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U.S.: Report Urges Countries To Prosecute Human Traffickers

The U.S. State Department has issued its third annual report on the international trafficking of human beings. Secretary of State Colin Powell equates the problem with modern-day slavery and says he hopes the report will continue to push countries to combat the scourge.

Washington, 12 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A new report by the U.S. State Department says nearly 1 million people around the world are smuggled into slave-like conditions each year and singles out 15 nations that could face sanctions unless they do more to combat the problem.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell presented the third annual report on human trafficking yesterday in Washington. Powell urged all countries to vigorously prosecute people who engage in the trafficking of human beings.

"In our 21st-century world, where freedom and democracy are spreading to every continent, it is appalling and morally unacceptable that hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children are exploited, abused, and enslaved by peddlers of human misery," Powell said.

Powell said that trafficking left no country untouched -- including the United States, where some 20,000 people are smuggled yearly to work in brothels, sweatshops, and farms.

The State Department report, mandated under an antitrafficking law, says nations that do nothing to combat the problem can be punished with an end to nonhumanitarian, non-trade-related aid. Washington can also work to cut off support for loans and other assistance from the World Bank or International Monetary Fund.

Among the 15 nations identified in "Tier 3" -- the report's worst level, where countries are seen as failing to meet even minimum standards and doing nothing to remedy the problem -- are Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cuba, Georgia, Greece, Kazakhstan, North Korea, Sudan, Turkey, and Uzbekistan.

John Miller, a senior advisor to Powell, helped oversee the report. He said there was still time for those countries to improve their record before the U.S. would impose sanctions. "The decision on sanctions that the law calls for the president to make does not occur until this fall [1 October]. Therefore, it is possible for a country on Tier 3 to make significant efforts between now and then."

The report says that another 74 countries in "Tier 2" also do not meet minimum standards but are making efforts to do so. They include Albania, Belarus, Bulgaria, China, Croatia, Hungary, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Moldova, Pakistan, Romania, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovakia, Slovenia, Tajikistan, and Ukraine.

Countries fully complying with the standards in "Tier 1" include the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Macedonia, Poland, and the United Kingdom.

Tier 1 countries are seen as fully complying with the primary U.S. law on the matter, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of October 2000. Among the criteria for compliance are criminalization of trafficking, successful prosecution of traffickers, and the existence of protection programs and the nonpunishment of trafficking victims.

But Miller said even top-ranked countries have not fully defeated human trafficking, which primarily affects women and children who end up in the sex trade or as slave laborers. "We want nobody to believe that because a country is on Tier 1, that it is doing everything that it should, that it doesn't have a problem. Just about every country in the world has a problem when it comes to modern-day slavery, and that includes the United States of America," Miller said.

Cited for progress over the previous year were the United Arab Emirates, which was the only country to move from Tier 3 to Tier 1 in the last year. Armenia, Belarus, Russia, and Tajikistan made enough efforts to move from the bottom rank to Tier 2.

Miller lauded an antitrafficking law expected to be passed soon in Russia, saying it could serve as a model for legislation in other countries. But Miller singled out communist countries North Korea and Cuba as particularly worthy of blame.

"Cuba has a government-run sex-tourism business that employs minors. Cuba has no efforts at prevention, protection, or prosecution. They're not even ambiguous. The same can be said for North Korea, where reports from NGOs document forced-labor trafficking," Miller said.

The report was compiled with the help of U.S. embassies worldwide as well as reports from the media and nongovernmental organizations such as the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund, the UN High Commission for Refugees, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch.

Powell said he hopes Washington can use the report to encourage change and help governments around the world to develop better policies to tackle human trafficking.