The State Department called out 17 countries Thursday for their lack of action regarding human trafficking.
The announcement came in the annual “Trafficking in Persons Report” released Thursday.
The report evaluates 188 countries and assigns each to one of four categories based on the country’s efforts to combat trafficking. Tier 1 is the best ranking, while Tier 3 is the worst. There are two middle ranks: Tier 2 and Tier 2 Watch List.
Countries placed in Tier 3 can be penalized with sanctions and limited access to the United States and international foreign assistance.
“It’s a global crisis, it’s an enormous source of human suffering,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, adding that an estimated 25 million people, including children, are victims. “This crime is an affront to human rights. It’s an affront to human dignity.”
Afghanistan, Algeria, Burma (Myanmar), China, Comoros, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea, Russia, South Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan and Venezuela remain classified as Tier 3. They are joined by Guinea Bissau and Malaysia in this year’s report.
China remained categorized as a Tier 3 country because it is “noted for having a government policy of forced labor, particularly in Xinjiang detention camp, which is intended to race ethnic and religious identities under the pretext of vocational training,” a State Department official told reporters on background.
These countries fail to do the minimum to stop trafficking in what Blinken called an “inhumane cycle of discrimination and injustices.”
The State Department downgraded six U.S. allies — Cyprus, Israel, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal and Switzerland — from Tier 1 to Tier 2 for reportedly not meeting international standards for combating trafficking.
Israel, the report said, failed to have maintained “serious and sustained” efforts to root out trafficking, namely because the number of investigations and prosecutions of traffickers decreased.
New Zealand was hit for failing to initiate prosecutions for labor trafficking and handing out light sentences for child sex traffickers. According to the State Department, these failures “significantly weakened deterrence, undercut efforts to hold traffickers accountable, and did not adequately address the nature of the crime.”
Norway was cited for similar reasons, and Portugal, the State Department said, failed to improve how it identified victims and lacked laws to protect victims.
The report also criticized NATO ally Turkey because it gave “operational, equipment, and financial support” to armed groups in Syria that are known to recruit child soldiers.
Four countries — Belarus, Burundi, Lesotho, and Papua New Guinea — were upgraded from Tier 3 to Tier 2 Watch List.
In Belarus, “the government made key achievements during the reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore, Belarus was upgraded to Tier 2 Watch List,” the report said.
Similar reasons were given for upgrading the other countries.
State Department correspondent Nike Ching contributed to this report.