Human trafficking has worsened in Cambodia and Vietnam over the past year, according to a report released Tuesday by the US State Department, which placed them in its lowest ranking alongside 20 other countries including China, accused of widespread forced labor and mass incarceration in Xinjiang.
The annual Trafficking in Persons Report, released on Tuesday, documents human trafficking and efforts to combat it in 188 countries. By falling into Tier 3, Cambodia and Vietnam can face US sanctions unless the State Department grants a waiver.
China remained unchanged at Tier 3, largely because of its treatment of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in the Xinjiang region and labor abuses in its massive Belt and Road initiative of infrastructure projects in around the world, the department said.
“I think if you look at the report, you’re going to see a mixed picture of progress,” Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said when presenting the report at the State Department in Washington.
Although 21 countries improved in their rankings, 18, including Cambodia and Vietnam, fell to lower rankings. A decrease in ranking indicates “that they have not made significant increasing efforts to combat trafficking or, worse, that their governments have a state-sponsored trafficking policy or model,” Blinken said.
The report states that the governments of Cambodia and Vietnam “do not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and [are] not making significant efforts to do so, even given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on [their] anti-trafficking capacity.
In particular, he cited incidents in both countries where diplomats and senior government officials were shielded from the legal consequences of trafficking because of their official positions.
Although Cambodia has taken steps to combat trafficking – arresting and convicting traffickers, identifying victims, and assisting in the repatriation of Cambodian victims of trafficking – its efforts have been hampered by endemic corruption that has rendered enforcement the law ineffective, according to the report.
“Authorities have failed to investigate or hold criminally responsible those responsible for the vast majority of credible reports of complicity, particularly with unscrupulous business owners who subjected thousands of men, women and children across the country to human trafficking in entertainment establishments, brick kilns and online scam operations,” the report said.
“The government failed to provide adequate protection services to victims at home or abroad and relied heavily on foreign donors and NGOs to provide much-needed care,” he said.
Vietnam has also made an effort to resolve the issue. Authorities were able to identify more victims than the previous year for the first time in five years. But the government reported a drop in convictions of traffickers for the fifth consecutive year.
“Authorities again inspected thousands of the most sex-trafficking establishments without identifying any victims of sex trafficking in the process, despite the widespread prevalence at these sites,” the report said.
“The government has not held criminally or administratively responsible two Vietnamese diplomats who were allegedly complicit in trafficking Vietnamese nationals overseas during the reporting period, and it has not done enough to efforts to protect victims in these cases. On the contrary, authorities have reportedly sometimes harassed and pressured survivors and their families in an effort to silence allegations of official complicity,” he said.
Blinken said the report identified 11 countries where the government trafficked its own citizens, sometimes in retaliation for political opinions or to work on projects of national interest.
“This may look like subjecting people, including children, to forced labor in key sectors…or sending members of minority ethnic groups to de-radicalize in camps,” he said.
Blinken did not mention Uyghur Chinese internment camps in Xinjiang where inmates would be forced to provide labor under the guise of vocational training. But the report says the camps were an important reason why China remained at Tier 3.
“During the reporting period, there was a government policy or pattern of widespread forced labor, including through the continued mass arbitrary detention of Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, ethnic Kyrgyz and members of other Turkish and/or Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region,” the report said.
Belt and Road Initiative
The report also noted China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which it called “a trillion-dollar infrastructure development and economic integration strategy linking at least 144 countries around the world.” .
Chinese nationals and residents of host countries employed in construction, mining and manufacturing around the world are sometimes subjected to “intimidation and threats, physical violence, denial of access to emergency medical care, poor working and living conditions, restricted freedom of movement and communication, and retaliation for reported abuses,” the report states.
The report cites the example of a man from a rural community in China who took a job in steel production in Indonesia because it was advertised as high paying. But when he arrived in Indonesia, his employers confiscated his passport and told him he would be paid much less than he had agreed to, even if he had to work longer hours than expected.
After a few months, he was able to sneak out to post photos of himself online, along with handwritten notes asking for help getting home.
His family saw the posts and contacted Chinese consular services in Indonesia for help, but they did not help him.
Eventually, he and four colleagues saved their money to hire a broker to help them flee the country, but the broker took their money and left them in another China-affiliated industrial park, where they faced equally difficult conditions.
The workers again saved their money to hire another broker to take them to Malaysia. They were jettisoned and had to swim to land, while being shot at. Once ashore, they were arrested by the authorities.
“Stories like this are not uncommon in dozens of BRI countries,” the report said.
He recommended that China create a central governing body for the BRI and make public a comprehensive list of all BRI projects to improve oversight to prevent abuse.
The report says sex trafficking and forced child labor have increased in areas near BRI construction projects.
“The displacement of local communities to make way for BRI projects – often carried out with little or no timely compensation for those who lose their homes – compounds many of these vulnerabilities,” he said.
Laos remained at Tier 2, while Hong Kong remained on the Tier 2 watch list, indicating that although their governments do not meet minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, they are making considerable efforts to comply with these standards. North Korea and Myanmar remained at Tier 3.
The Munich-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC) praised the report for mentioning the situation in Xinjiang.
“Today’s report released by Secretary Blinken is particularly significant in bringing to light the trafficking of Uyghurs and forcing them into slave labor by Chinese authorities,” WUC President Dolkun Isa told the Uyghur Service. of FRG.
“In light of the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity actively perpetrated by China in East Turkestan, we urge US-led Western democracies to take further meaningful steps to end China’s atrocities against the Uyghur people, including trafficking and the forced entry of Uyghurs into the 21st century. slavery,” he said.