US report returns South Korea to Tier 1 group for human trafficking elimination efforts

 U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a joint news conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the State Department in Wash., U.S., June 18. Reuters-Yonhap

The State Department put South Korea back on a top-tier list of countries for meeting standards for the elimination of human trafficking, while leaving North Korea in the lowest third tier for the 22nd straight year, its annual report showed Monday.

The department released the 2024 Trafficking in Persons Report, where South Korea was listed in the Tier 1 group of 33 countries and territories, including the United States, Britain, Taiwan, France, Germany, Australia, Singapore, Poland and Sweden.

Countries, whose governments fully meet the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, are included in Tier 1. South Korea was put into Tier 2 in the 2022 report for the first time in 20 years and remained in the tier in last year’s report.

The report measured progress in efforts to eliminate trafficking in 188 countries and territories. Its reporting period was from April 1 last year through March 31.

“The Government of the Republic of Korea (ROK) fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking,” the report read, 토토 referring to South Korea by its official name. “The government made key achievements to do so during the reporting period; therefore the ROK was upgraded to Tier 1.”

South Korea’s achievements included increasing trafficking investigations, prosecuting and convicting more traffickers, implementing the victim identification index, identifying 55 trafficking victims, initiating the prosecution of an alleged complicit official, and increasing cooperation with civil society organizations, according to the report.

But the report noted that the South Korean government did not proactively investigate labor trafficking cases and its victim identification index reportedly did not contain adequate measures to screen for labor trafficking. It also raised other issues, including having not prosecuted a case involving human trafficking in the distant water fishing sector.

In a press release, Seoul’s foreign ministry said that South Korea’s return to Tier 1 resulted from efforts that the government has made to “faithfully” respond to trafficking issues and protect victims in line with a relevant domestic law.

“In light of the endeavors to lead the enhancement of universal values, including human rights and democracy, we plan to reinforce our efforts through close inter-agency collaboration to respond to human trafficking,” the ministry said.

The department put the North in the Tier 3 group that includes China, Russia, Iran, Cuba, Afghanistan, Cambodia and Syria.

“The Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so; therefore, the DPRK remained on Tier 3,” the report said, referring to the North by its official name.

The report pointed out that the North Korean government did not demonstrate any meaningful efforts to address human trafficking.

“During the reporting period, there was a government policy or pattern of human trafficking in political prison camps and ‘labor training centers’ as part of an established system of political repression, as well as mass mobilizations of adults and children and the imposition of forced labor conditions on North Korean workers overseas,” it said.

“The government used proceeds from state-sponsored forced labor to fund government operations,” it added.

In a press briefing, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken pointed out that the 2024 report examined the growing role of digital technology in trafficking.

“Around the world, trafficking networks target and recruit victims online thorough social media, through dating apps, through gaming platforms,” he said. “Perpetrators conduct financial transactions in opaque cryptocurrencies. They use encryption to make it harder to detect activities or ascertain the countries where they are operating.”

He also stressed that trafficking is the “very definition of a problem that no one nation can solve alone.”

Meanwhile, Japan was put in the Tier 2 group. The department said that the Japanese government does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but is making “significant” efforts to do so.

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