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The United States as Global Sheriff: Unilateral Sanctions and Human Trafficking by Janie Chuang

In recent years, the issue of human trafficking – the recruitment or movement of persons by means of coercion or deception into exploitative labor or slavery-like practices – has moved from the margins to the mainstream political agenda. The rapid proliferation of international, regional and domestic anti-trafficking laws bespeaks universal condemnation of the practice, but belies deep divisions among States over how to define and approach the problem. It is thus significant that the international community was able to reach consensus and conclude a new international law on trafficking – the Palermo Protocol. But just weeks before the signing of the Protocol, the United States passed domestic anti-trafficking legislation with unsettling global reach. Authorizing unilateral sanctions against countries that fail to meet U.S. minimum standards for eliminating trafficking, the U.S. law provides a ready means for injecting U.S. domestic anti-trafficking norms into the international arena.

This Article examines the significance of the U.S. sanctions regime for the fragile new international cooperation framework established under the Protocol. This Article begins by situating the U.S. rise to dominance in broader historical and political context, describing the controversies that plagued development of the Protocol and continue to influence U.S. trafficking policy. The Article then examines critiques of U.S. unilateralism through the lens of international law, and derives a critical framework for assessing the U.S. sanctions regime. Having established context and methodology, the Article assesses the sanctions regime’s capacity to promote progressive development of transnational anti-trafficking norms, and concludes with a modest proposal for improvement.

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  1. Rescuing Trafficking from Ideological Capture: Prostitution Reform and Anti-Trafficking Law and Policy by Janie Chuang
  2. Redirecting the Debate Over Trafficking in Women: Definitions, Paradigms, and Contexts by Janie Chuang
  3. Beyond a Snapshot: Preventing Human Trafficking in the Global Economy by Janie Chuang
  4. Achieving Accountability for Migrant Domestic Worker Abuse by Janie Chuang
  5. Competing Claims of Victimhood? Foreign and Domestic Victims of Trafficking in the United States by Denise Brennan