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Dubravka Franz “Yereven” (Flickr) (CC-BY-NC-SA)

How Armenia Became A Tier 1 Country

Last week’s post drew dire conclusions about 2014 TIP Report Tier 3 Countries’ prospects. With that in mind, we want to celebrate the country of Armenia. Starting as a Tier 3 country in the early 2000s, the government of Armenia worked hard to improve their record, and succeeded. Check out how they improved their human trafficking/modern-day slavery record!

The TIP Report has been published for almost a decade and a half, and we’ve already shown how powerful a force it is in the world. Since the inception of the report, over 120 countries have enacted specific anti-trafficking laws. Others have set up task forces, commissions, and inter-governmental committees to tackle this problem. Police training materials have been developed in many countries, and traffickers have faced justice in the courts. Step by step, the world is making it more dangerous to be a human trafficker. As that happens, as the act of trafficking becomes more and more dangerous, we will see real progress.

Today, we want to track a country that is a success story. The TIP Report’s power is obvious, and its efficacy is inarguable. But for it to really fulfill its mission, every one of the countries it ranks must be able to one day reach a Tier 1 ranking. Unfortunately, many countries have been in the third tier for years. Some for almost a decade. That can be incredibly discouraging. We asked the question, last week, whether any of the Tier 3 countries would make it off the Tier 3 list. This week, we’re asking a different question: is it possible for a Tier 3 country to make it to Tier 1? Has it happened?

The answer is yes! Armenia was a Tier 3 country in 2002 when they were first included in the countries the TIP Report ranked. Today, they are a Tier 1 country. They have been since 2013.

Armenia and its Challenges since Independence


© PAN Photo “RA Presidential Elections 2013” (Flickr) (CC-BY-NC-ND)

In September of 1991, Armenia officially declared independence from the Soviet Union. An ancient state with a culture that reaches back thousands of years, the country is unfortunately famous for the genocide which occurred in the early 1900s under the Ottoman Empire. It is a small country of, currently, three million people. They experienced a difficult and turbulent ride post-independence. Ethnic tensions between Armenia and the neighboring state of Azerbaijan over a contested area between the two countries escalated until a cease-fire was signed in 1994. While many human rights groups have criticized Armenia still today for some election discrepancies, and generally hard-handed politics, the state is democratic and has seen turnover several times since independence. It’s economy grew in the early years, but suffered some setback due to several external factors in the late 1990s. The economic crisis hit Armenia particularly hard, but the country has managed to remain fairly stable.

Since independence, the country has seen periods of political protest, and some violence. In 2008, a series of protests swept through Armenia as a result of a lost election. The electoral process has been criticized by many international observers, and some have characterized Armenia as a nation still transitioning from authoritarian-type rule to a democracy. Despite the challenges that Armenia has faced, their rule of law with regards to human trafficking has been exemplary in the past couple years. Armenia was a Tier 3 country in 2002, and eleven years later they were ranked as a Tier 1 country. We’re going to look at why, and what countries can do to improve their TIP Report Ranking.

Armenia’s Path to Success: How the Country listened to the World

Armenia was first included in the TIP Report in 2002. At that time, they had signed the Palermo Protocol but had not ratified it. Treaties are self-executing in Armenia, so once the treaty was ratified, in 2003, it became law. Furthermore, a criminal code was in the process of being passed in 2002 that provided stricter penalties for human trafficking. Armenian officials suspected that the reason they were listed as Tier 3 was because of people taking jobs in Europe through shady travel bureaus and ending up as illegal or undocumented migrant workers throughout the EU. An Armenian delegation attended a workshop in DC in early 2003 about human trafficking, and began to consult other international organizations as well as the US Embassy in Armenia. As a result, Armenia was bumped up to Tier 2 in 2003.

However, they dropped down the Tier 2 Watch List in 2004. Armenian police began to take the issue a bit more seriously, attempting to cooperate with civil society on investigations. Furthermore, some awareness materials were developed and distributed. The government of Armenia approved a national action plan on human trafficking in January 2004. Despite this, they stayed on the Tier 2 Watch List for several more years. Leniency on the part of judges and prosecutors towards traffickers contributed to their continued Tier 2 Watch List ranking. It was only in 2009 they were able to move up to a Tier 2 ranking. This was done for several reasons. Armenia had continued to prosecute offenders, and was beginning to give them sentences that held real weight. Furthermore, the Armenian police had decided to re-open a closed case: the escape of a human trafficker in 2006. It was alleged his escape was facilitated by Armenian officials. Considering the implication of corruption, the State Department apparently found this to be an important step to addressing the complicity of government officials in anti-trafficking.


© Bolshakov “Armenia-1: Sevan (lake)” (Flickr) (CC-BY)

The government of Armenia had also began, in 2008, to take seriously the idea of victim protection. They had allocated more money in their budget, 55,000 USD, to NGO-run shelters. Law enforcement prosecutions improved over the next year as well, and were noted. However, Armenia remained as they were. It was only in the 2013 report that they finally made it to their goal: Tier 1 status. In the TIP Report narrative of 2013 for Armenia the State Department focused on their robust trainings for law enforcement, continued prosecutions of offenders, contributions to trafficking shelters and prevention efforts. That didn’t mean they couldn’t improve, of course, as the report also listed their weak victim-witness protection mechanisms and recommended progress in that area.

What Can We Learn from Armenia?

First and foremost, Armenia listened to the recommendations of the TIP Report. Then they acted on them. They addressed the concerns that the TIP Report brought up, and they have worked hard to build relationships with civil society. They have identified this as an important issue, and they have attempted to correct it. Does this mean that Armenia is perfect? Of course not. Their human rights record still has stains, as does the United States. But they’ve put in enough that they deserve to be ranked with those countries who have identified human trafficking as a problem to be dealt with, not just talked about.

Many countries in the TIP Report make small amounts of headway because they see trafficking as a problem of diplomacy, and the TIP Report as an indication of where they stand diplomatically. But those who take the TIP Report’s recommendations seriously find out something different entirely: this is a global issue that concerns police, government and civil society in every nation in the world. It is more than a shame if a country doesn’t take that seriously, it is a tragedy.