LaPorte to testify on military efforts to curb sex trade
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Leon LaPorte is to testify about military efforts to combat human trafficking in a Tuesday briefing before the House Armed Services Committee, officials confirmed Friday.
The public briefing is to be held in the Rayburn House Office Building, co-sponsored by the Helsinki Commission and titled “Enforcing U.S. Policies Against Trafficking in Persons: How is the U.S. Military Doing?”
The Helsinki Commission, also known as the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, is an independent U.S. government agency created in 1976 to monitor and encourage U.S. compliance with international obligations.
The commission also expects to hear from Charles Abell, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness; Joseph Schmitz, Department of Defense inspector general; and Ambassador John R. Miller, director of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.
“Participants will brief members of the joint panel on DOD efforts to implement the zero-tolerance policy on trafficking in persons issued by Deputy Secretary of Defense [Paul] Wolfowitz,” read a news release from the Committee on Armed Services.
The human trafficking forum stems from previous investigations into the U.S. military’s role in either preventing or patronizing establishments where women are trafficked and forced into prostitution, said Maureen Walsh, Helsinki Commission general counsel.
A 2002 report by a Fox News affiliate alleged U.S. military members and military police patrols were patronizing bars in South Korea where women from the Philippines and Russia had been forced into the sex trade. In response, the Helsinki Commission chairman, Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., and 12 other members of Congress requested an immediate Pentagon investigation.
The investigation, headed by Schmitz, looked into the military’s role in the sex trade in South Korea, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo. A report issued after that investigation faulted military commands for a misperception of human trafficking problems and said further education for servicemembers was needed.
In response, U.S. military officials in South Korea say they embarked on an aggressive program to combat the sex trade and human trafficking. Among other initiatives: increasing both uniformed and nonuniformed patrols in known sex-trade enclaves; putting suspect establishments and even entire neighborhoods on “off limits” lists; and creating a human trafficking hotline for servicemembers to report suspected cases.
In January 2004, Wolfowitz issued a policy directive calling for the “inherently harmful and dehumanizing” practice to be combated more actively.
Tuesday’s forum will “assess the DOD anti-trafficking policy in the context of the finding and recommendations of the Inspector General’s reports and examine the implementation of the January 2004 directive,” a Helsinki Commission release read.
“Particular attention will be given to current efforts by United States Forces Korea and the State Department to address trafficking of persons.”