change their employers in Israel, as well as illegal brokerage fees.
The Trafficking in Persons report ranks Israel as a tier-two country on its three-tier system.
Tier-two countries are ones “whose governments do not fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act minimum standards but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.”
First-tier countries are those that are complying with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards, while third tier countries do not comply, and are not making significant efforts to do so.
Israel has company on the second-tier with a large number of Middle East countries and third-world nations, but also European countries such as Switzerland, Greece, Hungary, and Iceland. Third-tier Middle East nations include Algeria, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Iran.
In regard to the thousands of Africans who were trafficked across the Sinai peninsula into Israel in 2010, the report calls on Israel to “strengthen victim identification of migrants arriving from Sinai, and accord those trafficking victims full protections and medical treatment.”
It also calls for an immediate end to the practice of “hot return,” wherein migrants are caught and immediately sent back to Egypt, where they are often killed or sent back to the countries they fled.
The report offered some praise for “strong law enforcement progress” against sex trafficking and labor trafficking, including the first prosecution of an offender charged with trafficking a migrant worker.
Israel’s 2006 Anti-Trafficking Law provides for penalties of up to 16 years imprisonment for trafficking an adult and up to 20 years for trafficking a child. In addition, it allows courts to sentence offenders to up to 16 years imprisonment for slavery and seven years for forced labor.
While the report says “these penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape,” it states that in 2010 seven sex traffickers were convicted under trafficking statutes and received sentences ranging from six months community service to 8.5 years in prison with damages paid to the victim.
In addition, the report cites the conviction of six sex traffickers on non-trafficking statutes who received sentences ranging from 24 months to 7.5 years.
Israel has “continued to improve its protection of trafficking victims over the reporting period,” even though the government “lacked effective procedures to identify victims of labor trafficking, including migrant workers and migrants who entered from the Sinai,” the report states.
As a result, many unidentified victims have been prosecuted for labor violations, it states.
The government “made sustained progress in preventing trafficking in persons over the reporting period,” according to the report, which mentioned the opening of several investigations and prosecutions of employees who charged illegal recruitment fees and an amendment to the Foreign Workers Law passed in November 2010 that gives inspectors the authority to enter and examine private households where migrants are employed.
In addition, the report cites the opening of “456 cases of managing a property for the purpose of engaging persons in prostitution and 27 cases of advertisement of prostitution services, in efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.”
Upon the report’s release on Monday, US Secretary State Hillary Clinton said that in recent years, “governments have taken important steps, but we have to really mix the commitments with actions in order to get results. For example, the number of prosecutions worldwide has remained relatively static. And so the measure of success can no longer be whether a country has passed laws, because so many have in the last decade; now we have to make sure those laws are implemented and that countries are using the tools that have been created for that.”
MK Orit Zuaretz (Kadima), head of the Knesset Subcommittee on Trafficking of Women, said the report “compels the State of Israel reexamine its methods of treatment, prevention and enforcement in light of the changes in the patterns of human trafficking. The State of Israel is still located in the second tier of countries due to the fact that Israel has not done enough to examine the new phenomenon of human trafficking taking place on the southern border of Israel and in the [smuggler-run] torture camps in Sinai.
Zuaretz accused the government of “not dealing seriously enough with the changes in the patterns of human trafficking – trafficking of migrant workers and refugees. The current report shed lights on the fact that the State of Israel is ignoring its responsibility to take the right measures to wage war on this contemptible phenomenon taking place in Israel’s backyard.”