A State Department report published Wednesday places Israel in the top tier of countries fighting human trafficking, while downgrading Russia and China for violations and placing them in the same tier as North Korea, Iran and others.
“The Government of Israel fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking,” the State Department’s 2013 report on Trafficking in Persons (PDF) said, noting Israel’s “sustained strong law enforcement actions against sex and labor trafficking and strong overall prevention efforts during the year” but also pointing out that courts here “did not sentence convicted offenders to prison terms commensurate with the gravity of the offense.”
The report cited the Knesset Subcommittee on Trafficking in Women and the anti-trafficking unit in the Justice Ministry among apparatuses put in place to prevent the smuggling of foreign workers, primarily from the Sinai Peninsula, and exploitation of non-Israeli laborers.
Israel’s ranking in the past two years as a Tier 1 nation stands in sharp contrast to its previous Tier 3 ranking.
Justice Ministry Tzipi Livni embraced the report’s findings.
“Only a decade ago, Israel featured on the embarrassing, infamous list of countries where humans are trafficked,” Livni said in a statement. “That’s what makes the report significant, because it places Israel in the same tier as other progressive countries that fight modern slavery.”
“I applaud the Government of Israel for continuing to focus on eliminating the scourge of modern day slavery,” US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro said in a statement. “Israel has taken an all-of-government approach to tackling this global phenomenon, including legislative action in the Knesset, police training, and providing shelters and services for trafficking victims.”
But while Israel maintained its Tier 1 status, other countries were downgraded, including Russia and China, which were characterized as Tier 3, the lowest possible rating, along with serial offenders North Korea, Iran, Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Cuba.
President Barack Obama now has 90 days to determine whether to apply sanctions against China, Russia, Uzbekistan and 18 other governments given the Tier 3 ranking.
The president can block various types of aid, such as arms financing, grants for cultural and educational exchange programs and could withdraw US support for loans from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
That appears unlikely in the cases of China, Russia and Uzbekistan, which have strategic importance for Washington.
Obama is looking to cooperate more closely with emerging Asian superpower China after meeting its leader Xi Jinping last week; he already faces growing friction with Russia over its support for the Assad regime in war-wracked Syria; and the Central Asian nation of Uzbekistan is important as a transit point as the US pulls out its military from Afghanistan.
Because of a legislative requirement that came into force this year, the Obama administration had to make a judgment whether to downgrade or upgrade the three nations from a “watch list” they were on for several years.
“Modern-day slavery affects every country in the world, including the United States and every government is responsible for dealing with it and no government is yet doing enough,” Secretary of State John Kerry said at the launch of the report, which he conceded “pulls no punches.”
“This report is tough because this is a tough issue and it demands serious attention and that’s precisely what we intend to provide.”
China responded that it has made “unremitting efforts” that have seen a decrease in human trafficking in the country, and in April its governing State Council issued an plan in accordance with international conventions and Chinese laws, aiming for a long-term solution to the problem.
Geng Shuang, the Chinese Embassy spokesman in Washington, said the US report “disregards our efforts in combating human trafficking and makes irresponsible judgment on other countries’ internal policy and practice.” He called for the US to foster “a more favorable environment” for international anti-trafficking efforts.
The Russian Embassy did not respond to an email seeking comment.