WASHINGTON -- Uzbekistan and Russia have received the lowest possible rating from the U.S. State Department in its annual report on human trafficking around the world.
Along with Iran, the two countries received failing marks from Washington because their governments have not addressed -- and have no concrete plans to address -- the problem. As punishment, the United States could decide to withhold some types of foreign aid.
"We're not doing this not just to pass judgment on other people but because we know that we can advance this cause, we can make a difference," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said as he presented the report in Washington.
"We're going to keep working with [our] partners around the world in order to develop new approaches, new practices. And we're going to keep engaging with governments on this issue, because modern-day slavery affects every country in the world, including the United States, and every government is responsible for dealing with it, and no government is yet doing enough."
Forced labor remains the predominant human-trafficking problem in Russia, according to the report, which cites statistics from the Migration Research Center that show some 1 million people in the country are exposed to "exploitative" labor conditions, including the withholding of documents, nonpayment for services, physical abuse, and extremely poor living conditions.
Russia expressed "indignation" about the possibility of being hit by U.S. sanctions in connection with the views in the report, and China's Foreign Ministry described U.S. criticism of Beijing's record as biased, "unilateral," and "arbitrary."
In Uzbekistan, the report said, internal labor trafficking remains prevalent during the annual cotton harvest, in which children and adults are victims of government-organized forced labor.
'Depth Of The Challenge'
The U.S. ambassador for monitoring and combating human trafficking, Luis CdeBaca, said the number of convictions of criminals who force people into slavery increased in 2012.
"One of the successes is that the number of global convictions of human traffickers is up about 20 percent," CdeBaca said. "We were able to identify 4,746 convictions in the last year. As well, there was a continuation of an upward trend in the number of victims that are identified, to about 46,500. Unfortunately, 46,000 identified victims in a world in which up to 27 million people are enslaved shows the depth of the challenge that's ahead of us."
Countries that received the State Department’s second-worst rating include Afghanistan, Ukraine, Albania, Belarus, and Turkmenistan.
Those nations are on a "watch list" because although their number of trafficking victims is increasing, the governments are making significant efforts to combat the problem.
Plan In Afghanistan
Afghanistan remained on the watch list for a fourth consecutive year but was spared an automatic downgrade because its government has developed a plan to combat trafficking.
Internal trafficking of children is rife in Afghanistan, said the report, which documents their forced labor in the brick- and carpet-making industries, as domestic servants, beggars, sex slaves, and drug mules.
CdeBaca said Armenia earned the distinction of raising its rating.
"This year, Armenia was the Tier 2 country that moved up to Tier 1," he said. "We saw that on the basis of increased training, increased prosecutions, increased victim identification, and quite a bit of political will on the part of the Armenian government.”
Rated second-best were Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Georgia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Romania, and Tajikistan.
CdeBaca praised Iraqi Bassam al-Nasseri, saying he had helped rescue 35 Ukrainian and Bulgarian construction workers who had been stranded in Iraq after being trafficked and held in deplorable conditions.
With contributions from RFE/RL correspondent Richard Solash