In danger of tipping the balance

In danger of tipping the balance

MALAYSIA Malaysia worked hard to step up its efforts in combating human trafficking after it dropped to Tier 3 in the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report released by the US State Department in 2009, and managed to move up to Tier 2 in the following year. Tier 3 refers to the ranking for countries that are not fully complying or not making significant efforts to comply with the minimum standards.

However, we have been stuck on Tier 2 Watch List for the last four years, and are in danger of being auto-downgraded back to Tier 3 if we don't show increasing efforts to eliminate human trafficking in the country next year. A Tier 3 ranking puts Malaysia at risk of economic sanctions. Sunday Star spoke to Luis CdeBaca, the ambassador-at-large of the US State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons when he was in town recently.

Can Malaysia still avoid an auto-downgrade?

The best thing any country can do when the TIP report comes out is to look at the recom­mendations, which are based on international norms and provide a measure of what we need to achieve.

The auto-downgrade issue is an important one and something that is facing us when we look at next year's TIP report, but human trafficking in Malaysia is not about the auto-downgrade or the TIP report.

The trafficking situation in Malaysia is about what is facing the people here, whether they are ordinary folks looking for different opportunities or girls who are trapped in the brothels here or foreign workers who come over looking for a better life and find themselves trapped and exploited here. That is trafficking in Malaysia. The US TIP report is only a snapshot, a diagnosis of the problem.

So, next year's TIP report, while important, is not what we are really here about. What we are really here for is to see how the US can work with Malaysia to ensure that victims can have a good outcome and the perpetrators can be caught and put into prison for their crime.

What kind of evidence of "increasing efforts" is the TIP office looking for?

Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), we are supposed to look at the intensification of efforts by individual countries in combating human trafficking.

The trajectory needs to move up from year to year but the trajectory has been kind of flat for Malaysia. The number of cases solved and victims identified, the level of efforts made in the last two years have been stagnant. It's been kind of the same - at that level of doing something but not seeing an awful lot of results. For example, Malaysia increased the number of traffickers convicted from 17 to 21 last year. The " improvement" has not been significant.

Why is Malaysia finding it hard to move from the Tier Two watch list ranking?

When we entered the trafficking agreement and Malaysia's Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act was passed in 2007, the structures set up then were predicated on the notion that the victims were female and victims of sex trafficking and foreign.

Six years on, we see that not all the victims are female, in sex trafficking or foreign. There are also the maids, factory workers and other labour trafficking victims.

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