Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, along with 10 other countries, were cited by the State Department in its annual report in human trafficking worldwide, released on Friday.
Also named were Bolivia, Cambodia, Jamaica, Togo, Myanmar, Cuba, Ecuador, North Korea, Sudan and Venezuela. The latter six countries were carried over from the 2004 list.
"Trafficking in human beings is nothing less than a modern form of slavery," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said as she released the report.
John R. Miller, Rice's senior adviser on human trafficking, said "modern-day slavery plagues every country, including the United States".
Miller said the report's goal "is not to punish, but to stimulate government action to eliminate" human trafficking.
"Modern-day slavery plagues every country, including the United States"
State Department adviser
The findings were disclosed in the State Department's annual "Trafficking in Persons" report, which examines abuses in 150 countries.
Miller told reporters that sanctions will be imposed against any of the 14 countries named unless they improve anti-trafficking activities over the next three months, a time frame specified in legislation.
To head off sanctions, Miller said, "our hope is there will be enough progress in freeing the victims and throwing the traffickers in jail," Miller said.
He singled out Saudi Arabia. "We have domestic workers being brought in from many countries into domestic servitude, child beggars, a lot of beatings, reports of beatings and rape," he said.
Anti-trafficking legislation was first approved in 2000. Two years ago, the legislation was strengthened to include the possibility of sanctions.
The only countries where sanctions have been imposed are Equatorial Guinea and Venezuela, both in 2004.
A State Department official acknowledged that economic penalties against any of the four allies in the terrorism war would not have much impact.
The official, asking not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak for the record, said the main purpose of the sanctions threat is the stigma of being identified as tolerant of international trafficking activities.
Condoleezza Rice said more
global effort is needed
Countries that are deemed to have severe trafficking problems and that are failing to take remedial action can be subject to a cut off of "non-humanitarian, non-trade related assistance".
Vetoing exchange programs
Countries that receive no such assistance can be declared ineligible to take part in cultural and educational exchange programs.
Nations that were on the 2004 list and have been removed this year are Bangladesh, Equatorial Guinea, Guyana and Sierra Leone.
The 256-page report described the trafficking as a "growing global threat to the lives and freedom of millions of men, women and children".
The report cited a survey by the UN's International Labour Organisation, which estimated that 12.3 million people are enslaved in forced labour, bonded labour, forced child labour, sexual servitude and involuntary servitude at any given time.
Women and children trafficked
It said that of the 600,000 to 800,000 people trafficked across international borders each year, about 80% are women and girls and up to 50% are children.
The majority of victims are trafficked into commercial sexual exploitation, the report said.
The State Department uses a "tier" system to evaluate performance of countries in combatting trafficking. The 24 "Tier 1" countries were found to be complying fully with international standards.
Trafficking is a "growing global threat to the lives and freedom of millions of men, women and children"
"Tier 2" countries, 77 all told, were said to be making significant efforts to meet minimum standards.
Countries that fall somewhat short of the Tier 2 criteria were placed the on the "Tier 2 Watch List." There were 27 of these. There were 14 "Tier 3" countries that are subject to sanctions.
The majority of the new Tier 3 countries are said to be destinations for trafficked people for labour and/or sexual exploitation.
The report listed a number of countries that have taken significant steps to combat trafficking.
The South Korean government, the report said, approved two anti-prostitution and anti-trafficking laws in 2004 in response to a petition by South Korean women.
The report also cited agreements among Mali, Senegal and Burkina Faso that have led to the repatriation of a number of trafficked children.
Other countries where progress has been made, the report said, are Malawi, Indonesia, the Philippines, the Czech Republic and Slovenia.