September 25, 2003: Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton discussed human trafficking and smuggling with host Jamie Rubin, as part of a two-hour WIDE ANGLE special presentation that was broadcast in the show’s second season.
Jamie Rubin: Senator Clinton, thank you for joining us on WIDE ANGLE.
Hillary Clinton: Thank you.
Jamie Rubin: During your time as First Lady, you took up this issue of trafficking in women and trafficking in general. What was it about this issue that struck you and made you take it on?
Hillary Clinton: Well. Jamie, the fact that this is a modern-day form of slavery was shocking to me. When I realized, because of my travels and exposure as First Lady, how prevalent it was, I determined that we should do something about it. I went to Beijing to the UN Conference on Women in September of 1995, and spoke out against a long series of abuses that were human rights violations of women’s rights and among those, of course, was trafficking. And then, in the time after the conference, when it did become an item that was of higher interest on the national and international agenda, we followed up. In 1996, I went with my husband to Thailand for a state visit. I went to the north where I met with NGOs [nongovernmental organizations], trying to help young girls who had been sold by their families into prostitution, trafficked into the brothels, mostly in Bangkok.
Jamie Rubin: So they were sex slaves, these girls.
Hillary Clinton: They were. They were 10, 11, 12 years old. I remember going to a hospice and meeting a 12-year-old girl who had become very sick because of AIDS, had been thrown out of the brothel, had found her way back to her family, who didn’t want her, and ended up in this hospice for dying teenagers and adolescents. And both I and my staff, led by Melanne Verveer, who was responsible for the work on issues like this, began talking about it with everyone we could find in the White House and the State Department. In 1997, we began something called Vital Voices, and we brought together women from the former Soviet Union in Vienna. And what I found was that it was a huge problem, not just in a country in Asia, like Thailand, but also in Ukraine, Belarus, the former Soviet Union. And then the administration, under my husband’s leadership and under Secretary Albright’s leadership, really made this a high priority, which led to our involvement in international conferences with the Secretary of State, the President, and other high officials, raising this with governments around the world.
Jamie Rubin: This was new, for an American government to take this issue on.
Hillary Clinton: It really was. When Madeline Albright became Secretary of State — after the announcement and when she was confirmed — I went over to the State Department. And we had a joint meeting where we talked about women’s rights as being really important to American foreign policy — and not as some kind of marginal luxury that maybe when we didn’t have something better to think about we could worry about. Because where women have rights, as we have found in Afghanistan, and in many other parts of the world, the countries are more likely to be stable, they are more likely to be pro-democracy and understand the values of the West and America. And so Secretary Albright particularly took this to heart. And because of an interagency process that was set up after Beijing to see what the United States needed to do to implement the platform for action that came out of that conference, we began not only looking abroad, but internally. And we discovered that somewhere between 20,000 and 50,000 people, mostly women, are trafficked into our country every year as well.
Jamie Rubin: Were there bureaucratic steps you took inside our government to get the Justice Department, the State Department, to make these high priorities?
Hillary Clinton: Well, I didn’t do it. The administration did it, but I strongly recommended that there be a position in the State Department, that the Department of Justice begin to focus more on not only protecting the victims, but prosecuting the perpetrators. All of this led to the passage of legislation in 2000, The Trafficking of Victims Act. And that was a tremendous step forward, that the United States would take this position against this horrible crime, would put resources into training police and other law enforcement officials, would make it a priority for U.S. attorneys to prosecute, and would try to provide some resources to help victims. Because once you find a brothel, a sweatshop, someone who is held in domestic servitude, often that person doesn’t speak the language, they are afraid; they have no place to go. So money was put into programs to try to help protect and provide assistance to victims too.
Jamie Rubin: So there is this law now, The Victims of Trafficking Act that was signed by President Clinton in 2000. You are now a Senator; you get to monitor the implementation of laws. How do you think it’s going?
Hillary Clinton: I think we’ve made a lot of progress, and I want to point out this was a bipartisan effort — colleagues in the Congress like Congressman Chris Smith in the House, Senator Sam Brownback here in the Senate. So this was a bipartisan effort that led to the legislation, and we’ve made progress. There have been something between 50 and 100 prosecutions. That’s not a lot, but at least we’re beginning to go after the perpetrators. Programs around the country have been given funding to help train police officers and provide victim assistance. We have maintained a spotlight on this issue in bilateral discussions at the highest level. The State Department has —
Jamie Rubin: They have continued to do that?
Hillary Clinton: They have continued to do that, and I appreciate the Bush Administration’s commitment to this issue. So we’ve made progress. Have we done everything I’d like to see? Of course not. And there will be a reauthorization of the legislation, hopefully this year or next, that we can try to improve on and learn from what has happened in the past. But we still haven’t yet raised public awareness. Not only here in the United States, but around the world, so that people understand the horrible nature of this crime, and that they don’t just view it as a cultural artifact or a way of someone looking for a better life and maybe being mistreated, but no harm done. They’ve got to understand that this is really at root a criminal enterprise that crosses all boundaries.
