July 8, 2007 / 11:13 AM / in 11 years

U.S. human trafficking report misses progress: Saudi

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia has criticised U.S. charges that it is guilty of human trafficking, saying a U.S. State Department report was misleading and ignored Saudi efforts to stamp out the practice.

Saudi Arabia was among 16 countries listed in an annual report released last month on the world’s worst offenders in failing to prevent people being sold into the sex trade and servitude.

The countries are subject to possible sanctions, including the loss of U.S. aid and U.S. support for World Bank and International Monetary Fund loans.

Withholding loans and aid is not a concern for Saudi Arabia, whose economy is booming on high oil prices, but the Islamic state is trying to shed its image as a human rights abuser.

“Examining the American report on human trafficking, we felt that it was misleading ... It contains descriptions, opinions and understandings that are not necessarily true,” Turky Al Sudairy, head of the government’s Human Rights Commission said in a statement published in Saudi newspapers.

“While we accept that there are some who mistreat (domestic) workers, and this is not acceptable, there are laws that stipulate punishment and the Commission will not hesitate to reveal practices and violations.”

Around a third of Saudi Arabia’s 24 million population are foreign residents, mostly blue-collar workers from Asian countries. Over a million work as housemaids, and reports of abuse are common. Saudi employers often retain their passports.

Sudairy said the authorities had taken stringent measures to regulate the labor market, which he said was subject to abuse by recruitment agencies. He said Saudi Arabia has laws to prevent child labor.

“The efforts being exerted have not finished yet and we cannot claim such a thing,” Sudairy said.

“Cooperation before writing reports would help to make many things clearer and lead to more objectivity and precision, since the (U.S.) report ignored recent developments.”

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