The US has removed Taiwan from a watch list for human trafficking in view of the country's "significant efforts" to tackle the problem over the past year, an annual report released by the US Department of State said on Tuesday.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice singled out Taiwan as one of a handful of countries making "major improvements" in the fight against the global sex and worker slavery trade, saying that the examples set by Taiwan and the other countries "should give us hope" of progress against the worldwide scourge.
She made the comments at the unveiling of the department's 2007 Trafficking in Persons report, which, for the first time in three years, upgraded Taiwan's status among countries identified by the department as making progress against massive human smuggling problems.
Department officials said that Taiwan's improvement over the past year was considered one of the "highlights" of this year's report.
Taiwan was taken off the so-called "Tier 2 Watch List" of 32 countries with some of the world's worst records, and placed in the regular Tier 2 list, which includes nearly 80 countries.
About half the countries covered in the report have lingering problems, but are taking ample steps to deal with it. China remains on the watch list.
In introducing the report, Rice told a press conference that despite a considerable number of concerns throughout the world, "much in this year's report should give us hope. For example, Georgia, Hungary, Slovenia and Israel have all made major improvements, as have Taiwan and countries like Indonesia, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru and Jamaica."
Following up on Rice's remarks, Mark Lagon, the department's senior adviser on trafficking in persons, praised Taiwan for its efforts over the past year, making special mention of last week's bust of a major international prostitution smuggling ring in Taiwan.
In his comments, Lagon made the point of contrasting Taiwan's democracy with China's poor legal system.
`Real success story'
"Last week," Lagon said, "a raid in Taiwan, a real success story, demonstrated a welcome new attitude."
Describing the break-up of the smuggling ring, Lagon added, "Countries that have established credentials in good government and rule of law are more likely to move quickly in protecting victims of trafficking and handing down justice to exploiters."
"For example, while China resisted joining the international community in upholding universal anti-trafficking standards, given a lack of rule of law, Taiwan's vibrant civil society and democratic character have helped it adopt significant reforms over the past year."
The report itself went into extensive detail on the problems Taiwan has with human trafficking, involving both sexual and labor exploitation.
"Taiwan [sic] authorities do not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking: however, they are making significant efforts to do so. While the island's trafficking problems remain daunting, Taiwan authorities over the last year showed clear progress in addressing trafficking for both sexual and labor exploitation," the report states.
"Nevertheless, much more remains to be done to bring Taiwan into compliance with the minimum standards. Taiwan authorities need to demonstrate greater political will in tacking the trafficking in persons problem on the island," it adds.
The report calls for victims to be granted formal protection, including access to justice in order to gain compensation, and the right to work while awaiting court cases.
The Council on Labor Affairs should "stop addressing acts of involuntary servitude with administrative penalties; instead these serious crimes should be referred to the appropriate law enforcement authorities for criminal investigation," it said.
The report described Taiwan as "primarily a destination for men, women and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and sexual exploitation."
Women and girls from China and Southeast Asia are brought to Taiwan through fraudulent marriages, deceptive employment offers and smuggling for the sex trade and labor exploitation, it said.
Many foreign workers from Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines, recruited legally by the construction, fishing and manufacturing industries or as domestic servants, are then pressed into forced labor or involuntary servitude, the report said.
In Taiwan, Premier Chang Chun-hsiung (
Taiwan must not be complacent about its achievements, he said, adding that the Cabinet's goal in the coming year was to continue to work to have the nation's ranking upgraded to "Tier 1."
However, a spokesman for a non-governmental organization (NGO) reacted with concern.
Fran Gau (
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MAX HIRSCH AND CNA
Also see story:
US releases human trafficking blacklist
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