- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 11, 2001

PARIS The U.S. State Department will soon release its first review of how effectively the countries of the world are combating trafficking in human beings, Rep. Christopher H. Smith said yesterday.

The report, which is nearly six weeks late, will be one of the first tangible byproducts of a new law sponsored by Mr. Smith, New Jersey Republican, aimed at dramatically changing the world's attitude toward trafficking of people.

Mr. Smith was in France this week, taking his case to legislators from the 55-member Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

During public hearings and in closed-door meetings, Mr. Smith aggressively lobbied to bolster law-enforcement efforts to catch and harshly punish traffickers.

"Go back and look at your laws," he told the delegates. "We'll continue to look at our laws. We need to close the net to rein in traffickers and put them out of business."

He also urged his fellow legislators to set up treatment centers for trafficked women, who usually are exploited for purposes of prostitution, saying they need to be treated as the victims they are, rather than criminals.

U.S. legislation signed by President Clinton in October authorizes $95 million over two years for bolstering law-enforcement efforts and setting up assistance centers.

The OSCE concluded its 10th annual Parliamentary Assembly yesterday having overwhelmingly endorsed Mr. Smith's resolution on "combating trafficking in human beings."

Mr. Smith, one of the leading voices in Congress on human rights, also met with French legislators Monday to express outrage over a new law cracking down on religious sects.

"This law is the harbinger of a wave of intolerance," Mr. Smith was quoted as saying. "It seriously undermines religious freedom."

The French legislation, which was passed on May 30 with a strong consensus in parliament, significantly increases the judicial arsenal against religious sects.

It was a direct response to sects such as the Order of the Solar Temple, a group that lost 58 members in mass suicides in Switzerland and Canada between 1994 and 1997.

It seeks to protect those who might be seduced by sects by creating, for example, an offense called "abuse of a state of ignorance or situation of weakness." That offense is punishable by three years in prison as well as a fine.

The law also allows courts to disband sects seen to have committed abuses.

It was fiercely opposed by the Church of Scientology, which has long had a contentious relationship with the French government. France keeps the group on a list of more than 170 monitored for so-called "cult" activities. Scientology is seeking recognition as a legitimate religion in Europe.

Mr. Smith, speaking Monday to reporters at the National Assembly, repeatedly criticized the law's "vagueness" and "intolerance."

He said he had a strained meeting with the law's authors, Deputy Catherine Picard and Sen. Nicolas About, who essentially told him it was a French internal affair.

"In a mature democracy that prides itself on human rights, this is disappointing and discouraging," he said, citing fears that the French law could serve as an example for other countries like Russia and China.

•This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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