U.S. raps Saudi Arabia, 3 Arab allies for ‘slavery’

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The United States criticized Saudi Arabia and three other Gulf Arab allies yesterday for allowing modern-day “slavery” to continue, a move the Bush administration hopes will prompt human rights reform in the Middle East.

The annual U.S. report on human trafficking also cited Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), placing them in the same category of rights violators as Sudan, North Korea and Cuba.

In all, 14 countries were singled out as nations that “do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.”

Eight countries were added to the list: Bolivia, Cambodia, Jamaica, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Togo and the UAE.

Six other nations that were already on the list remained: Burma, Cuba, Ecuador, North Korea, Sudan and Venezuela.

Practices include the de facto imprisonment of domestic workers, the brutality of sexual slavery and the indentured servitude of child laborers.

“Trafficking in human beings is nothing less than a modern form of slavery,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in releasing the report.

“The United States has a particular duty to fight this scourge because trafficking in persons is an affront to the principles of human dignity and liberty, upon which this nation was founded,” Miss Rice said.

The Bush administration estimates that 800,000 people were forced into some form of involuntary work last year, up to half of which were minors. Women and children account for close to 80 percent.

The State Department’s “Trafficking in Persons” report examined the records of 150 nations and put 14 of those on notice that their human rights records were falling short of U.S.-mandated human rights norms.

If these countries do not take steps to improve within three months, the administration may impose sanctions against them.

The Bush administration, which spent $96 million to combat human trafficking in 2004, has stepped up efforts to combat such practices in recent years, using multilateral treaties, bilateral pressure and other tactics to curb a practice it sees as financing terrorism, spreading AIDS and violating its victims.

Put on warning, or the report’s “watch list,” were China, Greece, Haiti, India, Mexico, the Philippines, Russia, South Africa and Ukraine.

Saudi Arabia was cited in the report for “its lack of progress in anti-trafficking efforts, particularly its failure to protect victims and prosecute those guilty of involuntary servitude.”

The UAE is a land of forced labor and child labor, such as the use of young Southeast Asian boys as camel jockeys who are beaten and poorly cared for, the report said.

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