TOPICS : US human trafficking report politically motivated

Katherine Stapp

The inclusion of Cuba, Venezuela and other countries out of favour with Washington on a blacklist of nations that sponsor or tolerate human trafficking has raised eyebrows among experts who believe the assessment reflects a policy of “selective indignation”. The US State Department report divides countries into three “tiers”. Tier 1 includes those that have met international standards for coping with trafficking and are vigorously addressing the problem, while Tier 2 comprises countries that demonstrate a commitment to address their problems but have not yet achieved international standards. A country is branded “Tier 3” — the worst of the worst — if it “fails to take significant actions to bring itself into compliance with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in persons”. This year, 14 countries out of the 150 surveyed were classified as Tier 3: Bolivia, Ecuador, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Burma, Jamaica, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Cambodia, Kuwait, Sudan, Cuba, North Korea and Togo.

“Country ratings are based strictly on government actions to combat trafficking of persons as defined by US law,” said John Miller, the State Department’s senior adviser on trafficking in persons, in an overview of the report, which was issued Jun. 3. ‘The report’s section on Cuba, another US nemesis, concedes that “there are no reliable estimates available on the extent of trafficking in the country; however, children in prostitution (are) widely apparent, even to casual observers.” This lack of concrete data has led some in the NGO community, including prominent groups like the Inter-American Dialogue and Human Rights Watch, to suspect that the Tier 3 list is shaped more by politics than reality. “It’s pure snake oil,” said Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, a Washington-based think-tank. “The drug certification, human rights certification, terrorism and trafficking reports are all essentially political tools that the (George W Bush) administration uses to voice selective indignation.” “The purpose is to show that Venezuela is a failed state, making it a candidate for OAS (Organisation of American States) intervention.” Sanctions against Tier 3 countries may include the withholding of non-humanitarian, non-trade-related aid, and US opposition to assistance from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, among other public lenders.

Janie Chuang, an international legal expert on trafficking issues who teaches at American University’s Washington College of Law, said in comments to IPS: “In reviewing the country assessments, it’s difficult to glean meaningful standards for Tier placement and movement, at least from a human rights perspective.” The country assessments across the board need to include more information regarding government efforts to address labour trafficking.” She noted that so far the countries the US has targeted for sanctions tend to be ones with which it has no relationship or at best a strained relationship, like Burma, North Korea, Cuba, Sudan and Venezuela. —IPS