U.S. Criticizes Israel, Norway, Turkey for Not Doing Enough to Combat Human Trafficking

The Biden administration on Thursday named 17 countries that it says are not doing enough to fight human trafficking. The U.S. also criticized multiple U.S. allies, including Israel, Norway and Turkey, saying their efforts in managing the problem have declined.

The countries were named in the State Department's annual "Trafficking in Persons" report, which assesses 188 countries. The report specified that the coronavirus had accelerated human trafficking rates between 2020 and 2021 as more people became vulnerable to exploitation and government efforts were redirected from the problem to deal with the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Israel, Norway, and four other nations were demoted from Tier 1 to Tier 2, which doesn't entail U.S. penalties but says they didn't meet the international standard. The critique of Turkey, the first of a NATO member, came from offering "operational, equipment, and financial support" to a Syrian armed militia that recruits child fighters.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Antony Blinken
The State Department's annual "Trafficking in Persons" report says that the coronavirus accelerated human trafficking rates between 2020 and 2021. Above, Secretary of State Antony Blinken addresses the media during a joint news conference with Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio in Rome on Monday. Gregorio Borgia/AP Photo

The report classified the 17 mostly authoritarian nations as Tier 3 for failing to meet minimal standards to stop what Secretary of State Antony Blinken called an "inhumane cycle of discrimination and injustices." The designation means that without a presidential waiver those countries could lose some U.S. assistance, although decisions on such penalties will not be made until later this year.

Newcomers to the Tier 3 category are Malaysia and Guinea-Bissau, both of which had been on a watch list for a downgrade for three years and were ineligible to avoid the designation because they had failed to take steps to improve their anti-human trafficking efforts.

They join Afghanistan, Algeria, Burma, China, Comoros, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea, Russia, South Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan and Venezuela in the worst offender category. Most of those countries are already subject to U.S. sanctions for other reasons.

Israel was cited for backsliding on "serious and sustained" initiatives to combat trafficking, including a decrease in investigations and prosecutions of perpetrators, and severe understaffing at its only authority directly charged with dealing with the matter.

The report cited U.S. treaty ally New Zealand for not initiating any prosecutions for labor trafficking and weak prison sentences for child sex traffickers that "significantly weakened deterrence, undercut efforts to hold traffickers accountable, and did not adequately address the nature of the crime."

The report criticized NATO ally Norway for not prosecuting any human trafficking cases during the reporting period and charging people suspected of the crime with lesser offenses. Fellow NATO member Portugal was hit for failing to improve victim identification and lacking legal safeguards to protect trafficking victims.

Ghislaine Maxwell
Media in New York City gather outside as Ghislaine Maxwell was set to make her first court appearance on July 14, 2020, in connection with sex-trafficking charges tied to her former boyfriend Jeffrey Epstein. Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images