Saudi Arabia’s ranking improves in annual human-trafficking report

In a sign that efforts by the Kingdom to combat human trafficking are having an effect, the US State Department upgraded Saudi Arabia’s ranking in the latest edition of its annual Trafficking in Persons Report, which was published on Thursday.

The report, globally recognized as the most comprehensive analysis of anti-trafficking efforts by nations, raised the status of Saudi Arabia from “tier 3” to “tier 2 watch list.” In doing so, it highlighted improvements in inter-ministry coordination, greater transparency and data-sharing, and “significantly increased” numbers of prosecutions and convictions under the Kingdom’s anti-trafficking laws.

The recent progress has been spearheaded by the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking, a multi-agency body that brings together key ministries and authorities, and is supported through partnerships with international organizations such as the International Organization for Migration, and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

“Today is about honoring the victims and potential victims of trafficking and renewing our pledge to eradicate this heinous crime,” said Awwad Al-Awwad, the chairman of the committee and president of the Saudi Human Rights Commission.

“The strengthening of anti-trafficking measures is a major part of the Kingdom’s human-rights reform agenda, and we are happy to see that this hard work is being recognized. The wide array of reforms under way — including advances in women’s rights, penal reforms and anti-trafficking reforms — shows that the Kingdom is truly committed to making itself a better place for all those within its borders, whether here permanently or temporarily.”

In the past year, the committee and its partners have reached a number of milestones in the fight against human trafficking. These include the launch of the country’s first National Referral Mechanism, which specifies and coordinates the roles and responsibilities of Saudi authorities in the identification and protection of victims, and the investigation and prosecution of crimes involving human trafficking.

The Kingdom also held its first round-table discussion of anti-trafficking policies with authorities from countries that supply labor, and worked with nearly 3,000 recruitment agencies to ensure best practices are adopted in compliance with international standards.

“The improvement of the ranking of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in this year’s Trafficking in Persons Report is recognition of the concerted efforts the government has made this year to improve its response structure,” said Carmela Godeau, the International Organization for Migration’s regional director for MENA. “IOM is glad to be a key partner in the efforts, and expects to build on recent momentum for years to come.”

Another key recent Saudi initiative is the introduction of specialized panels in criminal courts, which has allowed the Kingdom to more aggressively pursue the prosecution and punishment of those involved in human trafficking. Authorities have also scored successes in capacity-building by implementing, in collaboration with UNODC and IOM, a comprehensive training program for workers on the front line of the fight against human trafficking.

“The UNODC is glad to celebrate with our partners in Saudi Arabia the momentous improvements and notable successes we have achieved in the past year,” said Judge Hatem Fouad, the office’s representative for the Gulf region.

“The tangible achievements of the Kingdom reflect its commitment to engage with the UN in a concrete partnership that moves toward even greater reform. Despite the COVID-19 lockdowns, our collaborative work and training continues at an accelerated pace.”

The report makes clear that Saudi Arabia still has work to do to reach tier 2, and ultimately tier 1, ranking but Al-Awwad believes great progress has been, and will continue to be, made.

“We are the first to admit that there are some areas in which we can still improve – but we are confident that we are on the right trajectory,” he said.