Updated June 17, 2009 11:16 AM
WASHINGTON (AP) – The Obama administration on Tuesday expanded the US watchlist of countries suspected of not doing enough to combat human trafficking, putting more than four dozen nations on notice that they might face sanctions unless their records improve.
The State Department's annual "Trafficking in Persons Report," the first released since President Barack Obama took office, placed 52 countries and territories — mainly in Africa, Asia and the Middle East — on the watchlist. That number is a 30 percent jump from the 40 countries on the list in 2008.
Officials said one reason for the increase was the impact of the world financial crisis which has made people at-risk for trafficking more vulnerable to the crime.
Several previously cited nations were removed from the list, but new countries cited for human trafficking problems include Angola, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Iraq, Lebanon, Nicaragua, Pakistan, the Philippines, Qatar, Senegal and the United Arab Emirates.
The report also placed the Netherlands' Antilles, a self-governing Dutch territory in the Caribbean, on the watchlist.
"With this report, we hope to shine the light brightly on the scope and scale of modern slavery so all governments can see where progress has been made and where more is needed," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said as she released the 320-page document.
"Economic pressure, especially in this global economic crisis, makes more people susceptible to the false promises of traffickers," she said.
Inclusion on the watchlist means those countries' governments are not fully complying with minimum standards set by US law for cooperating in efforts to reduce the rise of human trafficking — a common denominator in the sex trade, coerced labor and recruitment of child soldiers.
If a country appears on the list for two consecutive years, it can be subject to US sanctions.
Seventeen nations, up from 14 in 2008, are now subject to the trafficking sanctions, which can include a ban on non-humanitarian and trade-related aid and US opposition to loans and credits from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. The penalties can be waived if the president determines it is in US national interest to do so.
Those 17 countries include traditional US foes like Cuba, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan and Syria, but also American allies and friends such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
Malaysia, another US partner, was added to the list of worst offenders as were six African nations Zimbabwe, Chad, Eritrea, Mauritania, Niger, and Swaziland.
Luis Cdebaca, the director of the State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking In Persons, said the addition of the six African countries was largely due to a relaxation in efforts to fight domestic slavery, which has persisted. "Those efforts seem to have stalled," he said.