U.S. human trafficking report demotes China; Myanmar upgraded

Julia Munslow
Photo: Getty Images

The U.S. has included China among the world’s worst offenders of human trafficking, according to the State Department’s annual report on human trafficking and forced labor, released Tuesday.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson unveiled Tuesday the State Department’s 2017 report, which details human trafficking offenses in more than 180 countries and territories, including the United States itself. Adviser to the President Ivanka Trump joined Tillerson for the announcement.

The Trafficking in Persons report classifies countries into categories based on data compiled by the Department of State assessing trafficking and forced labor. Tier 1 indicates that a country meets the minimum U.S. standards for eliminating human trafficking, followed by Tier 2, Tier 2 Watch List and Tier 3, designating a country that is among the least compliant with U.S. standards and could face sanctions.

Myanmar rose from Tier 3 to Tier 2 Watch List for its efforts to combat the recruitment and use of child soldiers, along with its heightened employment of anti-trafficking units and the prosecution of government officials involved in trafficking.

The report dropped Myanmar and Iraq from the Child Soldiers Prevention Act List, which identifies governments that recruit and use child soldiers. Myanmar had been on the list since its inception, and Iraq was placed on the list for the first time in 2016.

Those moves were criticized by Human Rights Watch, which called on Tillerson to return Myanmar (also known as Burma) and Iraq to the list.

“Taking Burma and Iraq off the list when they continue to use child soldiers is both contrary to US law and harms children still in the ranks,” Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, China’s drop to Tier 3, the lowest ranking, could elicit sanctions from the U.S. and restrictions on international aid.

“[China] has not taken serious steps to end its own complicity in trafficking,” Tillerson said. The secretary of state noted that China was downgraded for coercing people into forced labor, including laborers from North Korea, convicting fewer sex and labor traffickers and failing to properly screen people for signs of trafficking.

China has been ranked on Tier 2 Watch List for the past three years and was most recently ranked Tier 3 in 2013. The country joins Syria, Iran and Russia as among the worst offenders in the world on human trafficking terms.

The report also keeps the U.S. on Tier 1, meeting the minimum standards for combatting human trafficking. The U.S. significantly increased the number of convictions and amount of funding to services for trafficking victims, the report says.

Russia remained on Tier 3 because the government maintained contact with North Korea, which ran labor camps on Russian territory; repeatedly detained and deported potential trafficking victims; and failed to properly screen potential victims. Russia also failed to create a national strategy to curb its trafficking problem, the report says.

North Korea remained on Tier 3 for its continued use of forced labor in prison camps and failure to protect trafficking victims. Mexico remained on Tier 2. Despite its increased efforts to fight human trafficking, the government failed to identify victims and provide services for them.

Guinea and Mali were automatically demoted to Tier 3 after four years on Tier 2 Watch List. Unless the State Department issues a waiver, a country on Tier 2 Watch for two consecutive years must be moved to Tier 3. The Secretary of State can waive the rule if the country demonstrates it is making significant efforts to fight human trafficking. Countries receiving waivers were Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Cuba, Gabon, Ghana, Laos, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

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