The United States Wednesday said it will impose sanctions on Burma, North Korea and Cuba for failing to do enough to combat human trafficking. Sudan and Liberia were also cited for insufficient efforts to deal with the problem but penalties against them were waived.
The sanctions will have little or no practical effect on Burma, North Korea and Cuba, which already face a variety of penalties from the United States.
And officials here instead highlighted what they say have been "significant steps" by ten other countries to fight human trafficking and avoid sanctions, after having been listed as deficient by the State Department earlier this year.
In its annual report on trafficking in persons issued in June, the State Department said 15 countries had made no significant efforts to combat the problem and were to face U.S. penalties starting October 1.
But in a statement Wednesday, the White House said that Secretary of State Colin Powell has decided that ten of them Belize, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Dominican Republic, Georgia, Greece, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Suriname, Turkey and Uzbekistan had taken remedial measures and would avoid sanctions.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that left five countries in the so-called "third tier" of deficient performers under the U.S. trafficking Victims Protection Act approved by Congress in 2000.
"The President, acting on the recommendations of the Secretary, determined that sanctions will be imposed on Burma, Cuba and North Korea," he said. "While Liberia and Sudan are also subject to sanctions, the President determined that certain multi-lateral assistance for these two countries would promote the purposes of the act or is otherwise in our national interests. So he's made the appropriate determinations so some multilateral assistance can continue."
Mr. Boucher said humanitarian aid to the two African countries would continue, as would aid that helps support a settlement of the Sudanese civil war.
Under the act of Congress, the administration is required to report each year on human trafficking world-wide and to place individual countries in one of three categories depending on their level of effort in dealing with the problem.
This was the first year that sanctions were imposed against the "third-tier" countries, requiring an end to most forms of non-humanitarian U.S. aid to the violators.
In its June report, the State Department said as many as 900,000 people are smuggled across international borders each year for forced labor, the sex trade or other forms of modern-day slavery.
It said the United States is not immune from the problem and is the destination country for as many as 20,000 such people.
Burma, North Korea and Cuba have all complained of being unfairly cited in the latest report, with Burmese authorities saying this week they have dealt with more than 200 cases of trafficking this year.