Jamie Rubin: When we’re talking about the smuggling of people and essentially slavery, other countries have been less helpful than the United States in trying to put a stop to it. Do you think that we should use this law as provision to name them, to shame them, to sanction them? How should we approach that problem?
Hillary Clinton: Well, we need to start raising the profile of the issue. And we do issue the names of countries that don’t cooperate on drug running and criminal enterprise having to do with smuggling drugs. We talk about countries that have porous borders when it comes to arms trafficking, when it comes to terrorism. I think trafficking of people should join that list, that hall of shame, so that we do shine that spotlight. There are many brave law enforcement officials, civic groups, and NGOs inside a lot of these countries who are trying to prevent trafficking, who are trying to get the word out to young women who read an ad that promises a good job in a rich country like the United States or somewhere in Europe. And we need to make it clear with the highest level of public attention that these are bait and switch operations and to try to provide support so that people inside a lot of the countries that haven’t given enough attention to this can bring pressure on their own governments.
Jamie Rubin: So if you had your way, there would probably be a little bit more attention from this government, the Bush Administration, in shining that spotlight on other countries.
Hillary Clinton: I think it would be helpful. I understand there are many other issues that we have to negotiate over with many nations. And in particular now with the war on terrorism, we need to keep the involvement and good offices of law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
Jamie Rubin: Particularly in the former Soviet Union countries, which are a problem.
Hillary Clinton: That’s right. But I also think that we could raise this. In the two and a half years that I’ve been in the Senate, the Vital Voices initiative has continued to work on this under the leadership of Melanne Verveer, and we’ve had a number of delegations of people from some of these countries. They’ve come to my office so that I could greet them, and they are proud of what they are doing to combat trafficking. They need a little more help. They need some positive reinforcement, and the United States is the place from which that has to come.
Jamie Rubin: And money?
Hillary Clinton: I think it would be useful to look at how we could help build up some of the law enforcement resources and the public awareness campaigns in some of these countries.
Jamie Rubin: This trafficking issue is part of the broader movement of peoples. After the end of the Cold War, we projected this image of openness to the world and now they all want to come, and we’re shutting our doors and they’re having to go to smugglers to sneak through our borders. Isn’t this ironic, historically, that we’re now sort of shutting down at the very moment when the world has become more and more free?
Hillary Clinton: Well, I think that 9/11 had a lot to do with that. We do have to have more secure borders. We obviously understand that. This kind of criminal trafficking of people is part of a much larger set of questions about how we’re going to secure our borders, and how we will continue to be open, but in a vigilant way. So much of the trafficking, though, that happens in the world doesn’t come in and out of the United States. It goes in and out of many other countries. That’s why the international convention, why bringing this to the attention of international agencies, Interpol, the UN, is all part of attacking it. And border control is one thing, but we know that very committed smugglers can get around nearly any kind of security. We’ve seen that across our own southern border, where people are looking for a better life and they come. So I think there’s a lot we need to do on an international basis. Yes, we have to protect our own borders, but we have to make the trafficking of people as big a crime as the trafficking of drugs.
Jamie Rubin: September 11th has been one factor, but another has been the new politics of asylum. In many countries in the world, politicians have used this issue to try to encourage the closing of borders. What’s your response to these politicians who have really demagogued this issue?
Hillary Clinton: Well, I regret it, because this is a serious concern. This is modern-day slavery, and it should not be confused with any other cause, legitimate or illegitimate, that a local political leader might seize on. So I regret that it would get caught up in closing the borders to people who are refugees, who are looking for asylum, who are legitimately in need of protection, of another safe haven. That is not who we’re concerned about when we talk about trafficking. We’re concerned about people who either are forcibly taken from their homes and sold into either sexual slavery or other kinds of servitude, hard labor —
Jamie Rubin: Farm workers.
Hillary Clinton: Farm workers, domestic servants. There’s a tremendous trafficking of domestic servants. We’ve had that problem even here in the Washington area, where people have escaped from basically being imprisoned and forced to work literally around the clock. So we have to be clear about what it is we’re trying to prevent. And then bring to bear, not only world opinion, but sanctions, criminal law enforcement, other kinds of actions that will try to prevent this from being a growth industry for criminal enterprises around the world, which it currently is, unfortunately.
Jamie Rubin: This trafficking in human beings, like trafficking in drugs, like trafficking in piracy, like a number of different new transnational crimes, this is the dark side of globalization, isn’t it?
