making the world safe for human traffickers, one PR stunt at a time

to put together the most coherent picture of the relationship between the US intel managed drug trade, military base patrolled brothels, and human trafficking would require a series of books, and it would most likely be difficult reading: many of the books i’ve wrestled with in appreciating the sometimes tedious renditions of the alphabet soup and the sociopathic agents and officers leading the operations really require a “cheat sheet” of acronyms referred to in chapter whatsitsname, section whatever that pop up again and again, in between activities that demonstrate their work in concert.

since the different “organized crime” syndicates and cartels are used as cover, this would require the specifics of relationships between key military players and their leaders. for one example, Lucky Luciano did not provide simply a fortuitous French Connection for the CIA to later stumble upon, as even some researchers digging around in the darkest corners of deep state activity would like to insinuate. presented as a series of fortunate coincidences for the capitalist inside army, this can dissuade one from understanding how these worked toward anti-communism playing out on the international stage and how this activity directly funded militant communist party overthrow.

painstaking information gathering and categorization of the political intelligence of various american radicals led by J Edgar Hoover can be argued as the most incipient form of left anti-communism; documentation of what belief can be shaped toward controlled opposition has proven an important facet of political intelligence itself with dedicated lackeys pathologizing what resistance is supposed to look like under the american fascist state.1 at large, as we can see in online environments and even within physical organization of the left wing in the 21st century, this separation has led to the creation of what is accepted information in these spheres. what, you haven’t read that in the Nation, Mother Jones, or the NYT? what on earth are you talking about then, you conspiracist!?

that being said, i have no doubt that most readers coming across this would be able to put together their own picture of how this production operates if i dumped a bunch of links on these different schemes and scandals that make up much of the 20th century that span to the events we see unfolding presently. this takes literally years worth of time and effort however, and that seems a bit lazy for giving an outline then just saying, well here, see? since my focus has been on military trade in trafficking, i wanted to look at some of the pure rhetoric the so-called inclusive left is taking at face value, the recent Amnesty International Draft Policy on State Obligations to Respect, Protect, and Fulfill the Human Rights of Sex Workers and its subsequent decision.

what remains very unclear to me from reading these documents is what the concrete laws and conditions are to protect sex workers who are at risk from state abuses presently. much has been said about the language that blurs the distinction of sex work, including brothels and sellers, and presumably pimps (though this lattermost term has fallen out of favor with the ostensibly pro- side, and i have seen it referred to as “obsessively used” by those against this world humanitarian police draft policy. i maintain that this is not squeamish or moralistic with regard to how sex work is discussed but a typical function of the many abuses by johns who purchase it and whose “awareness of racism, colonialism, global economic inequalities, and sexism seems limited to the way these realities benefit them as sex consumers”).2 for my purposes, i am not going to expand on how ridiculous objections are to elaborating on these problems and vague language, as it does not seem like a controversial point of presentation anyway:

The draft calls for countries not to criminally penalize any person — adult or minor — for selling his or her own sexual services. Additionally, countries should not criminally penalize those who purchase sexual services from adults. […] The policy says that some “operational” aspects of sex work, such as brothel-keeping, should also be decriminalized.

included later on in this same article is brief discussion of the NGO Coalition Against Trafficking in Women’s (CATW) opposition:

Read CATW’s letter here.

CATW fears that full decriminalization of both buying and selling sex would increase the market for human trafficking and result in more victims of abuse (more on that later).

The group also believes that prostitution, in and of itself, is a “cause and consequence of gender inequality” and that full decriminalization would endorse this inequality. The letter refers to those who sell sex as “prostituted individuals,” reflecting its position that all prostitution is a form of exploitation.

indeed, CATW has been cited by AI decision supporters as tone deaf as far as what constitutes consent in the sex industry versus trafficking and accused of mischaracterizing what is included within the draft policy. according to their wikipedia page, where the last information retrieved from their site was in 2005, they claimed at one time that

CATW opposes a distinction between forced and voluntary prostitution as it sees all forms of prostitution as a violation of the dignity of women and violence against them. In this regard, it is strongly opposed to the perspectives of the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women and the sex workers’ rights movement. Aside from prostitution, CATW is opposed to “pornography, sex tourism, and mail-order bride selling.”

currently, under their “Who We Are” section, it states:

The most effective policies are ones that discourage the purchase of human beings for commercial sexual exploitation, and their strategic role in the chain of human trafficking. An effective fight against trafficking means taking legal action against the buyers and anyone who promotes sexual exploitation, particularly pimps, procurers and traffickers.

