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US Downgrades Thailand, Malaysia Human Trafficking Status

  • VOA News

The United States has downgraded Thailand, Malaysia, Venezuela, and Gambia to lowest-level status in its annual report on human trafficking, exposing them to the possibility of sanctions and putting them in the same category as Iran, Syria, and North Korea.

The U.S. State Department released its 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report Friday at an event led by Secretary of State John Kerry, who said human trafficking should not go unreported or unpunished.

Thailand said Saturday it was disappointed with Washington's decision, but vowed to keep fighting the human trafficking scourge. A Thai official said the country has stepped up its efforts against the trade, and urged the U.S. to reconsider its action.

Thailand's status was downgraded following reports that tens of thousands of migrants from neighboring countries were coerced into human trafficking markets inside Thai borders. Possible U.S. sanctions on Thailand could damage its lucrative seafood trade with the U.S.

Thailand's status was downgraded following reports that tens of thousands of migrants from neighboring countries were coerced into human trafficking markets inside Thai borders. Possible U.S. sanctions on Thailand could damage its lucrative seafood trade with the U.S.

The State Department assessed 188 countries, including the United States, in hopes of propelling governments to act on behalf of the 20 million victims of modern slavery — whether by increasing law enforcement efforts or by raising public awareness.

"This is a call to action," Kerry said. "It is a call to conscience. It is a reminder of what happens in many dark places that need light. And we have a responsibility to try to bring that light to these individuals and these places."

The report placed Thailand in Tier 3 — the lowest category — among 23 countries that the United States says are not meeting minimum standards to address modern slavery. The Southeast Asian country's status was downgraded despite a concerted effort by Bangkok to counteract reports that tens of thousands of migrants from neighboring countries were coerced into human trafficking markets inside Thai borders.

Possible U.S. sanctions on Thailand could damage to its lucrative seafood trade with the U.S.

Officials noted some positive trends in this year's report.

This year's report upgraded China's status, citing Beijing's attempts to wipe out labor-driven "re-education" camps. China had been among the lowest-level nations, but was moved up to a "watch" list.

The State Department also named 10 heroes of global anti-trafficking movement, including Beatrice Jedy-Agba, head of Nigeria’s National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking, for her efforts to return and reintegrate Nigerian victims and collaborate with other African nations to address trafficking in the region.

Nations in the bottom level can be subjected to U.S. restrictions on forms of assistance and funding for cultural and educational exchange programs. The U.S. may also oppose International Monetary Fund or World Bank financial assistance for those nations.

U.S. President Barack Obama now has 90 days to decide whether to apply sanctions to the downgraded nations.

Aru Pande contributed to this report from Washington.

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