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Saudi Arabia, Cuba on List of World’s Worst Fighters of Human Trafficking

The top U.S. diplomat said traffickers are currently victimizing nearly 25 million people worldwide

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks on the release of the 2019 Trafficking in Person (TIP) Report at the US State Department in Washington, Thursday, June 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) VOA

Saudi Arabia and Cuba are now on a list of countries the United States considers derelict in their responsibilities to combat human trafficking, raising the risk of sanctions against those countries.

In its annual report on human trafficking, the State Department accused ally Saudi Arabia of widespread violations involving foreign laborers and denounced Cuba for allegedly engaging in trafficking through its program that exports doctors abroad.

“If you don’t stand up to trafficking, America will stand up to you,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters Wednesday in Washington, shortly after the report’s release. The annual Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP Report) assesses what countries are doing to combat what Pompeo describes as “one of the most heinous crimes on Earth.”

The top U.S. diplomat said traffickers are currently victimizing nearly 25 million people worldwide. The State Department designated Saudi Arabia and Cuba as Tier 3 countries, the report’s lowest possible ranking. China, North Korea, Russia and Venezuela have also been designated as such.

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FILE – Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro. VOA

The U.S. said the Saudi kingdom has done little to help victims, choosing to, instead, jail, fine or deport them after accusing them of immigration violations or prostitution.Cuba, a long-time U.S. adversary, has threatened or coerced physicians to participate in its overseas medical program, the report said.

Some 8,300 Cuban medical workers who had been stationed in Brazil departed the country after President Jair Bolsonaro complained earlier this year the Cuban government keeps most of the wages paid to the workers, whom he described as “slave labor.

Tier 3 countries are subject to U.S. actions, including partial or total elimination of support from the International Monetary Fund or other international support organizations.

The U.S. president, however, can waive sanctions against Tier 3 countries with the hope it will encourage them act more aggressively against traffickers. Pompeo said the U.S. took actions last year against 22 Tier 3 countries.

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The annual Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP Report) assesses what countries are doing to combat what Pompeo describes as “one of the most heinous crimes on Earth.” Flickr

The State Department report, which assesses 187 countries, concluded many world governments have enacted laws to hold traffickers accountable since the 2000 adoption of the United Nation’s Palermo Protocol. The pact requires countries to codify human trafficking as a crime both within and between countries.

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But the report calls on countries to do more to ensure protections for victims within their borders. Greater protections requires “political courage” to investigate “official power structures,” for example, and to “ending impunity for crimes that have long been seen as accepted local and cultural practices.”

“Acknowledging human trafficking within the borders of a country is not easy,” the report declared. “Governments should be willing to admit its existence and rise to their responsibility to address it.” (VOA)

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US House Block Administration from Selling Billions of Dollars in Weapons to Saudi Arabia

Two of the resolutions passed with 238 votes, while a third was approved with 237

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FILE - People attend a demonstration to protest against the loading of weapons aboard a cargo ship operating for Saudi Arabia's defense and interior ministries, in Le Havre, France, May 9, 2019. VOA

Congress is heading for a showdown with President Donald Trump after the House voted Wednesday to block his administration from selling billions of dollars in weapons and maintenance support to Saudi Arabia.

Trump, who has sought to forge closer ties with Riyadh, has pledged to veto the resolutions of disapproval that passed the Democratic-led House largely along party lines. Two of the resolutions passed with 238 votes, while a third was approved with 237. Each of the measures garnered just four Republican backers.

The Senate cleared the resolutions last month, but like the House, fell well short of a veto-proof majority. Overturning a president’s veto requires a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate.

Heightened Middle East tensions

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Congress is heading for a showdown with President Donald Trump after the House voted Wednesday to block his administration from selling billions of dollars in weapons. Pixabay

Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, accused the Trump administration of circumventing Congress and the law to move ahead with the arms sale. He called the resolutions “extraordinary but necessary” to stop “a phony emergency to override the authority of Congress.”

The votes came against the backdrop of heightened tensions in the Middle East, with much of the focus on Iran. Tehran is pushing the limits on its nuclear program after Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the 2015 nuclear deal more than a year ago. Iran has inched its uranium production and enrichment over the limits of the accord, trying to put more pressure on Europe to offer it better terms and allow it to sell its crude oil abroad.

The White House has declared stopping the sale would send a signal that the United States doesn’t stand by its partners and allies, particularly at a time when threats against them are increasing.

But opposition among members of Congress to the Trump administration’s alliance with the Saudis has been building, fueled by the high civilian casualties in the Saudi-led war in Yemen — a military campaign the U.S. is assisting — and the killing of U.S.-based columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents.

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Estimated $8 billion in arms

The arms package, worth an estimated $8 billion, includes thousands of precision-guided munitions, other bombs and ammunition, and aircraft maintenance support for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had cited Iranian aggression when declaring an emergency to approve the weapons sales in May. The Saudis have recently faced a number of attacks from Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

“Right now, as I speak, Iran is stretching its tentacles of terror across the Middle East,” said the Foreign Affairs Committee’s top Republican, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, who pushed for the resolutions to be rejected. “If we allow them to succeed, terrorism will flourish, instability will reign and the security of our allies like Israel will be threatened.”

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Trump, who has sought to forge closer ties with Riyadh, has pledged to veto the resolutions of disapproval that passed the Democratic-led House largely along party lines. PIxabay

Bypassing Congress

Critics of the sale also had denounced the White House for bypassing congressional review of the arms sales, which was done by invoking an emergency loophole in the Arms Export Control Act.

Pompeo had informed Congress that he had made the determination “that an emergency exists which requires the immediate sale” of the weapons “in order to deter further the malign influence of the government of Iran throughout the Middle East region.”

The law requires Congress to be notified of potential arms sales, giving the body the opportunity to block the sale. But the law also allows the president to waive that review process by declaring an emergency that requires the sale be made “in the national security interests of the United States.”

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Engel said there was no emergency, arguing that two months after Pompeo’s notification not a single weapon has been shipped and many of them haven’t even been built.

“What kind of emergency requires weapons that will be built months and months down the road?” Engel said. (VOA)