U.S. to Place Sanctions on Nations Trafficking Humans

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The United States will impose economic sanctions on Burma, Cuba and North Korea for failing to take steps to stop "human trafficking (search)," such as forcing people to work or engage in sexual acts against their will, the White House said Wednesday.

Ten other nations, however, have made enough progress in ending "this heinous crime" to avoid losing U.S. assistance, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said in a statement.

"The president is committed to leading the fight to eradicate trafficking in persons, which according to our recent estimate involves up to 900,000 people a year being moved across international borders into forced labor, sexual exploitation and other forms of modern-day slavery," McClellan said.

"These important actions will punish the perpetrators and help the victims of this heinous crime around the world," he said.

In June, the State Department alleged in an annual report that 15 countries had made no significant efforts to stop trafficking in humans and could face sanctions under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (search). Officials said sanctions could include voting against loans to the countries from the International Monetary Fund (search) and the World Bank (search).

All except five of the nations have taken enough steps to avoid sanctions that were set to take effect Oct. 1, the Bush administration said. Countries that have avoided possible sanctions are: Belize, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Dominican Republic, Georgia, Greece, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Suriname, Turkey and Uzbekistan.

McClellan said progress those countries have made includes drafting or passing new anti-trafficking legislation and procedures; conducting public awareness campaigns on national press and television; developing new anti-trafficking training programs for police, immigration and judicial officials; creating national task forces and action plans; establishing confidential hot lines to fight corruption and trafficking in persons; and building referral systems for victims.

"The steps taken by these countries stand in contrast to the continuing failure of Burma, Cuba, and North Korea to make significant efforts to comply with the act's minimum standards," he said. "As a result, the president decided to impose sanctions on these countries in accordance with the act."

Two other countries -- Liberia and Sudan -- also have failed to meet the standards of the act, but the president has determined that certain multilateral assistance for these two countries would help the purposes of the act or U.S. national security. For Sudan, which is struggling through a 20-year civil war, the assistance will be limited to what is needed to implement a peace accord.

The United States is not immune from the problem of human trafficking. 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.