We must take a principled position against the legalization of prostitution and discourage the demand for commercial sex without penalizing the victims. The wrong people continue to be arrested; the prostituted should be decriminalized. The Nordic Model is the world’s first to recognize prostitution as violence against women and a violation of human rights by criminalizing the purchase of sexual services and offering women and children an exit strategy. These laws are premised on the notion that women are human beings and therefore cannot be bought and sold.

is this solid proof of their touted view of consent being irrelevant in the case of prostitution or trafficking? i’m not so sure. but let’s look at what they contributed to in 1999-2000:

The struggle — led by the CATW to create a definition of trafficking that would penalize traffickers while ensuring that all victims of trafficking would be protected — succeeded when a compromise proposal by Sweden was agreed to. A strongly worded and inclusive UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons – especially women and children — was drafted by an ad hoc UN committee of the UN as a supplement to the Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime.3

(the above named protocol will be referred to as the CTOC supplement.) their website boasts their status of “key consultant at the UN Transnational Organized Crime Meeting from 1999-2000, the outcome of which is the Palermo Protocol, the world’s most recognized legal instrument on human trafficking”, which the CTOC supplement falls under. this was promoted as groundbreaking as no “universal instrument” against human trafficking had existed before it, and it is obvious that AI depended on it when drafting their policy:

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under article 3 of the CTOC supplement, human trafficking is defined as and elaborated on as follows:

For the purposes of this Protocol:

(a) “Trafficking in persons” shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs;

(b) The consent of a victim of trafficking in persons to the intended exploitation set forth in subparagraph (a) of this article shall be irrelevant where any of the means set forth in subparagraph (a) have been used;

(c) The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation shall be considered “trafficking in persons” even if this does not involve any of the means set forth in subparagraph (a) of this article;

(d) “Child” shall mean any person under eighteen years of age.

(a) strikes me as a working definition of all what the state encompasses in extracting labor power. for this reason, i find it as a flattening of what victimization entails under trafficking, especially since explicit methods and operations of the many of the [same, time and time again] players aren’t named. of course i understand what rules the UN really plays by, but bear with me. it is rather represented by a dry, dictionary like definition of trafficking that can be imposed in certain ways on whoever falls outside of the US’s measure, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), introduced just two months earlier in 2000:

In order to pressure other countries to end sex trafficking, the U.S. State Department is to make a yearly assessment of other countries’ anti-trafficking efforts and to rank them according to how well they discourage trafficking. After two years of failing to meet even minimal standards, countries are subject to sanctions, although not sanctions on humanitarian aid.4

“Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation”. which agreement, between the UN’s and AI’s that relies on the former, is the one that renders the other’s insubstantial? are prostitution or “contractual arrangement[s] of sexual services” no longer forms of exploitation according to the AI decision?5 further, how does this impact the purpose of organizing itself? if the point of unionizing is to command worker power and topple the relations that create exploitation to begin with, i do not see how this decision on the draft policy provides a coherent framework for that.

of course this has never been the reason for AI or the UN’s concern with sex work and trafficking to begin with. although the CTOC supplement is supposed to constitute a “universal instrument”, article 5 stresses the importance of each State Party adopting separate measures for criminalization according to its own legal systems. interestingly, paragraph 3 of article 15 allows for opting out of the dispute process of paragraph 2:

2. Any dispute between two or more States Parties concerning the interpretation or application of this Protocol that cannot be settled through negotiation within a reasonable time shall, at the request of one of those States Parties, be submitted to arbitration. If, six months after the date of the request for arbitration, those States Parties are unable to agree on the organization of the arbitration, any one of those States Parties may refer the dispute to the International Court of Justice by request in accordance with the Statute of the Court.

3. Each State Party may, at the time of signature, ratification, acceptance or approval of or accession to this Protocol, declare that it does not consider itself bound by paragraph 2 of this article. The other States Parties shall not be bound by paragraph 2 of this article with respect to any State Party that has made such a reservation.

article 15 of the CTOC supplement, paragraphs 2 and 3, are worded just as those in article 35 of the CTOC with the respective nomenclature changed between the two. as article 1 of the CTOC supplement states

1. This Protocol supplements the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. It shall be interpreted together with the Convention.

