WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers called on the Obama administration on Tuesday to punish countries that do too little to fight human trafficking, including Thailand and Malaysia, and said Myanmar should not receive a waiver to avoid possible sanctions over its record.
Citing reports on the exploitation of Myanmar's Rohingya Muslim minority in their home country as well as Thailand and Malaysia, Republican U.S. Representative Chris Smith said authorities have done too little to protect them.
"Rohingya are leaving Burma by the thousands to escape religious persecution," Smith said at a House of Representatives subcommittee hearing on Tier Rankings and the U.S. State Department's annual Trafficking in Persons report, citing a Reuters investigation into the treatment of Rohingya Muslims.
Myanmar sees Rohingya as illegal immigrants and denies them citizenship.
"According to reports put out by Reuters, Thai authorities are selling Rohingya to human traffickers, where they are held in 'tropical gulags' until relatives pay ransom," Smith said, adding that those who do not pay are sold into sex slavery or hard labor, and many die from abuse or disease.
In the report, "Tier 1" countries are those who meet anti-trafficking standards. "Tier 2" do not but are making a significant effort to do so. "Tier 3" countries do not meet the standards and not making significant effort to do so.
Tier 3 countries are open to sanction by the U.S. government. A U.S. law also includes a watch list, in which countries on Tier 2 for two years are downgraded to Tier 3 unless they receive presidential waivers, available for two additional years.
China, Russia and Uzbekistan ran out of waivers and moved to Tier 3 in the 2013 report released last June. Several others, including Malaysia and Thailand, run out this year.
Smith said Myanmar is still eligible for a waiver.
"But the facts on the ground don't justify that course of action," he added.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle. Editing by Andre Grenon)