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Saudi Arabia's standing worsens in State Department human rights report

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In its annual report on human trafficking, the State Department downgraded Saudi Arabia, a close ally of the Trump administration, to the lowest level of compliance with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act passed in 2000. The kingdom and other nations with this designation, identified as "Tier 3" countries, are found by the report not to "fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so."

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo unveiled the report at a ceremony on Thursday, calling human trafficking "a stain on all humanity," and naming repeat tier 3 offenders like Iran, North Korea, Syria and Venezuela. But Pompeo's remarks did not mention Saudi Arabia, which this year was included among nations the State Department says are not doing enough to combat the problem.

"The government of Saudi Arabia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so," reads the 2019 Trafficking in Persons report country profile for Saudi Arabia. "The government prosecuted and convicted few traffickers, did not report efforts to address forced labor despite the significant scale of such crimes in the country, and did not pursue criminal investigations against officials purportedly complicit in trafficking crimes."

The report mentions the kingdom's large migrant labor population – especially female domestic help – as being significantly at risk for trafficking. Saudi Arabia has, by some estimates, more than nine million foreign workers many from North Africa and Southeast Asia. Employers frequently withhold payment or the passports from their employees, preventing them from leaving the country and forcing them to work for free.

"Due to Saudi Arabia's requirement, under its sponsorship system, for foreign workers to obtain permission for an exit visa from their employers to be able to legally depart the country, some laborers are forced to work beyond their contract term because their Saudi employers use state-sanctioned tools as part of a coercive scheme," according the report.

The report also includes a list of the nations that recruit and use child soldiers including Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Burma and Yemen. Saudi Arabia was not included on this list, even though the country report does mention that Saudi may have funded the militias in Yemen that "hired minors in combatant roles."

"An international organization reported all parties to the conflict used both boys and girls as uniformed soldiers in combat and to guard checkpoints and military facilities during the reporting period," says the report.  

John Cotton Richmond, the ambassador-at-large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, was asked by CBS News why Saudi Arabia was not included on the list of countries using child soldiers. 

"We are aware of the reports that the Saudi government may have supported the use of child soldiers in Yemen, in the Yemeni conflict," he replied, "but that reporting was insufficient to warrant a listing this year." He added that as the State Department considered "all factors" regarding the kingdom, "the secretary decided to place Saudi Arabia on the lowest tier -- tier 3."

Pompeo also presented "Heroes" awards to several individuals who have devoted their lives to fighting human trafficking around the world. He was joined on stage by White House senior adviser Ivanka Trump, who did not speak, but posed for photos with the honorees.

"The Department of State joins the Trump administration, community leaders, global allies, and the survivors in our shared fight to end human trafficking," Pompeo said. "We must be resolute—we cannot leave anyone behind."

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