(RFE/RL, AP) -- Armenia could face U.S. penalties next year after its inclusion in a State Department list of 19 countries accused of not doing enough to prevent the forced transport of human beings across international borders.
A new State Department report, which examined 89 countries, says the number of offending countries is down from 23 a year ago. The report, issued annually, was prepared in response to legislation approved in October 2000 to highlight the problem in which thousands of victims are taken across international borders to work in sweatshops, construction sites, brothels and fields.
The legislation calls for imposing economic sanctions in 2003 against countries that fail to take action against traffickers or to protect victims. Secretary of State Colin Powell was planning to unveil the report on Wednesday. A copy was made available to the Associated Press on Tuesday.
More than a quarter of the blacklisted countries are in the Gulf region: Bahrain, Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Apart from them and Armenia, the remaining 13 countries found not to be complying with minimum standards set forth in the legislation are Afghanistan, Belarus, Bosnia, Cambodia, Greece, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Myanmar, Russia, Sudan, Tajikistan and Turkey.
It was not clear what Armenia is specifically accused of. Officials at the Armenian government's department on migration and refugees said it was apparently blacklisted because of the large-scale illegal immigration of its citizens into Western Europe. The department's chief of staff, Vartan Gevorgian, complained that his agency lacks powers to punish numerous local travel agencies that lure people with the promise of a well-paid job in the West. Many Armenians have paid those firms substantial sums only to end up as illegal immigrants, Gevorgian told RFE/RL.
A new draft criminal code which will be debated by the Armenian parliament this year sets stricter punishment for human trafficking. The parliament has yet to ratify an international convention on the prevention of what the State Department report describes as a "horrific practice."