The United States have cut the ranking of Belarus in the 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report.
The Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report is the U.S. Government’s principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking. The U.S. Government uses the TIP Report to engage foreign governments in dialogues to advance anti-trafficking reforms and to combat trafficking and to target resources on prevention, protection and prosecution programs.
In the TIP Report, the Department of State places each country onto one of three tiers based on the extent of their governments’ efforts to comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. While Tier 1 is the highest ranking, it does not mean that a country has no human trafficking problem. On the contrary, a Tier 1 ranking indicates that a government has acknowledged the existence of human trafficking, made efforts to address the problem.
Belarus’s ranking was downgraded from Tier 2 to Tier 3 because Minsk failed to comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in 2014.
A country placed onto Tier 3 may face U.S. special sanctions, e.g. withdrawal of nonhumanitarian, non-trade-related foreign assistance and cutting off the funding for its government employees’ participation in educational and cultural exchange programs.
“State-sponsored forced labor continues to be an area of concern. In 2014, the government continued the practice of Subbotniks , which requires employees of the government, state enterprises, and many private businesses to work on occasional Saturdays and donate their earnings to finance government projects. State employers and authorities intimidated and fined some workers who refused to participate. Authorities sent university and high school students to help farmers during the harvesting season without paying them for their labors, in addition to other forced community service projects. Authorities reportedly forced military conscripts to perform work unrelated to military service,” the reports says.
“A presidential decree effective January 1, 2015, enables authorities to force Belarusians to perform unpaid community service if they are deemed to be ‘parasites’ on the tax base. Belarusians accused of alcoholism or drug dependencies are interned at ‘medical-labor centers’, where they are subjected to compulsory labor. Belarusian parents who have had their parental rights removed are subjected to compulsory labor, and the government retains 70 percent of their wages. Senior officials with the General Prosecutor’s Office and the interior ministry stated at least 97 percent of all work-capable inmates worked in jail as required by law, and labor in jail was important and useful for rehabilitation and reintegration of inmates. Inmates of Belarusian prisons—including political prisoners—cannot choose the work they perform, nor can they refuse to undertake work. Former inmates stated their monthly wages were as low as 30,000 to 40,000 rubles (less than $3). Students who receive their education for free are assigned to an obligatory one- or two-year work placement, as chosen by a state body upon graduation; students cannot appeal their job placements,” the report reads.
“A presidential decree issued in December 2012 coerces workers in state-owned wood processing factories and construction workers employed in modernization projects at those factories from leaving their jobs. The decree—which applies to thousands of employees—mandates employees not quit without their employers’ consent. The decree provides monthly bonuses to these employees that must be paid back if the employees resign, and failure to return this money could result in a court order obligating employees to work for the original employers under law enforcement supervision. Employees are permitted to appeal a refusal to leave the job with the government-appointed provincial governor, but not to a judge. Since the decree came into force, there have been reports of a very limited number of workers who attempted and were barred from quitting. Belarusian officials have noted managers can also use the decree to talk employees out of quitting. The government has explained the decree is temporary in nature and workers are free not to sign new contracts required under the decree. However, the government also noted it could not remove the decree because it is necessary during the period of implementation of investment projects in the woodworking industr.” The report reads.
The downgrading of Belarus’s ranking was also caused by the fact that Minsk failed to ‘demonstrate efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex or forced labor’.
The document gives Belarus the following recommendations: “Revoke the December 2012 presidential decree forbidding wood processing workers’ resignation without their employers’ permission; cease all forms of state-sponsored forced labor; significantly increase efforts to investigate and prosecute cases of forced labor and sex trafficking; finalize and train officials on a national identification and referral mechanism; increase resources devoted to victim assistance and protection within Belarus, including in state-owned territorial centers for social services; provide funding through the January 2013 law allowing public funding for NGOs offering critical victim protection services in private shelters; cultivate a climate of cooperation with NGO partners; refer all identified victims to care facilities; refer identified child victims of sexual exploitation to the education ministry’s centers for vulnerable children; and proactively screen individuals in prostitution for indicators of trafficking”.
U.S. President Barack Obama is to take decisions on Tier 3 countries within 90 days after the report’s release.