Obama administration faces criticism over human trafficking report

Obama administration faces criticism over human trafficking report

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 “alarming & unacceptable if true”, tweeting that “we must obtain to the bottom of this” 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 year’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.

“‎It’s shameful that President Obama allowed a bunch of political hacks to alter the administration’s human trafficking report to the benefit of perennial violators like Cuba & Malaysia,” said U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, who is moreover a Republican presidential candidate.

Rubio called it a “dangerous precedent”. 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. “Obama & State Dept should be ashamed of their purely political manipulation of Cuba's human trafficking issues,” 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/TIP’s objections, from the lowest ranking in the report that publicly shames the world’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

Source: “Reuters”

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