By Robert McMahon
A new U.S. report says 14 countries -- mainly from Asia and Africa -- could face sanctions for failing to combat human trafficking. They are ranked at the bottom of the U.S. State Department's annual survey of antitrafficking efforts, a congressionally mandated report aimed at ending what has been called modern-day slavery. The report also cites continued problems in cooperation from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, and Slovakia.
Washington, 3 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The State Department report lists four U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf region -- Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates -- as among the least responsive to the trafficking problem.
It says they are main destinations for sex slaves and forced laborers, mainly women and children, from countries including Iran, Afghanistan, and the former Soviet Union.
U.S. officials today stressed that the 14 worst-ranked, or "Tier-3," countries have three months to improve antitrafficking efforts or face sanctions. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters she hopes the report will result in increased cooperation.
"We trust that this year's report will raise international awareness of the crime of trafficking, and spur governments across the globe to take determined actions against it," Rice said. "All states must work together to close down trafficking routes, prosecute and convict traffickers, and protect and reintegrate victims into society."
The State Department report examined the situation in 150 countries. It said an estimated 600,000 people are trafficked across international borders annually, most of whom are women and children. It cited problems of poverty and organized crime in countries victimized by trafficking as well as the need for richer countries, including the United States, to address demand for trafficked people.
The State Department's senior adviser on human trafficking, John Miller, said sex slavery is a particular problem. "When we look at slavery worldwide, we believe sex slavery is the largest category of transnational slavery," Miller said. "It is intrinsically linked to prostitution, and we find that where prostitution is encouraged, the number of victims increases. That is why to combat sex slavery. We are urging a greater focus on demand, educating and dissuading the so-called customers."
The report also included a "watch list" of states deemed to be of concern for trafficking but not subject to sanctions. Those countries include Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, and Slovakia.
The U.S. report cited a number of tragic cases from this region. It mentioned a 17-year-old orphan from Uzbekistan named Lusa whose abduction was engineered by her aunt. She was sold to a prostitution ring in Dubai and when she was "no longer useable," was sent to a psychiatric center, the report said. Government officials and an Uzbek nongovernmental organization are negotiating her release.
Another case mentioned a young Belarusian woman from Minsk named Svetlana, who was trafficked to Turkey. She died attempting to escape. But the U.S. State Department's Miller says Belarusian and Turkish authorities worked to prosecute those responsible for her death.
"There is a bright spot in this too-common tragedy. Belarusian and Turkish authorities cooperated this year to arrest and charge those responsible for Svetlana's death, which I think brings out the bad things that are happening but also how there is -- there are counterattacks going on," Miller said.
U.S. officials downplayed the threat of sanctions tied to the report but said it could be effective as a "naming and shaming" countries linked to human slavery.
(The U.S. State Department report can be accessed at: http://www.state.gov/g/tip/rls/tiprpt/2005)
Copyright (c) 2005 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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