WASHINGTON (BP) -- The U.S. State Department's refusal to categorize China as one of the world's worst countries at combating human trafficking continues to receive criticism.
In its annual Trafficking in Persons Report, the State Department again placed the communist power on the Tier 2 Watch List instead of dropping it to Tier 3, the designation reserved for governments that fall short of standards established by U.S. law and are not making meaningful attempts to reach them.
A spokeswoman for a leading anti-trafficking organization told a Senate committee July 17 the ranking for China and other countries was based on "political considerations."
"There are a handful of countries on the Tier II Watch List for the second year right now, including China, Russia, and Uzbekistan[,] that certainly do not meet the Tier II standard," said Holly Burkhalter of International Justice Mission (IJM) in written testimony prepared for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "But the State Department because of political considerations unrelated to trafficking may feel that they should be moved up to Tier II."
While Burkhalter commended the quality of the State Department report as "very high," she told the panel, "[P]olitical considerations occasionally erode the ranking system."
The report, which was released June 19, ranked 185 countries on their efforts against slavery. The State Department analyzes governments regarding "prevention, protection and prosecution," said Luis CdeBaca, ambassador at large of the State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.
It is estimated between 21 to 27 million people worldwide are victims of human trafficking, which involves such forced activities as prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation, labor in sweatshops and on farms and child service in the military. Sex trafficking includes the abduction or coercion of women for prostitution, as well as the sexual exploitation of minors by "tourists" from other countries.
Some members of Congress criticized the State Department's handling of China even more sharply than IJM's Burkhalter when the report was released.
"China has remained on the 'Watch List' for eight years now, evading a downgrade to Tier 3 -- and sanctions -- by stringing this president along with empty promises," said Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who drafted the original federal law to combat trafficking in 2000 and also authored subsequent laws that strengthened it.
"China was granted a waiver last year because its government allegedly had a 'written plan that, if implemented, would constitute a significant effort to bring itself into compliance with the minimum standards' and it was allegedly 'devoting sufficient resources to implement that plan' -- it is the exact same story this year, except ... we still do not know the contents of the plan and its release has been postponed yet again," Smith said in a written statement. "Where are the results? When will the Administration say that enough is enough?
"Our obligation is to the victims of trafficking, not the dictatorship," Smith said.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chair of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a written release she was "extremely skeptical" about China receiving a waiver to stay on the Tier II Watch List, "where it has been parked for the past 8 years. Real progress, not paper promises, should be required to keep abusive regimes from receiving deserved Tier 3 designations."
In its report on China, the State Department said it was "unclear what efforts" Beijing made to protect victims and reported the government "made minimal efforts" regarding prevention of trafficking.
Last year, a provision went into effect that limits countries to two years on the Tier 2 Watch List before being demoted to Tier 3, unless the secretary of State grants a waiver. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has issued such a waiver for China the last two years. The secretary can issue a waiver for only two consecutive years. Afterward, the country must go to either Tier 2 or Tier 3.
While China evaded Tier 3 status, 17 countries did not -- including Algeria, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria and Zimbabwe. Under the law, the United States may refuse aid that is not humanitarian or trade-related to governments on Tier 3.
In addition to China, Russia and Uzbekistan, the Tier 2 Watch List's 42 countries this year included Afghanistan, the Bahamas, Belarus, Burma, Cyprus, Ecuador, Haiti, Iraq, Jamaica, Kenya, Lebanon, South Sudan, Thailand and Venezuela.
The Tier 2 Watch List is for governments that fall short of the minimum standards required by U.S. law but are making significant attempts to achieve them. Watch List countries also have sizable numbers of trafficking victims, have provided no evidence of greater efforts against trafficking or have made commitments to improve their work.
Tier 2, which is different from the Tier 2 Watch List consists of governments that have made important attempts to comply, has 93 countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Chile, Egypt, Ethiopia, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Japan, Jordan, Laos, Mexico, Nepal, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines, Portugal, Romania, South Africa, Switzerland, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine and Vietnam.
The 33 Tier 1 countries that fully comply with the standards included Australia, Canada, Colombia, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Poland, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, the United Kingdom and the United States.
It is estimated as many as 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States each year.
Twenty-nine countries gained upgrades to higher tiers in the latest report, which "could mean enacting strong laws, stepping up their investigations and prosecutions, or simply laying out a roadmap of steps they will take to respond," Clinton said upon the report's release.
The report showed increases in some important categories: Prosecutions increased from about 6,000 in the 2011 report to more than 7,900 in the new report; convictions grew from 3,619 to 3,969, and victims identified escalated from about 33,000 to 42,000.
Burkhalter is IJM's vice president for government relations.
The trafficking report may be accessed at the State Department's website, www.state.gov/g/tip
Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress
), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress
) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp