Thursday, June 20, 2013

U.S. Accuses 3 Countries of Abetting Human Trafficking

U.S. Accuses 3 Countries of Abetting Human Trafficking

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WASHINGTON — The State Department on Wednesday accusedRussiaChina and Uzbekistan of continuing to abet human trafficking and forced labor, raising the possibility that they could face sanctions at a time when President Obama has tried to maintain relations with each on strategic issues.
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All three countries fell to the lowest ranking in the State Department’sannual report on trafficking, joining 16 other nations that the United States argues have failed to combat or have been complicit in a practice estimated to claim as many as 27 million victims at any given time.
Mr. Obama, who last year announced stronger measures against trafficking, including new rules involving federal contracts overseas, now has up to 90 days to decide whether the three will be subjected to sanctions that include an end to many forms of foreign aid and the withholding of American support in institutions like the World Bank.
In the past, the White House has routinely waived potential sanctions for countries with important strategic value to the United States, including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, which the latest report again cited for poor records on forced labor, child labor, prostitution and, in Yemen’s case, the remnants of chattel slavery.
Countries clearly at odds with American policy — including Cuba and North Korea — have been subject to sanctions.
A White House spokeswoman, Caitlin Hayden, would not comment on whether the president would impose sanctions on Russia, China and Uzbekistan.
Advocacy groups welcomed the State Department’s decision to downgrade the three, but they also criticized what they described as inconsistent imposition of sanctions.
“The State Department has demonstrated that it is prepared to sanction even the most powerful countries in the world if they don’t meet the standards set out under U.S. law,” said John Sifton, the Asia advocacy director of Human Rights Watch. “The question for the White House is whether they’re prepared to execute the sanctions.”
World Vision, a Christian humanitarian group, noted that 10 countries are cited for deploying child soldiers in the past year, and that seven of them received American military aid, including Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. The group also cited Syria, where the government and rebels have been accused of using children in their ranks; the administration recently announced that it would begin to arm the rebels, though only after careful vetting.
The State Department’s rankings are required by law, and a recent amendment by Congress forced the administration’s hand in cases where countries were on a “watch list” for more than four consecutive years.
Russia and China had both been on the watch list since that category was introduced in 2004, and the report cited inconsistent laws and enforcement. In Russia, it said, an estimated one million people are subjected to forced labor in many industries, including construction, with the complicity of officials. Uzbekistan, the report said, routinely forces thousands of adults and children to join in the autumn cotton harvest.
David Abramowitz, director of the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking, said that even without sanctions, the report’s rankings had an impact on countries. “I wouldn’t underestimate the stigma,” he said.

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