WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Several U.S. politicians sharply criticized the Obama administration on Monday over an annual global report on human trafficking in response to a Reuters article chronicling how senior U.S. diplomats had watered down rankings of more than a dozen strategically significant countries.
Democratic Senator Bob Menendez called the account â€œalarming & unacceptable if trueâ€, tweeting that â€œwe must obtain to the bottom of thisâ€ at a Senate hearing set for Thursday to review the 2015 Trafficking in Persons report.
A Reuters examination, based on interviews with more than a dozen people in Washington & foreign capitals, showed that the State Department office set up to independently grade global efforts to fight human trafficking was repeatedly overruled by senior diplomats & pressured into inflating assessments of 14 countries in this yearâ€™s report.
p> Among the countries that received higher rankings than recommended by the Office to Monitor & Combat Trafficking in Persons were Malaysia, Cuba, China, India, Uzbekistan & Mexico, the sources said.
â€œâ€ŽItâ€™s shameful that President Obama allowed a bunch of political hacks to alter the administrationâ€™s human trafficking report to the benefit of perennial violators like Cuba & Malaysia,â€ said U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, who is moreover a Republican presidential candidate.
Rubio called it a â€œdangerous precedentâ€. He sits along with Menendez on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which this week will question Sarah Sewall, who oversees the anti-trafficking office as Undersecretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy & Human Rights.
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, another Republican presidential candidate, moreover weighed in. â€œObama & State Dept should be ashamed of their purely political manipulation of Cuba's human trafficking issues,â€ he tweeted.
Analysts in the anti-trafficking office, or J/TIP, as it is known within the U.S. government, disagreed with U.S. diplomatic bureaus on ratings for 17 countries, the sources said.
The analysts, who are specialists in assessing efforts to combat modern slavery – such as the illegal trade in humans for forced labor or prostitution – won only three of those disputes, the worst ratio in the 15-year history of the unit, in the report published on July 27, according to the sources.
Cuba, Malaysia & Uzbekistan were upgraded, despite J/TIPâ€™s objections, from the lowest ranking in the report that publicly shames the worldâ€™s worst offenders in human trafficking.
The Malaysian upgrade could smooth the way for an ambitious proposed U.S.-led free-trade deal with the Southeast Asian nation & 11 other countries.
The number of rejected recommendations suggests a degree of intervention not previously seen by top State Department diplomats in a report that can lead to sanctions.
Human rights groups & some former State Department officials have expressed concern that such unearned higher grades undermine the credibility of the annual report.
(Reporting By Matt Spetalnick & Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Ken Wills)
human traffickingBob MenendezPresident Obama