* Myanmar up, Syria down in U.S. global slavery report
* U.S. sees some encouraging signs on enforcing anti-slavery
* Estimates say between 21-27 million still enslaved
By Andrew Quinn
WASHINGTON, June 19 Myanmar was upgraded in the
annual U.S. global slavery report released on Tuesday, boosted
by the Southeast Asian country's pledge to outlaw
state-sponsored forced labor as it pursues rapid democratic
But the report downgraded Syria, naming it as among the
worst offenders, as President Bashar al-Assad's government
devotes its energies to violently suppressing widespread popular
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the State
Department's 2012 "Trafficking in Persons" report
(www.state.gov/j/tip), which gives a detailed account of
slavery, sex trafficking and forced labor for 186 countries
around the world.
"Victims of modern slavery are women and men, girls and
boys, and their stories remind us of what kind of inhumane
treatment we are still capable of as human beings," Clinton
Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, the U.S. coordinator for human
trafficking issues, said the 2012 report revealed some small
signs of progress but stressed that the problem remained huge
with estimates of between 21-27 million people in forced
servitude around the world.
Identification of victims - key to enforcing
anti-trafficking laws - had risen to 42,291, an increase of 28
percent over 2011, while convictions were also up by about 10
percent at 3,969, CdeBaca said.
"We do think that we are seeing some real positive movement
as far as those numbers are concerned," CdeBaca told a news
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, saw its ranking improve,
moving from the lowest "tier three" alongside countries such as
North Korea, Syria and Yemen, up onto a watch list of countries
with slightly better records.
CAN NOT OFFER ASSISTANCE
The United States is bound by law to oppose most assistance
to "tier three" countries by international financial
institutions such as the World Bank and the International
Myanmar's military-dominated government has over the past
year enacted rapid reforms, including freeing hundreds of
political prisoners, signing peace deals with ethnic minority
rebel groups and holding by-elections dominated by Nobel Peace
laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition party.
The U.S. report did note a range of problems remain in
Myanmar, including forced labor, sex trafficking and the
recruitment of child soldiers.
But it also noted new steps to fight human trafficking,
including victim-protection laws, a hotline to report abuses,
and a pledge to end state-sponsored forced labor by 2015, which
prompted the International Labor Organization (ILO) this month
to lift punitive restrictions imposed on the country more than a
"What we've seen over the last year is that the government
in Burma has taken a number of significant and frankly
unprecedented steps in advancing these reforms," CdeBaca said.
Altogether, 29 countries were upgraded in the 2012 report,
including some such as Venezuela and Nicaragua that are often
critical of the United States.
Others such as North Korea remain on the blacklist, while
Syria was downgraded to "tier three", with political violence
exacerbating the plight of vulnerable populations including
Syria's large Iraqi refugee population.
CdeBaca said the United States was increasingly concerned
that Pyongyang, long accused of relying on forced labor within
the country, was now exporting slavery through work projects in
the Middle East and Russia.
"When the North Koreans send workers overseas, they send the
police with them and keep them under surveillance and retaliate
against them if they fight for their rights or if they try to
leave," CdeBaca said, calling the situation "very grave".
(Editing by Philip Barbara)