Former officials: State Dept’s politicized trafficking report could ‘kill credibility’

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Accusations that the State Department watered down its report on human trafficking for political reasons threaten to undermine the agency’s credibility and promotion of human rights, according to former department officials.

Reuters reported on Monday that senior political leaders at the State Department overruled the agency’s trafficking experts on the rankings of several countries that have failed to crack down on the modern slave trade for humans, including for forced labor and prostitution.

While the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (J/TIP) usually prevails in more than half of its disagreements with the department’s diplomatic bureaus, trafficking analysts lost out to senior diplomats on the ratings of 14 out of 17 prominent countries, according to the Reuters investigation.

Strategically important nations such as China, Cuba, and Malaysia—all of which have been accused of sponsoring or overlooking forms of forced labor and trafficking—received inflated assessments as a result. China remained a “Tier 2” country despite J/TIP’s recommendation to downgrade it to “Tier 3,” the lowest ranking. Both Cuba and Malaysia were upgraded to Tier 2 amid objections from trafficking analysts.

Jose Cardenas, a former senior State Department official in the Bush administration who specialized in Latin American relations, said in an interview that he has never observed an instance where the department was alleged to have engaged in such extensive politicization of human rights standards. There was “always a real firewall between the technical experts and the political leadership at the department,” he said.

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