WASHINGTON – Fifteen countries, including U.S. allies Greece (search) and Turkey (search), have made no significant efforts to stop trafficking in humans and may face sanctions, the State Department said Wednesday.
The number of countries cited this year is lower than the 19 accused by the department last year of not doing enough to prevent people from being taken to other countries against their will.
"In our 21st century world, where freedom and democracy are spreading to every continent, it is appalling and morally unacceptable that hundreds of thousands of men, women and children are exploited, abused and enslaved by peddlers in human misery," said Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) as he released the department's third annual report.
The report warned that problems could develop in postwar Iraq. "In many conflict situations, criminal elements have exploited the breakdown of rule of law and the desperation of vulnerable families and abducted, forced or tricked individuals into prostitution," the report said.
The United States is not immune from the problem; the government estimates that 800,000 to 900,000 people are trafficked annually across international borders worldwide, with 18,000 to 20,000 winding up in the United States.
Human Rights Watch criticized the report, saying it failed to meaningfully evaluate governments' efforts to combat trafficking in persons.
"The report gives undue credit for minimal effort and ignores government practices, such as summary deportation and incarceration that effectively punish trafficking victims," the New York-based group said.
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who sponsored legislation requiring the report, said progress was being made.
"I am pleased that more countries are taking human slavery seriously, that victims -- most of whom are women and children -- are being protected and traffickers are being prosecuted," said Smith, a member of the House International Relations Committee. "With sanctions looming, there has been significant progress with a number of nations instituting reforms like new laws and protection policies, especially within the last three months."
For the first time, countries that do not take actions to stop human trafficking could face the loss of U.S. assistance, though the government can waive any penalties. The sanctions would take effect Oct. 1.
In addition to Greece and Turkey, the countries facing sanctions are Belize, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burma, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Georgia, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Liberia, North Korea, Sudan, Suriname and Uzbekistan.
Former Rep. Linda Smith, R-Wash., said she expected many of the countries facing sanctions to make strong efforts to meet the anti-trafficking standards.
"The very fact that there is a report is causing changes in behavior," said Smith, now president and founder of Shared Hope International, a nonprofit organization that fights trafficking and tries to rescue girls and women forced to work as prostitutes.
An additional 74 countries did not meet the minimum standards but made "significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance."
Those countries are: Albania, Angola, Armenia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bolivia, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, China, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Costa Rica, Croatia, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, Gabon, Gambia, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Israel, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Krygyz Republic, Laos, Latvia, Lebanon, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Mexico, Moldova, Mozambique, Nepal, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia and Montenegro, Sierra Leone, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Togo, Uganda, Ukraine, Venezuela, Vietnam, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Described as complying fully with the standards, which include punishing traffickers and making serious efforts to eliminate the problem, are the following 26 countries: Austria, Belgium, Benin, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Ghana, Hong Kong, Italy, Lithuania, Macedonia, Mauritius, Morocco, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom.
The State Department said it couldn't assess the situation in Afghanistan, though the new government there has condemned trafficking, or in Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Mauritania, Somalia and Tunisia.