WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration yesterday added seven nations, including several key US allies in the Middle East, to its human trafficking blacklist for failing to halt what it called the scourge of "modern-day slavery."
Countries on the list are subject to sanctions for not doing enough to stop the yearly flow of some 800,000 people, 80 percent of them female and up to half of them children, across international borders for the sex trade and other forms of forced and indentured labor.
Among US friends getting a failing grade were Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar, which along with Algeria, Equatorial Guinea, and Malaysia joined for the first time perennial offenders like Burma, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Syria in the State Department's annual "Trafficking in Persons Report."
Sixteen states in all -- four more than in 2006 -- were given so-called "Tier 3" status in the 236-page survey of global efforts to combat trafficking in people, many of whom are seeking to escape poverty in Eastern Europe, South and Southeast Asia and are sold into the commercial sex trade, manual labor, or mistreated as domestics.
Despite the additions, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said "more and more countries are coming to see human trafficking for what it is -- a modern-day form of slavery that devastates families and communities around the world."
"We hope this report encourages responsible nations across the globe to stand together, to speak with one voice and to say that freedom and security are nonnegotiable demands of human dignity, and to say . . . 'No one is fit to be a master and no one deserves to be a slave,"' she said to reporters.
Countries with "Tier 3" ranking "do not fully comply with the minimum standards (to fight trafficking) and are not making significant efforts to do so," which makes them eligible for US economic sanctions.
Three countries that had been placed on "Tier 3" in 2006 -- Belize, Laos and Zimbabwe -- were promoted to "Tier 2" this year for improving their records, according to the report. "Tier 2" countries are those that do not fully comply with minimum standards but are making significant efforts to do so.
The recognition is rare US praise for Zimbabwe, long singled out by Washington for harsh criticism on its overall human rights record, a point noted by Rice's point man on the trafficking issue, Mark Lagon.