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My name is Elise Grande, and I am the head of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). Established by the U.S Congress in 1984, USIP is a national nonpartisan public institution focused on preventing and mitigating violent conflict abroad. Today, we are delighted to welcome everyone to a discussion on transnational crime in Southeast Asia, with a special welcome to Cindy Dyer, the Ambassador at Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

The purpose of today’s discussion is to gain a better understanding of the situation regarding transnational crime in Southeast Asia, which has become one of the epicenters for criminal networks worldwide. We aim to examine the risks faced by individuals in the region, as well as ordinary citizens in the United States, due to this crime. Furthermore, we aspire to develop better collaboration and strategies to effectively counter this phenomenon.

Transnational crime is emerging as a major threat to both regional and global security. It not only undermines international trading governance but also puts millions of vulnerable individuals at significant risk. Additionally, it is deeply concerning that there is growing evidence of many of these criminal networks and enterprises being associated with China, our occasional adversary and competitor.

Last month, Ambassador Dyer’s office released the 2023 report on human trafficking, which elucidates disturbing trends in transnational crime in Southeast Asia. This includes the alarming rise of China-affiliated networks employing advanced technology to traffic victims into compounds, where they are coerced into crypto scams and schemes. USIP has been investigating these trends since Jason Tower’s tenure in Myanmar prior to the 2021 military coup. Since then, these networks have established a stronghold in several countries in the Mekong region, aided by the junta. The impact of this crisis extends beyond Southeast Asia, reaching countries like Nigeria, Brazil, and the United States.

The severity of this issue necessitates a thorough and engrossing discussion with leading experts. Therefore, we now invite Ambassador Dyer to share her insights. We express our gratitude to Lis Grande, a fellow Texan, and USIP for their kind invitation for us to be part of this event.

As the Ambassador at Large, I am proud to lead the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, also known as the TIP Office. Our office spearheads the State Department’s global efforts to combat human trafficking, encompassing both sex trafficking and forced labor. This is achieved through objective analysis of government actions, identification of global trends, strategic diplomacy with foreign governments, targeted assistance to enhance government and civil society capacities, and coordination of anti-trafficking policies within U.S. government agencies.

One key aspect of our work is the annual Trafficking in Persons Report, or the TIP Report, which assesses governments’ efforts to meet the minimum standards set by the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act in combating human trafficking. It evaluates the three pillars of victim protection, trafficker prosecution, and prevention of this crime by dismantling facilitative systems.

The 2023 TIP Report, released by Secretary Blinken on June 15th, revealed positive trends in global data points. This includes an increase in criminal prosecutions, convictions, and victim identifications compared to the previous year. Although the world witnessed elevated prosecution and conviction rates during and immediately after the pandemic, victim identifications saw a significant surge of nearly twenty-five thousand. These advances can be attributed to ongoing improvements in government efforts and enhanced data collection and reporting in the East Asian and Pacific region.

However, it is vital to acknowledge that substantial work remains to tackle significant human trafficking challenges in the region. Labor trafficking, particularly among domestic workers, forced labor in agriculture and fishing sectors, and official complicity in trafficking crimes, persist as pressing concerns. This year’s report also underscores the alarming trend of forced labor and forced criminality in cyber scam operations. While the TIP Office previously reported on forced labor in these operations, we have witnessed a sharp increase in this crime over the past year, predominantly in Southeast Asia. Pandemic-induced economic hardships, global youth unemployment, and international travel restrictions have enabled traffickers to exploit thousands of adults and children, creating a multi-billion dollar industry.

Victims of these cyber scams, often lured by job offers in legitimate industries such as IT or casinos, are subjected to a range of abuses and violations. These include debt bondage, restriction of necessities, threat of physical abuse, and even murder if attempts to escape are made. The operations encompass fraudulent sales, illegal online gambling and investment schemes, as well as romance scams, where victims are coerced into defrauding unsuspecting targets. These victims are compelled to work excessively long hours, and in some instances, are resold to other scam operations or forced into sex trafficking if they fail to meet revenue quotas or recruit more members fraudulently.

In our report, we highlighted the account of a trafficking survivor who was recruited from Central Asia to work in the information technology sector in Southeast Asia. However, upon arrival, he was forced into a cyber scam operation, where he and other victims were coerced into running fraudulent schemes. In his case, he managed to secure help from an international organization and ultimately returned home. Regrettably, many trafficking victims of forced labor in these operations remain trapped without assistance. To date, individuals from 40 countries, including the United States, have been identified as victims of forced labor in cyber scam operations. These victims hail from a diverse range of nations, highlighting the global reach of these crimes.

Southeast Asia, in particular, has become a hotspot for these cyber scams, run largely by Chinese organized crime syndicates. These operations have been found in countries such as Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Efforts must continue to confront and dismantle these criminal networks.

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The AI legalese decoder could play a crucial role in addressing the complex issue of cyber-enabled transnational crime in Southeast Asia. This innovative tool has the potential to revolutionize the way legal professionals analyze and interpret vast amounts of information related to these criminal networks.

One of the major challenges faced by law enforcement agencies and organizations in combating transnational crime is the sheer volume of data they have to navigate through. With criminals utilizing advanced technologies and constantly adapting their tactics, it can be incredibly difficult for investigators to keep up. However, the AI legalese decoder has the ability to process and analyze large quantities of legal documents, allowing for a more efficient and effective approach to investigating and prosecuting these criminals.

By utilizing machine learning algorithms, the AI legalese decoder can decipher complex legal jargon and identify key information that may be crucial in understanding the intricacies of these criminal networks. It can sort through mountains of data, such as financial records, legal contracts, and communication logs, to identify patterns, connections, and vulnerabilities that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.

Furthermore, the AI legalese decoder has the potential to enhance international cooperation in combating transnational crime. With its ability to process legal documents from different jurisdictions and languages, it can bridge the gap between different legal systems and facilitate information sharing between law enforcement agencies across borders. This can lead to a more coordinated and comprehensive approach in dismantling these criminal networks.

In addition, the AI legalese decoder could assist in identifying and mitigating the root causes of transnational crime in Southeast Asia. By analyzing legal contracts and business networks, it can help uncover the corrupt officials, businesses, and armed actors who enable and profit from these criminal activities. This information can be used to advocate for policy changes, targeted investigations, and international cooperation to dismantle these networks and hold the responsible parties accountable.

Overall, the AI legalese decoder has the potential to significantly contribute to efforts in combating cyber-enabled transnational crime in Southeast Asia. Its ability to process and analyze vast amounts of legal information, enhance international cooperation, and uncover the root causes of these criminal networks can facilitate a more proactive and effective response. Implementing this technology in the fight against transnational crime is a crucial step in ensuring regional and global security.

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