Conference Attendees Focus on Stopping Illicit Trafficking
By Joe Ferrare
Special to American Forces Press Service
SKOPJE, Macedonia, Dec. 7, 2005 Organized crime, trafficking and similar activities pose a serious threat to democracy, the U.S. ambassador to Macedonia told attendees here at a conference aimed at fighting such activities.
Gillian Milovanovic was one of a trio of speakers who kicked off the three-day Regional Cooperation in Combating Illicit Trafficking conference, a joint venture between the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, and Macedonia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
One of the first tasks facing the more than 70 senior leaders from more than a dozen nations and international organizations was to forge a joint identity, said Marshall Center Deputy Director Horst Schmalfeld, a retired German air force major general.
"We will address the role of regional cooperation in combating illicit trafficking, And I stress the term 'regional,'" he said. "We're talking cross-border issues, in essence, and you have to form a region to find an identity and then you will be able to take ownership to fight this problem."
He said countries need to review national measures -- education, training, equipment -- and increase cooperation within nations. Participating nations also need to "enhance joint and combined activities in support of the international community's fight against illicit trafficking, including those actions taken by governmental and non-governmental institutions."
"Third, the most important subject, I think, is to improve the regional cooperation in this fight," Schmalfeld explained. "And of course, we need your help on the fourth objective, which is to offer suggestions on the way ahead."
Schmalfeld went on to link illicit trafficking with terrorism, noting the ways in which terrorists take advantage of weaknesses caused by illicit trafficking. "Illicit trafficking has a direct, maybe indirect, link to terrorism. Be it funding for terrorism by illicit trafficking or be it by lines of communication terrorists can use, lines of communication established by illicit trafficking," he said.
Milovanovic expanded on that theme by explaining how crime weakens many aspects of a nation's development. "The number of democratic, free-market governments has grown consistently in Europe and around the world," Milovanovic said. "Sadly, however, the very freedoms that characterize democracy and free markets can be and are being exploited by criminals.
"There is evidence that transnational crime, corruption and violence are on the increase. And it is equally clear that trafficking undermines regional security, stability and economic development," she said.
Milovanovic used one form of illicit trafficking, the trafficking of people, to show the spread and the efforts to stem the spread of illicit trafficking.
"No country, including my own, is immune from the cancer of (human) trafficking," the ambassador said. "By a conservative estimate, something between 15,000 and 20,000 people are trafficked into the United States every year. Worldwide, there are estimates that between 600,000 and 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year.
"Victims of trafficking are forced into prostitution, hard labor, child soldiering and other forms of involuntary servitude -- a fancy name for slavery," she continued. "Ending human trafficking is a very high priority for the United States. Our government, law enforcement agencies and citizen organizations are taking serious and concrete steps to prevent trafficking, protect victims and prosecute those who engage in trafficking.
She said President Bush and the U.S. Congress have both declared trafficking in persons to be "one of the most important human rights issues of the 21st century," the ambassador said.
She said U.S. and international efforts are bearing fruit, as recent events attest.
"I'm pleased to add that just three days ago, in conjunction with the international day for the abolition of slavery, the United States joined 94 other countries in becoming an official party to the protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children," Milovanovic said. "The (Palermo) Protocol is an important achievement internationally, in the worldwide effort to combat modern-day slavery. It seeks to prevent trafficking, protect victims and promote anti-trafficking cooperation among nations -- precisely the things you are engaged in here today."
One way the United States seeks to promote anti-trafficking cooperation is an annual report that rates nations on their progress fighting illicit trafficking. The United States can suspend foreign aid to nations that don't cooperate, but the report's real aim is to promote engagement and action, Milovanovic said.
"Our efforts have contributed to the prosecution of nearly 8,000 perpetrators of trafficking crimes," Milovanovic said. "These 8,000 prosecutions have resulted in more than 3,000 convictions around the world. In the last year alone, 39 countries have enacted new anti-trafficking laws, and 32 additional countries are in the process of drafting or passing new anti-trafficking legislation.
"These are positive achievements for the victims," she said. "They (also) represent evidence of nations' determination to resist the destructive effects that trafficking in persons -- along with corruption and organized crime that are associated with it -- can have on nations' security, stability and economic development."
She added that a demonstrated national commitment to combating trafficking also affects countries' aspirations for entry into Euro-Atlantic institutions, among them the European Union and NATO.
Commitment within individual nations and international cooperation are the keys to winning the fight against illegal trafficking. "As you well know, because trafficking is transnational, it must be defeated by working jointly with other governments and international organizations," Milovanovic said.
"Discussion is good, but it is certainly not enough," she added. "The actions taken after this conference will be much more important to begin to defeat traffickers. It will require strong political leadership, clear national action plans, appropriate legislation, sufficient national resources, training of law enforcement and military personnel, efficient criminal justice systems and programs to protect victims and witnesses.
"That's a long list. These are big challenges," she said. "But they can be met through decisive action, and the rewards will be great in every sense of the word."
(Joe Ferrare is assigned to the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies.)