The failure of the White House to enforce threatened sanctions against countries that the State Department has accused of doing little to control human trafficking is “appalling,” with the Obama administration • much like the George W. Bush administration before it — using “every loophole possible” to issue waivers to avoid punishing the offending nations by cutting U.S. aid, according to elected officials, human rights activists and others.
Of the 23 countries cited by the State Department in a June 2011 report as having failed to meet minimum standards in fighting human trafficking, whose victims are usually women and children, President Obama granted full waivers in September to 13 — including Algeria, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen — and partial waivers to seven others, including Cuba, Iran, Myanmar and Venezuela. Only three countries faced the full force of the sanctions — Eritrea, Madagascar and North Korea — which were not anticipated to get the types of foreign assistance that could be restricted.
Rep. Christopher H. Smith, who wrote the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, which requires the State Department to annually rank each country’s efforts at controlling human trafficking and provides penalties for those that fail to meet minimum standards, said the lack of implementation is “appalling.”
“I don’t know a more serious human rights violation than human trafficking, and we should treat it as such,” the New Jersey Republican said. “We can’t play games with human rights.”
Last month, the State Department’s 2012 trafficking report cited 17 nations as failing to do enough against human trafficking. Mr. Obama has until mid-September to decide whether to issue new waivers. A White House spokesman referred questions about the waivers to the State Department.
But Michael Horowitz, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a Washington-based nonpartisan policy research organization, said foreign embassies no longer are worried about enforcement of the act because of the widespread use of waivers.
“Major legislation passed, but it is not being enforced,” said Mr. Horowitz, who played a role in passing the original trafficking legislation. “It is not taken seriously by foreign governments.” He said the U.S. government’s response to human trafficking has become “a series of press conferences with no bite,” and described the State Department as “a white noise operation.”
Americans view reducing government corruption as the second-highest priority for the next president, behind only job creation, according to a new Gallup poll released Monday.
Eighty-seven percent of respondents said that reducing corruption in the federal government is an “extremely important” or “very important” priority for the next president, compared with 92 percent who said the same about creating good jobs.
Notably, corruption ranks ahead of issues such as reducing the federal budget deficit (86 percent), dealing with terrorism (86 percent) and continuing Social Security and Medicare (85 percent).
Obama supporters and Romney supporters have slightly different priorities when it comes to the next presidential term.
While health care remains the top priority for Obama supporters, with 50 percent characterizing it as “extremely important,” 51 percent of Romney supporters prioritize reducing the federal budget deficit.
For both camps, however, 48 percent view job creation as “extremely important” for the next presidential term, making it the second-most-important issue.
Obama supporters round out the top five priorities with Social Security and Medicare, public schools and government corruption, while Romney supporters stressed government corruption, terrorism and moral standards.