25 June 2020 – RIYADH – The US State Department upgraded Saudi Arabia from a ranking of “Tier 3” to “Tier 2 Watch List” in its recently released annual Trafficking in Persons Report in recognition of the Kingdom’s efforts to combat human trafficking. The report, globally recognized as the most comprehensive analysis of country-specific anti-trafficking responses, lauded improvements in the Kingdom’s inter-ministerial coordination, greater transparency and data-sharing, and “significantly increased” numbers of prosecutions and convictions under the Kingdom’s anti-trafficking law.
The recent progress on anti-trafficking measures has been spearheaded by the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking (NCCHT), a multi-entity body that brings together key ministries and authorities in the fight against trafficking and is supported through partnerships with international organizations, such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
According to Awwad Alawwad, Chairman of the Committee as well as President of the Human Rights Commission, “Today is about honoring the victims and potential victims of trafficking in persons and renewing our pledge to eradicate this heinous crime. 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 underway – from 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 succeeded in reaching multiple milestones in the fight against trafficking in persons. The Kingdom launched its first-ever National Referral Mechanism, which specifies and coordinates the roles and responsibilities of all relevant Saudi authorities in the identification and protection of victims and the investigation and prosecution of trafficking-in-persons crimes. The Kingdom also held its first-ever roundtable to discuss anti-trafficking policies with labor-sending countries and worked with nearly 3,000 recruitment agencies to ensure that best practices are adopted in compliance with international standards.
Carmela Godeau, IOM Regional Director for MENA, said, "The improvement of the ranking of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in this year’s Trafficking in Persons Report is a recognition of the concerted efforts the Government has made this year, to improve its response structure. IOM is glad to be a key partner in the efforts and expects to build on recent momentum for years to come."
Another key achievement, the introduction of specialized panels of criminal courts, has allowed the Kingdom to more aggressively pursue the prosecution and punishment of those responsible for these heinous crimes. The Kingdom has also scored successes in capacity-building by implementing a comprehensive training program for frontline anti-trafficking workers, in collaboration with UNODC and IOM.
According to UNODC’s Representative for the Gulf Region, Judge Hatem Fouad, “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. The tangible achievements made by the Kingdom reflect its commitment to engage with the UN in a concrete partnership which moves toward even greater reform. Despite the COVID-19 lockdowns, our collaborative work and training continues at an accelerated pace.”
Alawwad concluded by stating, “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.”