2. The provisions of the Convention shall apply, mutatis mutandis, to this Protocol unless otherwise provided herein.

as the convention results make clear, a full forty participant signatory nations either issued reservations with article 35 paragraph 2 based on the pursuant paragraph 3 or considered themselves not bound at all — not the least of which being the US with their mandate in place (TVPA) to assess other countries’ anti-trafficking efforts. i am at a loss with regard to how this universal for the benefit of victims but in name only. the vague language around confidential proceedings in article 6 does not bode well considering that some of the wealthier countries where larger numbers of persons were being trafficked into put forward that the burden of proof of trafficking relied on the victims themselves.6 of course this was able to be determined prior, as the CTOC supplement preamble states, by “the existence of a variety of international instruments containing rules and practical measures to combat the exploitation of persons”.

1. In appropriate cases and to the extent possible under its domestic law, each State Party shall protect the privacy and identity of victims of trafficking in persons, including, inter alia, by making legal proceedings relating to such trafficking confidential.

2. Each State Party shall ensure that its domestic legal or administrative system contains measures that provide to victims of trafficking in persons, in appropriate cases:

(a) Information on relevant court and administrative proceedings;

(b) Assistance to enable their views and concerns to be presented and considered at appropriate stages of criminal proceedings against offenders, in a manner not prejudicial to the rights of the defence. 

the language to describe the fake urgency of both of these organizations is similar throughout all the documents. states shall ensure, endeavor, take into account, consider, determine, recognize, respect, and urge. though supporters repeatedly name the benefits of decriminalization and/or legalization, the actual policy does not make clear how states should go about regulatory protections in a way that corresponds with either of these two proposed options.

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who is this left up to? the so-called agency of individuals most at risk for being pushed into explained-away exploitative arrangements depending on the state party during a period in time when the refugee populations are greater than than those resulting from WWII? we have the humanitarian policing agency of the world, Amnesty International, calling for decriminalization of sex work across the board without any greater regulation suggested because they “[do] not take a position on whether sex work should be formally recognized as work for the purposes of regulation.”7 their “longstanding position that forced labor and human trafficking […] constitute human rights and must be criminalized” is based on consulting done by their supposed opponent CATW with an organization that cannot seem to keep their own personnel from abusing and raping trafficked minors.8

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this spectacular presentation is further confused by celebrity action meant to keep any discussion on the level of the rhetoric that is contained within the draft policy and the decision. the fact that these “universal instruments” went into effect two years after 9/11 contrasted with the revelations by Wesley “too little, too late” Clark expanding on the goal of “7 countries in 5 years” was not a mistake in order to make clear who had the ultimate say in determining clients’ ability to traffic in persons for the dominating bodies. fifteen years later, while devastated peoples from NATO destroyed countries die in boats trying to get anywhere and fascist pundits discuss the “welfare drain” apparently imposed by immigrants and consequently refugees, it should come as no surprise that the go-to perception management firm of corporate-financier interests is flattening the distinction of exploiter and exploited so that any attempt is eventually rendered superfluous.

i hope that this short discussion has not been too circular, but that is the nature of the public relation work we are presented with. getting through that has seemed to be a helpful strategy in order to first widen the scope, then narrow in on the everyday abuses that go on underneath all the glossy rhetoric. after now having preliminarily looked at these shifts in the current landscape of perception and reality management, i will move on to part 2 in the following week.

1 Donner, Frank J. The Age of Surveillance: The Aims and Methods of America’s Political Intelligence System. New York: Vintage, 1981.

2 Leuchtag, Alice. “Human Rights: Sex Trafficking and Prostitution”. 2003. appearing in Women’s Voices, Feminist Visions: Classic and Contemporary Readings. Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2009.

3 ibid. section entitled “A Global Problem Meets a Global Response”

4 ibid. section entitled “Refugees, not Illegal Aliens”

5 32nd International Council Meeting, Circular No. 18. 2015 ICM circular: Draft policy on Sex Work

6 see supra note 3

7 “Amnesty International.” Decision on State Obligations to Respect, Protect, and Fulfil the Human Rights of Sex Workers.

8 see supra note 5


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