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Key US Gulf Allies Cited in Human Trafficking Report

The U.S. State Department, in a congressionally mandated report, has cited 14 countries, including key Gulf allies Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, for failing to take adequate steps to combat human trafficking. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the U.S. reports have helped generate a modern day abolitionist movement against forced labor and sexual exploitation.

The State Department's fifth annual Trafficking in Persons report covered 150 countries, 10 more than last year. And the list of countries whose efforts against the problem were deemed inadequate rose from 10 in 2004 to 14 this year, and included U.S. Gulf allies Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

At a news conference launching this year's report, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said as many as 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year, and millions more are trafficked within various countries.

She said trafficking, for sexual exploitation, forced labor and other forms of servitude, is nothing less than a modern form of slavery, and that the U.S. reports, mandated by an act of Congress in 2000, have contributed to a growing international movement against it:

Condoleezza Rice (file photo)
"To confront the abomination of human trafficking, a modern-day abolitionist movement has emerged,” Secretary Rice said. “Concerned citizens, students, faith-based organizations, feminists and other non-governmental groups are doing courageous and compassionate work to end this trade in human degradation. The United States government is proud to stand with them at the forefront of this international anti-trafficking campaign."

The report, based on information gathered by U.S. diplomatic posts, non-governmental groups and other sources, divides countries into three categories, based on their efforts to deal with the trafficking problem.

Those given the lowest ranking, so called Tier Three countries, could face a cutoff of non-humanitarian U.S. aid or other penalties, if they do not take remedial steps by the end of September.

In addition to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, this year's Tier-Three list also includes Gulf countries Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

The report said the Gulf states were destinations for men, women and children from South and East Asia and Africa, trafficked for labor exploitation, including children forced to work as camel jockeys.

Six countries faulted last year appeared again: Burma, Cuba, Ecuador, North Korea, Sudan and Venezuela. The others in Tier Three are Bolivia, Cambodia, Jamaica and Togo.

The East Asian, Latin American and African states placed in Tier Three were said to be source or destination countries for women and children trafficked for sexual exploitation and forced labor.

The report said North Korea, a perennial third tier nation, does not even recognize trafficking as a problem and imposes slave labor conditions on state prisoners and repatriated citizens.

The head of the State Department's anti-trafficking office, former U.S. Congressman John Miller, said only a handful of countries have actually faced U.S. penalties, and that the point of annual exercise is not to sanction, but to prod countries into action.

"The goal of the report is not to punish, but to stimulate government action to end modern-day slavery,” Cong. Miller said. “We hope that all Tier Three countries will move off Tier Three within the 90-day grace period, by taking concrete steps to combat trafficking in persons. We're prepared to work with them to help achieve this."

Mr. Miller said that since the new report was compiled, one Third Tier country, Ecuador, has already taken action, with its congress this week approving changes in the country's criminal code to deal with trafficking.

He said several countries listed in the bottom category last year, including Guyana and Bangladesh, were moved up this year because of remedial steps.

Mr. Miller also commended South Korea for what he termed a brave initiative to curb the sex trade in that country, and Sweden for similar action and for a Europe-wide information campaign focused on curbing demand for trafficking victims.

The 256 page report does not rank the United States, though Secretary Rice said in an accompanying letter that it is dealing with its own trafficking problem. Mr. Miller estimated that nearly 15,000 people are trafficked to the United States each year.