U.S. Removes Cuba, Malaysia From Human Trafficking List | Independent Newspapers Limited
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U.S. Removes Cuba, Malaysia From Human Trafficking List

Posted: Jul 28, 2015 at 8:15 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

The United States upgraded Malaysia in an annual report on human trafficking on Monday, despite calls by human rights groups and nearly 180 U.S. lawmakers to keep the Southeast Asian country on a list of worst offenders for failing to suppress trafficking.

The U.S. State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report also upgraded Cuba from its lowest rank for the first time since it was included in the annual report in 2003.

South Sudan, Burundi, Belize, Belarus and Comoros were downgraded to the lowest rank, Tier 3, where Thailand remained for a second year, alongside countries with some of the world’s worst trafficking records, including Iran, North Korea and Zimbabwe.

Malaysia’s expected upgrade to the so-called “Tier 2 Watch List” status from Tier 3 removes a potential barrier to President Barack Obama’s signature 12-nation Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement, or TPP.

Congress approved legislation in June, giving Obama expanded trade negotiating powers but prohibiting deals with Tier 3 countries such as Malaysia.

After a July 8 Reuters report on plans to upgrade Malaysia, 160 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 18 U.S. senators wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry, urging him to keep Malaysia on Tier 3. They said there was no justification for an upgrade and questioned whether the plan was motivated by a desire to keep the country in the TPP.

U.S. Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Sarah Sewall rejected the notion that any political considerations had influenced Malaysia’s ranking.

“No, no, no,” she told a news briefing when asked whether the upgrade was connected to a desire to maintain Malaysia’s TPP eligibility. She said the decision was based on standards for how well it was dealing with the trafficking problem.

Malaysia is one of 12 nations in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the key economic plank of Obama’s Asia policy. The nations’ trade ministers are meeting in Hawaii this week, hoping to close on the agreement after years of negotiations. Malaysia’s ranking is contentious as an anti-trafficking amendment to legislation crucial for the deal’s eventual ratification by Congress limits the president’s ability to secure free trade agreements with countries assigned to tier 3.

“By upgrading Malaysia, the U.S. is selling out victims of human trafficking,” said Melysa Sperber, director of the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking. “It also undermines the integrity of the report and jeopardizes the credibility that has been built up over many years.”