Human Trafficking: U.S. Demotes China, Russia to Bottom Tier

Patrick Goodenough | June 20, 2013 | 5:06am EDT
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An estimated 27 million people around the world are victims of some form of trafficking and slavery, including forced labor and sex trade trafficking, according to the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report. (Photo: TIP 2013)

(Update: A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman on Thursday slammed the U.S. for “making unilateral or arbitrary judgments of China” regarding human trafficking, while a Russian foreign ministry statement said Russia would never “fulfill conditions presented nearly in the form of an ultimatum.”)

( – For the first time since the Trafficking Victims Protection Act set up an office to monitor and combat human trafficking in 2001, China was relegated Wednesday to its lowest ranking for compliance with efforts to eliminate the practice sometimes dubbed “modern-day slavery.”

Joining it as a “tier three” country for failing to act sufficiently against a scourge that affects an estimated 27 million people around the world was Russia, which last held that position in 2002.

The downgrading of Russia and China to tier three status was announced as the State Department’s Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons released its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report.

The two permanent members of the U.N. Security Council now join the likes of Iran, Sudan and Zimbabwe in the lowest tier, and U.S. sanctions may potentially follow.

There was no immediate response from Moscow or Beijing. Both governments typically respond stridently to U.S. criticism of their human rights records

Asked whether the demoted governments had been advised of the decision Luis CdeBaca, the ambassador-at-large who heads the State Department office, told a teleconference briefing that U.S. embassies usually notify “our foreign counterparts” as the report is released.

Under the TVPA, tier one countries are those that meet the minimum standards of compliance set by the legislation, tier two countries are those making significant efforts to do so, and tier three countries are those that are not.

Governments of tier three countries may be subject to sanctions, including cuts in non-humanitarian foreign assistance and educational and cultural exchanges, and withdrawal of support for International Monetary Fund loans.

TVPA reauthorization legislation in 2003 established another grade, the tier two watchlist, essentially for tier two countries deemed to be moving in the wrong direction, and where the number of victims of severe forms of trafficking was significant, or was significantly increasing.

In 2008 Congress acted again, this time to prevent countries from sitting on the tier two watchlist indefinitely. Reauthorization legislation that year limited the amount of time a country could be on the watchlist to two years, with a potential further two-year waiver in the event a country is seen to be making a significant effort.

Russia and China have been on the watchlist for nine consecutive years, but as a result of the 2008 changes – and in the absence of positive progress – they have now been automatically downgraded, along with Uzbekistan, to tier three.

(Another three countries whose time on the watchlist had run out under the same provision, Iraq, Azerbaijan and Congo, recorded sufficient progress to move up to tier two, the report said.)

China’s ‘one child’ policy a factor

CdeBaca said the department has had ongoing dialogue with Russia and China over the concerns.

“These truths can be hard to tell and hard to hear, at the same time that we need to have an accurate and respectful dialogue with them on what can be done and what needs to be done,” he said.

The TIP report identified China as a source, transit and destination country for people subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking.

One key factor is the demand for foreign women as brides (or to work as prostitutes) for men in a country where there are fewer women than men; China’s sex ratio has been artificially skewed by the government-enforced “one-child” system, alongside a cultural preference for baby boys.

The report also found that the Chinese government perpetuated human trafficking in at least 320 state-run institutions, compared to just seven institutions where victims were helped.

“China remains a significant source of girls and women subjected to forced prostitution throughout the world,” it said. “During the year, Chinese sex trafficking victims were reported on all of the inhabited continents.”

“We come across Chinese victims here in the United States, and our embassies actually come across Chinese victims in countries around the world,” CdeBaca said during the briefing. “And we have gone out of our way to help them, to make sure that they are safe, make sure that they have a voice in the process.”

In April – too late to have any impact on this year’s TIP report – China brought out a national plan of action on trafficking. CdeBaca said the U.S. looked forward to working with China and “seeing the results that will hopefully come out of that national plan of action.”

The report similarly found Russia to be a source, transit and destination country for forced labor and sex trafficking.

It cited researchers’ estimates that one million people in Russia were exposed to exploitative practices characteristic of trafficking, “such as withholding of documents, nonpayment for services, physical abuse, or extremely poor living conditions.”

Russian women and children were reported to be subjected to sex trafficking in Russia and abroad, while foreigners were also forced into prostitution in Russia.

House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) called this year’s TIP report “a mixed bag.”

“On the one hand, after I have long called for such action, the State Department today has rightly downgraded some of the world’s worst human trafficking offenders. This step is long overdue,” he said.

“Despite this welcome development, other countries known for their egregious human trafficking records, like Vietnam and Laos, have not been downgraded, and Cambodia should be ranked even lower, in tier three.”

Vietnam and Laos are tier two countries; Cambodia is on the tier two watchlist.

The 21 tier three countries in the 2013 TIP report are Algeria, the Central African Republic, China, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Guinea-Bissau, Iran, North Korea, Kuwait, Libya, Mauritania, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Uzbekistan, Yemen and Zimbabwe.

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