Hillary Clinton: It is. It’s the dark underbelly of globalization. Now that we can move goods and people with such ease all over the world, it is very hard to know what it is that we are transporting, where it’s supposed to end up. This is true for human beings, it’s true for drugs, it’s true for weapons, it’s true for terrorism, it is something we have to come to grips with. I think we should be looking at trafficking, not only as an evil, in and of itself, that the world has to combat, but as part of some of the problems that we face because of globalization. Who would have thought, before September 11th, that hijackers could use credit cards, modern commercial airplanes, and box cutters to wreak such havoc? I really think it’s time for the world community to come together internationally and start setting out rules for the 21st century. After World War II, the leadership at that time really put into place the United Nations, Bretton Woods, other kinds of institutions that did a very good job, I think, on balance, for about 50 years. But circumstances have outpaced our international understandings and cooperation, and we have to begin to take a hard look at that. And I think it’s one of the pressing challenges for world leadership.
Jamie Rubin: Because these traffickers are using the same interstices of government, of ideas, of borders, of the Internet, of communications, of financial transfers, the same across the borders as other criminal networks.
Hillary Clinton: That’s right. It’s one of the oldest forms of trading, unfortunately, people being, in the distant past, seized in war or as bounty and put into slavery. It’s as old as human history, but it’s using all the most modern of technologies in order to perpetrate this evil.
Jamie Rubin: Let’s talk a little bit about the demand. Let’s face it, the 50,000 or so enforced workers in this country are in the sex business or they are helping to pick farm crops at rock bottom … [as] slave labor. So can we do something here to make the demand drop?
Hillary Clinton: Well, we have to, and I think the idea behind the 2000 legislation signed by my husband was to get the criminal justice system actively involved in going after people who were either supplying or using trafficked human beings. And, as I say, we’ve done some of that, but nowhere near enough. There has to be a real concerted effort. What you are doing with this program, what others need to do in the media, in law enforcement, is to make it clear that this is a crime. That we will punish to the hilt of the law. And we’re not going to rest until we do everything possible to eliminate it from our shores, at least.
Jamie Rubin: Can you talk a little bit about, you’re senator from New York now, about how this issue affects your state?
Hillary Clinton: Well, we have the global crossroads in New York City. And much of the rest of New York is equally diverse. We have people coming in and out constantly, major airports, all kinds of ingress and egress, so it’s an exciting, dynamic place. But as a result, trafficking of all kinds of contraband is something we have to be constantly on the watch for. There are a couple of programs in New York City that take care of victims of trafficking. They are very effective in trying to help victims get some assistance, recover from the experience, so we know it happens in New York as it happens everywhere in our country. And it’s something I’m going to keep the focus on. I’m going to be actively involved in the reauthorization of legislation, and we’re going to try to come up with some new ways of going after this problem.
Jamie Rubin: Last year, the United States allowed in the fewest number of legal refugees in decades, 25,000 rather than the 70 plus thousand we usually let in. What accounts for this and is it acceptable to you?
Hillary Clinton: Well, this is a very big concern of mine, because New York, as you know, is a city and a state of immigrants.
Jamie Rubin: Home of the Statue of Liberty.
Hillary Clinton: It certainly is, and I’m very proud of that. But since 9/11, both for legitimate reasons, we had to get control over our quarters. And I think for some political demagogic reasons, we have slammed the doors on so many people. We have not helped in reunifying families; we have been very miserly in taking care of people who wish to apply for citizenship. It’s been an abrupt change. I understand that, because as the senator from New York, we were also the place attacked on September 11, along with the Pentagon. So we want to be safe, we want to be secure, we want to take care of the people who already live in New York, but there has to be a better balance than what we’ve reached. And that’s going to become increasingly a big issue in a lot of parts of the country.
Jamie Rubin: The issue of women being enslaved, girls being enslaved, is really one of the most powerful aspects of this human trafficking crisis. Could you talk a little bit about what you’ve seen and why you think this is so important?
Hillary Clinton: Well, the vast majority of the human beings trafficked are women and children, mostly girl children, often very young, put into brothels as sex slaves or domestic servitude. It’s just heartbreaking and outrageous that, in the 21st century, we would see anyone treated like that. But it particularly reflects the continuing disregard of women’s rights and the way that women are considered somehow less than human in many parts of the world and how they are used for sexual purposes without any regard to their human dignity and rights. I consider this part of the unfinished business of women’s rights. There are many, many issues that are still a long way from being resolved, places where women can’t vote, can’t drive cars, can’t inherit property, can’t count on getting an education. But this is perhaps the most fundamental outrageous misuse of women, and to me it’s an issue that speaks volumes about how far we still have to go in making sure that women’s rights truly are human rights and are respected everywhere.
Jamie Rubin: Senator Clinton, thank you for joining us.
Hillary Clinton: Thank you very much.