Parliamentary Roundtable on Trafficking, 1997
In 1997, one month before the Global Survival Network conference brought global feminist approaches to trafficking to Russian activists, the Russian Duma held its first roundtable on the subject. Co-sponsored by American University’s TraCCC (Highlights from the Duma Roundtable on Trafficking 1999), the roundtable followed an April seminar on organized crime and the exploitation of women and children sponsored by the U. S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Matters (INL), which provides technical support to Russian law enforcement (Human Rights Watch 1997, 49). These U. S. actors, including the TraCCC director, whose visible role in the roundtable was a first for an American, brought an understanding of trafficking in persons as predominantly about sex trafficking linked to organized crime.
The roundtable and the response to it illustrated the reluctance of most Russian officials to recognize the problem of trafficking in women in any way similar to the global feminist approaches. The first clue was the sponsorship by the Security Committee, rather than the Duma’s Committee on Women, Family, and Youth, which brought mostly men affiliated with law and order, such as the military as well as security, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies, to participate (Shelley and Orttung 2005). The few Russian participants who acknowledged that individuals were being trafficked from Russia for prostitution dismissed Russia’s responsibility or proposed solutions that would violate women’s human rights. For example, speakers advocated increased border enforcement or condescending protection for “the most undefended category of our Russian citizens—women and children” (Highlights from the Duma Roundtable on Trafficking 1999). Russian authorities expressed nationalism, arguing that trafficking was the exploitation of the Russian national body such as through illegal transnational adoptions, missing Russian children, and the “national disgrace of trafficking of Russian women into prostitution” (Shelley 2005).
In the roundtable’s aftermath, except a limited reform to address the trafficking of minors, Russian policymakers decided to ignore the problem.19 When there was serious discussion of what the Russian politicians considered “trafficking in persons” in the Duma, the discussion referred to the problem of kidnapping in the Caucuses.20 Yet, the roundtable established an unusual precedent for the involvement of foreign actors and local women’s organizations in the policymaking process (Shelley 2005, 295).