WASHINGTON — The United States asserted Tuesday that Myanmar is no longer one of the world’s worst offenders on human trafficking, while removing both Myanmar and Iraq from a list of countries that use child soldiers.
In its annual report on human trafficking, the State Department also demoted China to the lowest ranking over its trafficking record, putting it in the same category as North Korea, Zimbabwe and Syria. Afghanistan was recognized for taking steps to curb trafficking, while Iraq was seen as making insufficient progress on that issue.
Ivanka Trump, the senior White House adviser and daughter of President Donald Trump, said ending human trafficking was in both the moral and strategic interests of the U.S., describing the effort as a “major foreign policy priority” for the administration:
“As a mother, this is much more than a policy priority,” she said at a ceremony to unveil the report. “It is a clarion call into action in defense of the vulnerable and the exploited.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the roughly 20 million victims of human trafficking globally illustrate how much more work must be done.
“Regrettably, our challenge is enormous,” Tillerson said. “Human trafficking is becoming more nuanced and more difficult to identify. Much of these activities are going underground, and they’re going online.”
Also known as Burma, Myanmar was promoted for its efforts against recruitment of child soldiers and its first prosecution of government officials under a human trafficking law. The Southeast Asia nation had been demoted to the lowest tier last year, shortly after it shifted to civilian government, ending decades of oppressive military rule.
Myanmar’s elevation is a boost for Aung San Suu Kyi’s administration, which is facing growing criticism from human rights groups. The political transition in the Southeast Asian country has been a bumpy one as it wrestles with ethnic conflict and deep-seated discrimination against its minority Rohingya Muslims.
The demotion of China was a particular surprise this year, marking the first major, public rebuke of China’s human rights record by the Trump administration, which has generally avoided direct, public criticism of Beijing and other majors on rights issues. The Trump administration has been seeking China’s help to pressure North Korea to give up its nuclear program, and Tillerson said Tuesday that China’s failure to crack down on forced labor from North Korea was among the reasons it was downgraded.
In the report, the U.S. said that not only was China not meeting minimum standards to stop trafficking, it also was “not making significant efforts to do so.” The report also said there were indications that China’s government was still complicit in forced labor, including in some drug rehabilitation centers. The U.S. said China’s efforts to prosecute traffickers had also fallen.
Myanmar and Iraq were also taken off the blacklist of foreign governments identified of having child soldiers, a move that Human Rights Watch said was premature in the case of Myanmar and undermines U.S. credibility in ending the use of children in warfare. The group said the U.N. has documented child recruitment by Myanmar’s armed forces in 2016.
Associated Press writer Josh Lederman wrote this report. Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington contributed to this report.