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U.S. cites 4 Gulf allies in trafficking report

Saudi Arabia, others criticized, could face sanctions

From Elise Labott
CNN Washington Bureau


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Four American allies in the Persian Gulf are among the countries criticized for not doing enough to combat human trafficking in a U.S. State Department report released Friday.

"Human trafficking is nothing less than a modern form of slavery," said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a news conference on the report.

In the annual "Trafficking in Persons" report, the State Department listed Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates as "Tier 3" countries, which are defined as nations "whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards" set by American law and "are not making significant efforts to do so."

The report identified the countries as destinations for trafficking victims exposed to sexual exploitation and forced labor.

The State Department also listed Bolivia, Cambodia, Cuba, Ecuador, Jamaica, Myanmar (formerly Burma), North Korea, Sudan, Togo and Venezuela as Tier 3 countries.

The United States could impose sanctions on these 14 countries, including the withholding of nonhumanitarian and nontrade-related assistance. The U.S. government also could oppose requests for assistance from international financial institutions.

The State Department estimates that 600,000 to 800,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders against their will each year.

Many victims are forced into prostitution, sweatshops, domestic labor, farm work or child armies.

About 80 percent of trafficking victims are women and girls, with a large majority forced into the sex industry. About 50 percent are minors, the report found.

"Whatever cruel form of servitude they may take, trafficking victims live in fear and in misery," Rice said. "And wherever the trafficking trade flourishes, the rule of law erodes."

Looking at 150 countries, the report focuses on the growing problem of trafficking in women and children for sexual exploitation, sex tourism and prostitution. It found that more than 1 million children are exploited in the global commercial sex trade each year.

The State Department estimates that 14,500 to 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States each year.

"We believe that modern-day slavery plagues every country," said John R. Miller, a senior adviser to Rice and director of the State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

The report found that "hundreds of thousands of low-skilled workers" from South Asia and Africa who arrive in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries fall into either forced begging or "involuntary servitude, suffering from physical and sexual abuse, nonpayment of wagers, withholding of travel documents and restriction of movement."

Saudi Arabia, a Tier 2 country last year, was upgraded to Tier 3 this year because of its lack of progress in protecting victims and prosecuting those guilty of involuntary servitude.

("Tier 2" countries do not fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 but are making "significant progress" toward compliance, according to the report. "Tier 1" countries comply fully with the law.)

Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have legislation against trafficking and forced labor, but the report cited the three countries for weak implementation of laws to investigate, prosecute and punish traffickers as well as for inadequate steps to protect victims.

The report found some Tier 3 countries -- Bolivia, Myanmar, Jamaica, Sudan and Togo -- as "source" countries, where traffickers find victims, while others --Cambodia, Ecuador and Venezuela -- are source, transit and destination countries for trafficking victims.

The United States put several countries on notice that they are at risk of joining the Tier 3 list if they don't take adequate steps to combat human trafficking.

Bahrain, China, the Dominican Republic, India, Mexico, the Philippines and Russia were among 27 cited on a "Tier 2 Watch list," which will receive special scrutiny and be subject to an interim assessment before next year's report.

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