U.S. upgrades Malaysia, Cuba in human trafficking report

The annual Trafficking in Persons report has upgraded Cuba, Malaysia, and Uzbekistan to a higher tier as worst offenders for failing to suppress human trafficking.

U.S. upgrades Malaysia, Cuba in human trafficking report

World Bulletin / News Desk

The United States upgraded Malaysia in an annual report on human trafficking on Monday, despite calls by human rights groups and nearly 180 U.S. lawmakers to keep the Southeast Asian country on a list of worst offenders for failing to suppress trafficking.

The U.S. State Department's annual Trafficking in Persons report also upgraded Cuba from its lowest rank for the first time since it was included in the annual report in 2003.

South Sudan, Burundi, Belize, Belarus and Comoros were downgraded to the lowest rank, Tier 3, where Thailand remained for a second year, alongside countries with some of the world's worst trafficking records, including Iran, North Korea and Zimbabwe.

Malaysia's expected upgrade to the so-called "Tier 2 Watch List" status from Tier 3 removes a potential barrier to President Barack Obama's signature 12-nation Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement, or TPP.

Congress had approved legislation in June giving Obama expanded trade negotiating powers but prohibiting deals with Tier 3 countries such as Malaysia.

After Reuters reported plans to upgrade the country July 8, 160 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 18 U.S. Senators wrote to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, urging him to keep Malaysia on Tier 3. They said they had seen no justification for an upgrade for Malaysia and questioned whether the plan was motivated by a desire to keep the country in the TPP.

In introducing the report, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Sarah Sewall rejected the notion that any political considerations had influenced Malaysia's ranking.

"No, no, no," she told a news briefing when asked whether the upgrade was connected to a desire to maintain Malaysia's TPP eligibility. She said the decision was based on standards for how well it was dealing with the trafficking problem.


Sewall said Malaysia had made efforts to reform its victim-protection regime and its legal framework, and had increased the number of trafficking investigations and prosecutions compared to 2013.

Even so, she said: "We remain concerned that low numbers of trafficking convictions in Malaysia is disproportionate to the scale of Malaysia's human trafficking problem."

Sewall said Cuba was upgraded due to progress it had made in addressing sex trafficking, although Washington remained concerned about its failure to combat forced labor.

The State Department said that while Malaysia was making significant efforts, its trafficking convictions had declined in the 12 months to March, falling to three from nine in the period covered by the report.

The report also described conditions under which migrants were still forced into labor, and women and children coerced into the sex trade.

Malaysia's upgrade comes despite international scrutiny and outcry after the discovery in May of scores of graves in people-smuggling camps near its northern border with Thailand.

Key U.S. ally Thailand, whose relations with Washington have cooled since a military coup last year, said it "strongly disagrees" with the decision to keep it on the lowest ranking, according to a statement from the Thai embassy.

It said this did "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."

Kerry is expected early next month to visit Malaysia, current chair of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Washington is seeking to promote unity within the bloc in the face of China's increasingly aggressive pursuit of territorial claims in the South China Sea, a subject of U.S. criticism.


The U.S. report organizes countries into tiers based on trafficking records: Tier 1 for nations that meet minimum U.S. standards; Tier 2 for those that make significant efforts to do so; Tier 2 "Watch List" for those that deserve special scrutiny; and Tier 3 for countries that fail to fully comply with the minimum U.S. standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.

In its upgrade of Cuba to Tier 2 Watch List status, the report said the country was making "significant efforts" to comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, including sharing data, improving cooperation, and offering services to trafficking victims.

It said there remained reports of forced labor in its government-backed overseas work missions that send 51,000 workers to more than 67 countries.

The upgrade removes a longstanding irritant between the former Cold War foes following the July 1 re-establishment of diplomatic relations, including reopening of embassies in each other's capitals, after more than a half-century of estrangement.

Uzbekistan, which has faced criticism by rights groups over allegations of forced labor in its cotton industry, was upgraded to Tier 2 Watch List from Tier 3. The report cited an Uzbek government decree prohibiting forced child labor in the 2014 cotton harvest and new fines against college directors and farms for using child labor.

"Despite these efforts, serious concerns persist, as government-compelled forced labor of adults remained endemic in the 2014 cotton harvest," it said.

Saudi Arabia was upgraded from Tier 3 following progress in prosecuting offenders and protecting victims, the report said, while Egypt was downgraded to Tier 2 Watch List after failing to boost anti-trafficking efforts compared to the previous year.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 27 Temmuz 2015, 17:46