Syria joins 16 others as human-trafficking worst

Libya, North Korea, Iran and Cuba are among 17 countries worldwide that have done little to combat human trafficking over the past year, according to a State Department report released Tuesday, down from the 23 nations identified a year ago

In its annual Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP), the department said the 17 countries failed to meet minimum international standards to curb trafficking and could face U.S. sanctions such as the loss of foreign aid if they don’t improve.

The report added Syria to the blacklist this year, saying its government - which has been deploying its security forces to violently repress demonstrators - has “made no discernible effort to identify and protect victims of trafficking” and has made limited progress in prosecuting trafficking crimes. Syria was described as a destination country for women and children subjected to forced labor or sex trafficking.

Forty-one other nations are on the State Department “watch list,” including Russia and China, which could lead to their placement on the blacklist and ultimately to possible sanctions unless they take steps to limit trafficking, the report says.

The annual TIP report analyzes trafficking conditions in 186 nations, including the United States, and ranks the them on their effectiveness in fighting the problem.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a letter accompanying the report that while some progress has been made, “we still have a long way to go” in eradicating what she called modern-day slavery. She said that around the world, there are likely more men, women and children living in modern-day slavery “than at any point in history.”

According to the report, the International Labor Organization (ILO) in June estimated that 20.9 million people worldwide are victims of trafficking at any time, up from its 2005 estimate of 12.3 million. Women and girls make up 98 percent of the 4.5 million sex-trafficking victims and 55 percent of the 16.4 million forced-labor victims. The State Department says the ILO estimate is based on improved methodology and greater sources of data.

Luis CdeBaca, ambassador-at-large for the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, said in an interview that while there were “encouraging” trends in the reduction of human trafficking, there still were “large numbers [of victims] not being helped.” He praised Honduras, Egypt and Tunisia for continuing to make strides in fighting trafficking even as the countries were in transition.

The State Department places nations in one of four tiers based on the extent of their efforts to comply with “minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” - Tier 1 being the best ranking. Included in that group is the United States and Canada.

Tier 2 consists of 55 countries that do not fully comply with the minimum standards but are making significant efforts to do so. A separate Tier 2 watch list includes 41 countries that are not delivering on promises to fight trafficking. The lowest ranking is Tier 3, which includes the 17 countries not in compliance and not making significant efforts to do so.

Seven countries climbed out of Tier 3 to the Tier 2 Watch List: Myanmar, Guinea-Bissau, Lebanon, Mauritania, Micronesia, Turkmenistan and Venezuela. Syria dropped to the bottom of Tier 3, where it joined Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Eritrea, Libya, Zimbabwe, Algeria, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Kuwait, Madagascar, Papua New Guinea, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

The report also cites Myanmar, Libya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen for using child soldiers. They will be prohibited from receiving certain types of military aid and equipment from the U.S. government in the upcoming fiscal year.

“Child soldiers are like child prostitutes,” Mr. CdeBaca said. “It is unacceptable.”

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