Myanmar called sad and regrettable a move by the US to place the country on a list of the world’s worst human-trafficking offenders.
The demotion came on Thursday when the US Department of State released its annual Trafficking in Persons report, which examines 188 governments’ efforts in combating modern-day slavery.
It placed Myanmar alongside countries like Iran, North Korea and Syria, and says the Southeast Asian country has failed to meet “the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.”
It also removed Thailand from the blacklist, despite what the State Department described as widespread forced labor in the country’s seafood industry.
The downgrade for Myanmar appeared aimed at sending a message to the country’s government, headed by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, and its still-powerful military to curb use of forced labor, sex trafficking and the recruitment of children as soldiers into the armed forces.
Aung Sun Suu Kyi has been criticized for failing to address widespread persecution of the nation’s Rohingya Muslim minority.
Her government criticized the demotion as failing to recognize the country’s progress.
“We are very sad that we have not been recognized for making positive changes,” Burmese presidential spokesman Zaw Htay said. “In their report, they didn’t mention the progress and development we have made for our country.”
The Burmese Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the downgrade “regrettable” and urged the US not to impose restrictions that would hamper US-Myanmar relations.
It also promised to step up efforts to combat trafficking measures.
“The issue of human smuggling and trafficking will be addressed vigorously in close cooperation with international partners,” it said.
US President Barack Obama now has 90 days to determine whether to apply sanctions on so-called Tier 3 nations, including Myanmar.
The US often chooses not to, based on its national security interests.
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