- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2012

President Obama on Friday gave seven countries listed by the State Department as doing little to control human trafficking — including Libya and Saudi Arabia — a pass on government-mandated sanctions and a loss of foreign aid, citing national security concerns.

Mr. Obama said it was in the “national interest” to not punish the seven countries ranked by the State Department as among the worst in the world on human trafficking. He gave partial waivers from sanctions to six other countries.

Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican, strongly disagreed with Mr. Obama’s actions, saying it was both “unconscionable and indefensible.” He said the president has not “faithfully used the authority given to him by Congress under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act to protect vulnerable women and children and go after human traffickers.

“It’s time to get serious with countries that enable or are complicit with human trafficking,” said Mr. Smith, the prime author of the act.

The legislation requires the State Department to annually rank each country’s efforts at controlling human trafficking and provides penalties for those that fail to meet minimum standards.

In addition to Libya and Saudi Arabia, Mr. Obama gave full waivers to Algeria, the Central African Republic, Kuwait, Papua New Guinea and Yemen. The seven were among 17 nations cited by the State Department in its annual Trafficking in Persons report for 2012 for failing to meet minimum standards in fighting human trafficking or to make significant efforts to improve. The report, required by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, rates 186 nations, including the United States, on their effectiveness in fighting the problem, whose victims are usually women and children.

Countries with the worst records face sanctions, meaning the United States can withhold or withdraw all foreign assistance that is not humanitarian or related to trade. It also can stop funding educational and cultural exchange programs.

The president gave partial waivers to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Iran, Sudan, Syria and Zimbabwe, allowing them to keep some of their foreign assistance. Iran and Syria received partial waivers to allow funding for educational and cultural exchange programs.

Only four countries faced the full force of the sanctions: Cuba, Eritrea, Madagascar and North Korea, none of which were expected to get the types of foreign assistance that could be restricted.

Last year, Mr. Obama granted full waivers to 13 of 23 countries.

Michael Horowitz, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a Washington-based nonpartisan policy research organization, said waivers are “routinely granted to friendly or important governments” and that “no foreign government takes the trafficking office seriously.”

White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said that while the administration “has made combating trafficking in persons a priority,” waiver decisions are made on a “case-by-case basis,” adding that Mr. Obama has determined that a full or partial waiver either serves to promote the purposes of the act or is otherwise in the national interest.