US adds Saudi Arabia, Cuba to blacklist on human trafficking

US adds Saudi Arabia, Cuba to blacklist on human trafficking

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) and Senior White House Advisor Ivanka Trump (R) present Agnes De Coll of Hungary with the 2019 TIP Report Hero Award for her work to fight against human trafficking during a ceremony releasing the 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report at the State Department in Washington, DC, June 20, 2019. (AFP photo)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) and Senior White House Advisor Ivanka Trump (R) present Agnes De Coll of Hungary with the 2019 TIP Report Hero Award for her work to fight against human trafficking during a ceremony releasing the 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report at the State Department in Washington, DC, June 20, 2019. (AFP photo)

The United States on Thursday added Saudi Arabia and Cuba to its blacklist of countries that it says are not doing enough to fight human trafficking, a designation that could bring sanctions.

In an annual report, the State Department faulted ally Saudi Arabia for rampant violations against its vast foreign labour force and accused adversary Cuba of trafficking through its programme of sending doctors overseas.

Other countries that remained on Tier 3, the worst ranking in the report, included China, Myanmar, North Korea, Russia and Venezuela.

A Tier 3 ranking means that the United States can restrict assistance or withdraw support for the country at the International Monetary Fund or other global development bodies.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the United States last year took measures against 22 countries due to the designation, although the president can issue waivers.

"That action and the message that goes with it is very clear -- if you don't stand up to trafficking, America will stand up to you," Pompeo said as he presented the report alongside Ivanka Trump, President Donald Trump's daughter and adviser.

On Saudi Arabia, the United States said that the kingdom has often jailed, fined or deported human trafficking victims, accusing them of immigration violations or prostitution rather than providing assistance.

The report called on Saudi Arabia to do more to help workers fleeing abusive bosses and to reform its sponsorship system, in which employers control workers' permits to leave the country.

"We want to makes sure that, particularly for domestic workers, that they have the ability to change employers, the ability to exit the country when they're ready to, and make sure they have freedom," said John Cotton Richmond, the State Department's ambassador-at-large for the fight against trafficking.

Richmond, who visited Saudi Arabia during the drafting of the Trafficking in Persons report, said it was important to be truthful.

"Obviously there's a lot happening in our relationship with Saudi Arabia; they're an important ally," he told AFP.

"But we also want to make sure that we look at the facts, we look at the information that is there, that we give an accurate assessment," he said.

"For the TIP report to be useful, it's got to have integrity."

Trump has faced growing criticism in Congress for his staunch support of Saudi Arabia on multiple fronts, including over its offensive in war-ravaged Yemen.

Pompeo made no mention of Saudi Arabia in his public remarks and earlier balked at designating the kingdom on a separate blacklist for using child soldiers.

However, he singled out North Korea at a time that the United States is hoping to restart diplomacy with leader Kim Jong Un, for whom Trump has voiced admiration.

Pompeo said that North Korea was involved in human trafficking at the state level through its deployment of workers overseas and said Pyongyang "uses the proceeds to fund nefarious activities."

He also renewed criticism of China for its massive incarceration of an estimated one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim members of Turkic-speaking minorities, saying the camps have produced garments, carpets, cleaning supplies and other goods for domestic consumption.

China, facing rising international criticism, describes its camps as vocational training centres aimed at reducing extremism.

Cuba is more frequently in the sights of the Trump administration, which said that the communist authorities threatened or coerced doctors to be part of its medical programme, in which Havana sends tens of thousands of low-cost doctors around the world.

Cuba ended the programme last year in Brazil after Jair Bolsonaro, the country's incoming right-wing president, described it as human trafficking.

The State Department also upgraded two countries from the Tier 3 designation -- Laos and Gabon.

It credited Laos with providing restitution and services to victims, while Gabon stepped up investigations and signed agreements with neighbouring countries in western Africa to combat cross-border trafficking.


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