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11:14 28 October 2016

OPINION: Hillary Clinton: Visionary you don't know

By Ken Moskowitz
TOKYO, Oct. 28, Kyodo

It pains me when I hear that Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party presidential candidate, has accomplished nothing throughout her 30-year career of public service. Typically both politicians and pundits claim that a policy or political administration is "the worst" in history, which is a tip-off that the speaker is ill-informed or just crudely partisan. But this particular whopper about Clinton is among the most egregious.

Rather than recount her substantial resume, I would prefer to highlight one particular Clinton effort that was not only ahead of its time, but worthwhile, courageous, and yes, visionary.

In the fall of 1997, while serving as the press officer at the American Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine, I learned that Clinton and a small group of women would travel to Lviv, in Western Ukraine, to hold a conference. It would be my job to provide the press support.

My Foreign Service officer instincts quickly went into rebellion. Clinton might have been first lady at the time, but she had no official role in her husband's administration. No one elected her. Concretely, I argued, she had no right to demand the services of the U.S. embassy officers and staff to execute her personal agenda. But orders were orders, and mine were to serve whatever administration was in the White House.

The theme of the Clinton conference was trafficking in women. Like everyone else in the embassy, I had no clue at first what this was. Was this some new spin on drug trafficking? In my narrow-minded way, I was dubious that the American government had a role to play in preventing the movement of impoverished young women, who were being lured from poor countries like Ukraine to work as prostitutes in affluent Western countries.

But Clinton had done her homework. She assembled an influential audience of Ukrainian women's and human rights advocates who would be receptive to her message. This conference was only one in a series of events this first lady organized in about 70 countries to alert world leaders, government officials and civil societies to an urgent problem that few had any awareness of -- or deliberately ignored.

Thanks principally to Hillary Clinton's consistent and impassioned advocacy, the United States adopted the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act in 2000. It provided the Federal government the budget and tools to combat modern forms of abuse of women, men and children that involved virtual kidnapping and imprisonment for cheap labor in many foreign countries.

Clinton's pioneering work did not stop there. The same year, the United Nations adopted a protocol to prevent the trafficking in persons, especially women and children, to punish the traffickers, and to protect the victims.

In 2001, the Department of State asked embassies for the first time to work with NGOs on trafficking and violence. Since then, it has become the responsibility of the new Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Its mandate is to work on behalf of the estimated 20 million victims of a modern form of slavery that feeds organized crime, rips at the fabric of societies, and destroys young lives. Each year, the office coordinates a Trafficking in Persons report that gives NGOs and foreign governments vital information, which they use to combat trafficking networks and gangs. The office also funds U.S. embassies' programs to work with such allies on these efforts.

Japan is not exempt from trafficking. It is the only Group of Eight country that is not party to the 2000 United Nations Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Protocol. It has an unfortunate record of bringing in men and women from Asian countries, including in the official Technical Intern Training Program, whose stays are tantamount to forced labor, according to the State Department's 2016 TIP Report. There are also documented accounts of women lured to Japan by false promises of marriage, and then pressured to work as prostitutes.

Clinton's work, for me, is textbook leadership. She transformed her passion for justice, first for women but then also for the other victims of trafficking, into policy and law. Her personal vision became that of the State Department and the international community. Her efforts on behalf of equality and education for women and girls were also priorities during her tenure as secretary of state.

Curiously though, at least to my knowledge, she has made no mention of her work against human trafficking during the presidential campaign. Perhaps this reflects the muck of American politics in general, and this race in particular, that focuses on demonizing candidates, rather than applauding their achievements.

Although Clinton the campaigner might slight some of her own successes, if she succeeds in becoming the first female president, these important issues won't be neglected.

(Ken Moskowitz is an adjunct professor of political science at Temple University, Japan Campus)




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