WASHINGTON – The United States on Friday named Saudi Arabia and three other Gulf Arab allies as having among the world’s worst records in halting human trafficking, a rebuke that could subject the countries to sanctions if they do not quickly address U.S. concerns.
The finding, in an annual report issued by the State Department, places Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Republic and Saudi Arabia in the same category as such countries as Cuba, Burma, North Korea and Sudan. Human rights activists said the inclusion of such close allies in the war on terrorism suggests the administration is beginning to eliminate from its human rights policy what some have dubbed the “Middle East exception.”
The report said as many as 800,000 people, many women and children, are trafficked across international borders as sex workers and forced laborers in a modern-day slave trade. This is the fifth annual report, which was mandated by an act of Congress at the instigation of an unusual coalition of feminists and Christian evangelical groups. President Bush frequently denounced sexual slavery to motivate his evangelical base during the 2004 campaign.
In the report, the Gulf Arab states were cited primarily for practices that allowed the abuse of domestic servants and laborers who came to the Middle East primarily from Asia.
The report said the Saudis, for example, lack laws criminalizing most trafficking offenses and there is little evidence if employers are ever prosecuted. Many of the foreign laborers in Saudi Arabia work as domestic servants, and they are not covered by Saudi labor laws.
Other countries listed as poor performers in stopping trafficking include Bolivia, Cambodia, Ecuador, Jamaica, Togo and Venezuela. Another 27 countries, including China, India and South Africa, were placed on a watch list.