A State Department report lists 23 countries around the world, including some key U.S. friends and allies, that it says are not doing enough to deal with the international trafficking in human beings. The State Department reports those countries could face U.S. economic sanctions in two years if they fail to take action.
The first of what are to be annual reports on the problem estimates that more 700,000 people are smuggled across international borders each year to work in sweatshops, construction sites and farm fields, or for sexual exploitation.
Mandated by an act of Congress last year, the report ranks countries by their degree of commitment to tackling the problem and protecting victims. Those in the third and lowest ranking category would face U.S. sanctions, including an aid cutoff and denial of international loans, if they are still there in 2003.
Briefing reporters, Secretary of State Colin Powell called the trafficking a global problem and an abomination against humanity. "We hope that this report will help to focus international attention on this abhorrent practice and galvanize systematic world-wide efforts to combat it," he said. "It is incomprehensible that trafficking in human beings should be taking place in the 21st Century, incomprehensible, but it's true.
Among the more than 80 countries reviewed in the report, 23 were placed in the bottom tier including Russia, war-ravaged Sudan, U.S. Middle East allies Israel and Saudi Arabia, and NATO member countries Greece and Turkey.
Both Israel and Saudi Arabia were listed as destination countries for trafficked persons while Russia was said to be primarily a source country for women being coerced into prostitution in Western Europe, the Middle East, and elsewhere.
Sudan, where outright slavery was said to be practiced by warring factions, was also a destination for people reportedly being kidnapped into servitude from neighboring Uganda.
Another U.S. ally, South Korea, was listed in the third tier as a country of origin for women being trafficked for sexual exploitation to the United States and to other western countries and Japan.
Administration officials who presented the report downplayed the potential imposition of U.S. sanctions. Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky said the intent of the report is not to punish countries, but to generate dialogue and corrective action.
"You will note that in terms of sanctions, application of sanctions would not be reviewed and looked at until 2003," he said. "And we would hope that this report, as I said, would provide the basis and the foundation from which to actually improve the situation and the circumstances, here and abroad."
Secretary of State Powell acknowledged that trafficking occurs in the United States and that the administration is setting up an inter-agency task force to combat it.
Official here estimate as many as 50,000 people each year either pass through through the United States under smuggling schemes or are brought into the country illegally and wind up working in sweatshop situations.