Vietnam, Cambodia and Brunei join Malaysia on US trafficking blacklist

  • All four countries have made weak efforts to stop forced sex work or assist migrant labourers, the US State Department’s annual report alleged
  • Nations that are put on the blacklist are subject to US sanctions, though friendly nations are routinely spared punishment if they promise to improve
Agence France-Presse

Agence France-Presse in Washington

scmp -Published: 9:26am, 20 Jul, 2022

A Cambodian girl rescued from a brothel where she was forced to work hides behind shutters at a house in Phnom Penh. Photo: AFP

A Cambodian girl rescued from a brothel where she was forced to work hides behind shutters at a house in Phnom Penh. Photo: AFP

The United States has added VietnamCambodia, Brunei and Macau to a human trafficking blacklist that already includes Malaysia, alleging weak efforts to stop forced sex work or assist migrant labourers.

In an annual report, the US also added authoritarian-ruled Belarus to the blacklist and, in a rare criticism of a Western ally, put Bulgaria on a watch list over concerns it is not taking trafficking seriously.

“If you look at the report, you’re going to see a mixed picture of progress,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said as he presented it.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the launch of the State Department’s 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report on Tuesday. Photo: AFP

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the launch of the State Department’s 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report on Tuesday. Photo: AFP

Blinken said that corruption was a “top tool” of traffickers who count on a blind eye from governments.

“As we tackle issues like climate and corruption throughout our diplomacy, we also have to address how they intersect with trafficking in persons,” he said.

The State Department’s annual trafficking report has historically not spared close allies, often causing friction, although US officials say the unflattering headlines have led governments to act.

Nations that are put on the blacklist – “Tier 3” – are subject to US sanctions, although the administration routinely waives punishment for friendly nations that promise improvements.

Kari Johnstone, a senior State Department official in charge of combating human trafficking, said that several Asian governments were downgraded because they had previously been on the watch list and had not shown progress.

“Unfortunately, there were a number of countries this year within that region that did not make the increasing efforts,” she told reporters.

Vietnam, which has a warming relationship with Washington because of shared concerns over a rising China, was downgraded to Tier 3, with the State Department saying that prosecutions dropped off last year.

US Vice-President Kamala Harris with Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh in Hanoi last year. Hanoi’s warming ties with Washington were reflected in its downgrading in the US report. Photo: AP

US Vice-President Kamala Harris with Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh in Hanoi last year. Hanoi’s warming ties with Washington were reflected in its downgrading in the US report. Photo: AP

The report especially found fault with Hanoi taking no action against a Vietnamese diplomat and embassy staff member posted in Saudi Arabia who were accused of complicity in trafficking several of their citizens.

In Cambodia, the State Department said that “endemic corruption” has impeded efforts to help thousands including children trafficked to entertainment establishments, brick kilns and online scam operations.

“Authorities often overlooked, denied or downplayed labour abuses – including forced child labour – in factories and at brick kilns and colluded with brick manufacturers to arrest, jail and return indentured labourers who had attempted to escape,” the report said.

In the semi-autonomous Chinese city of Macau, a former Portuguese territory known for its bustling casinos and sex industry, the report said that authorities did not provide services to a single trafficking victim for a third consecutive year.

Also newly added to the Tier 3 blacklist was the tiny Dutch Caribbean territory of Sint Maarten.

Along with Malaysia, nations that remained on the list from the previous year were Afghanistan, Cuba, Eritrea, Guinea-Bissau, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Nicaragua, Russia, South Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan and Venezuela.

Algeria and the Indian Ocean archipelago the Comoros both were upgraded off the blacklist this year following improvements.

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