Why did US remove Cuba, Malaysia from human trafficking blacklist?
The United States upgraded Cuba and Malaysia on its annual ranking of
nations in the global fight against human trafficking, but critics say
the moves are motivated purely by politics.
By Henry Gass, Staff writer JULY 27, 2015
The US State Department upgraded Malaysia and Cuba Monday in its formal
ranking of world nations' efforts to combat modern-day slavery, but the
decision has led to criticisms of political favoritism that cast doubt
on the integrity of the rankings.
The US has been steadily improving political ties with communist Cuba
after 50 years of frigid relations. Critics also argue that Malaysia's
upgrade is related to its involvement in a US-backed trade agreement
among Pacific Rim countries.
John Kerry, the US secretary of State, formally launched the annual US
assessment – the Trafficking in Persons report – which analyzes and
ranks how 188 governments around the world have invested in fighting
human trafficking and other forms of exploitative labor.
Cuba had been held on the lowest ranking, "tier 3," for years amid
allegations of coerced labor with Cuban government work missions
overseas. The upgrade comes just a week after the United States and Cuba
restored formal diplomatic relations for the first time since the
Kennedy administration. The US also recently took Cuba off its list of
state sponsors of terrorism.
Under Secretary of State Sarah Sewall denied that political
considerations had come into play in the rankings, noting that Cuba was
still on tier 2 of the rankings and, while it has made progress in
addressing sex trafficking, it has so far failed to address the problem
of forced labor.
Malaysia was another contentious upgrade on the list. The country was
downgraded with Thailand last year because of pervasive labor abuses in
its lucrative fishing industry. While Malaysia was upgraded this year,
Thailand was not. Thailand is not part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership,
the proposed Pacific Rim trade agreement that is a key part of President
Obama's Asia policy.
There are 12 nations, including Malaysia, in the partnership. The
nations are meeting in Hawaii this week, hoping to close the agreement
after years of negotiations.
Both Thailand and Malaysia have faced intense international criticism
over the trafficking of stateless Rohingya Muslins from Myanmar and
Bangladesh aboard overcrowded boats. Dozens of graves have been found in
abandoned jungle camps on both sides of the Thai-Malaysian border.
A bipartisan group of US Senators wrote Secretary Kerry earlier this
month, saying that "a premature upgrade of Malaysia would undermine the
integrity of the TIP report process and undermine our efforts to fight
Ms. Sewall cited the strengthening of Malaysia's anti-trafficking law
and the increase in the number of trafficking investigations and
prosecutions in the period covered by the report. The reporting period
ended March 31, almost two months before the discovery of mass graves in
Malaysia, she added, still has "much room for improvement."
Melysa Sperber, director of the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking,
said that by upgrading Malaysia, the US is "selling out victims of human
trafficking," according to NBC News.
"It also undermines the integrity of the report and jeopardizes the
credibility that has been built up over many years," she added.
The TIP report is one of several annual assessments issued by the State
Department on human rights-related issues, but to actually rank nations
is unusual and it can often create minor diplomatic controversies.
The Thai Embassy in Washington "strongly disagreed" with its retention
on tier 3. In a statement the embassy said the evaluation "does not
accurately reflect the reality and fails to take into account
significant efforts undertaken by the Thai Government on all fronts
during the past year."
The TIP rankings are even more serious in that a spot on tier 3 gives
the US government the right to enact sanctions on that country,
including withdrawing US support for loans from the World Bank and
International Monetary Fund. President Obama now has 90 days to
determine if the US will do so, though it is rare that the US ever does
pursue such sanctions. Politico also reported that if Malaysia had
stayed on tier 3 it could have faced US legal hurdles to its involvement
in the TPP deal.
Uzbekistan was also promoted to tier 2 after two years on tier 3, along
with Saudi Arabia, Papua New Guinea and the Democratic Republic of
Congo. There are now 23 nations on tier 3, including Iran, Libya, North
Korea, Russia, Syria, and Zimbabwe.
Source: Why did US remove Cuba, Malaysia from human trafficking
blacklist? (+video) - CSMonitor.com -