The United States yesterday named Saudi Arabia and three other Persian
Gulf Arab allies as having among the world's worst records in halting
human trafficking, a rebuke that could subject the countries to
sanctions if they do not act quickly to address U.S. concerns.
The finding, in an annual report issued by the State Department,
places Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in the
same category as such countries as Cuba, Burma, North Korea and Sudan.
Human rights activists said the inclusion of such close allies in the
war on terrorism suggests that the administration is beginning to
eliminate from its human rights policy what some have dubbed the
"Middle East exception."
Last year, the State Department also faulted Saudi Arabia for the
first time for its lack of religious tolerance.
The report said as many as 800,000 people, many of them women and
children, are trafficked across international borders as sex workers
and forced laborers in a modern-day slave trade. This is the fifth
annual report, which was mandated by an act of Congress at the
instigation of an unusual coalition of feminists and Christian
evangelical groups. President Bush frequently denounced sexual slavery
to motivate his evangelical base during the 2004 campaign.
In the report, the Gulf Arab states were cited primarily for practices
that allowed the abuse of domestic servants and laborers who came to
the Middle East primarily from Asia.
The report said the Saudis, for example, lack laws criminalizing most
trafficking offenses, and there is little evidence of whether
employers are ever prosecuted. Many of the foreign laborers in Saudi
Arabia work as domestic servants, and they are not covered by Saudi
In Saudi Arabia, "we have domestic workers being brought in from
many countries into domestic servitude, child beggars, a lot of
beatings, reports of beatings, and rape -- very difficult to get
shelter, no convictions," said John R. Miller, the senior adviser
for human trafficking.
"Trafficking in human beings is nothing less than a modern form
of slavery," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said.
"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."
Rice has made promotion of democracy and freedom a central tenet at
the State Department. A senior department official said she was
involved in the decision making on where to rank individual countries
and had directed analysts to make recommendations based on the
criteria laid out in the law establishing the report.
Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch,
said the inclusion of the Gulf states in this year's report was
significant: "It is another positive sign that the administration
is willing to be honest and straightforward about the shortcomings of
its allies in the Arab world, including Saudi Arabia."
Other countries listed as poor performers in stopping trafficking
include Bolivia, Cambodia, Ecuador, Jamaica, Togo and Venezuela.
An additional 27 countries, including China, India and South
Africa, were placed on a watch list, meaning they have significant
problems but the governments appear to be making an effort to combat
Countries that are listed as poor performers can lose
non-humanitarian, non-trade-related assistance from the United States,
or be deemed ineligible to take part in cultural and educational
exchange programs. But countries can avoid sanctions if they begin to
take actions to address U.S. concerns in the next few months.
Two years ago, Turkey and Greece, two NATO allies, fell into the
bottom category, but they have since improved their standing.
Equatorial Guinea and Venezuela have been sanctioned since the reports
"The purpose of the law is not to sanction," Miller said.
"It is to get progress in freeing the victims and throwing the
traffickers in jail."
Copyright 2005, The Washington Post.
Nations Fail to Stop Human Trafficking
ABC News - Secretary
of State Condoleezza Rice speaks during aa press conference releasing
the fifth annual State Department "Trafficking in Persons"
report, Friday, June 3, 2005 at the State Department in Washington.
(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta). By ANNE GEARAN. ...
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