By Stephen Collinson WASHINGTON
The United States said Thursday that 23 nations including allies Israel and South Korea were not doing enough to help 700,000 people a year snared in the modern day “slavery” of human trafficking.
The list, contained in a new State Department report, groups the two US allies and friends such as Saudi Arabia and Greece with US adversaries Sudan and Myanmar and other states such as Bosnia, Pakistan and Russia.
“It is incomprehensible that trafficking in human beings should be taking place in the 21st century,” said Secretary of State Colin Powell.”
“Incomprehensible, but it’s true – very true.”
Victims are smuggled across international borders and trapped in brothels, sweatshops, construction sites and in agriculture, and face violence, dangerous workplaces and horrific living conditions, the report said.
“The overwhelming number are women and children who have been lured, coerced or abducted by criminals who trade in human misery and treat human beings like chattel,” Powell said.
Many victims, from both developed and developing countries, are drawn in by trafficking rings because they are seeking a better life and opportunities, the Trafficking in Persons report said.
“They are therefore vulnerable to false promises of good jobs and higher wages,” said the Department, adding that natural disasters, civil unrest and war may increase the numbers of people sucked in by trafficking.
“Root causes of trafficking include greed, moral turpitude, economics, political instability and transition,” said the report.
The report is mandated by a US law which defines trafficking as an offence in which a person is forced, coerced or transported to commit a sex act, or to indulge in forced labor or provision of services.
“The problem of trafficking in persons is not new – it is in many ways a modern form of slavery, which has persisted into the 21st century,” said the report.
The report groups countries in three tiers according to seven criteria laid out in the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act 2000.
Officials said their intention was not to criticize or penalize countries deemed to be not doing enough to combat trafficking – but to highlight the need for action.
Governments were assessed on whether they vigorously investigate acts of trafficking, protect victims, and adopt measures to prevent trafficking and cooperate with other countries to cut down on the trade in humans.
They are also held up for scrutiny on the extent to which they extradite traffickers, monitor immigration patterns for evidence of trafficking and prosecute public officials caught in the act.
States in tier-one include Austria, Belgium, Italy, Britain, Taiwan, Canada and the Chinese territory of Hong Kong and are judged to fully comply with the law’s minimum standards.
More than 40 nations in tier two include Angola, China, Sweden, Thailand, Brazil and France.
They are judged to be making significant efforts to bring themselves into line with the law, but are not yet in full compliance.
But a smaller group of 23 nations in tier-three include Myanmar, South Korea, Russia, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Greece, Israel, Sudan and Russia.
These states are judged not to be making significant steps to fix the problem.
Powell pledged the US government would set up an interagency task force to assess what needs to be done to crack down on trafficking and to work with other governments.
US officials said the report was not compiled to lecture other countries on the problem, which they admitted existed in some forms in the United States, but to kick-start dialogue.
The US-based research and advocacy group Human Rights Watch welcomed the State Department report but said it devoted too little attention to trafficking for purposes other than sexual exploitation, such as sweatshop labor and domestic servitude, and to the role of corrupt officials.
“Trafficking cannot flourish without the involvement of corrupt police, border guards and state officials,” said LaShawn Jefferson, director of the group’s Women’s Rights Division.
The group said Japan “treats trafficked women as illegal immigrants or criminals” and should be added to the list of tier-three countries, along with Moldova and Costa Rica.