Thailand sees progress in curbing human trafficking

Thailand sees progress in curbing human trafficking
An ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar and living in Malaysia faints during a rally calling for a stop to the killings and violence toward the Muslim Rohingyas in Myanmar, near the Myanmar embassy in Kuala Lumpur in this June 15, 2012 file photo.

Since being relegated to the bottom rung in an influential human trafficking list last year, Thailand claims in a new report that it has made significant progress in tackling the problem.

Yesterday, Foreign Ministry officials released parts of a 154-page country report for last year that showed new legal and administrative measures resulted in numerous arrests. Deputy Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai said the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) 2014 Country Report, which will be posted online next week, shows Thailand was "genuine and sincere and trying to do our utmost" to combat human trafficking.

The report lists 115 human trafficking cases prosecuted last year that led to 104 convictions. Among them were police officers with the rank of colonel and above; one is an officer in the Royal Thai Navy.

Some were subjected to administrative discipline - meaning a transfer. But a highway police officer, immigration official, and provincial police officer, all in Pattani, also face criminal charges.

Cases highlighted in the report show links between Thai and transnational syndicates.

"We are confident we have done a lot and made serious sustained efforts, and have produced tangible outcomes - and it will continue," said Mr Songsak Saichuea, director-general of the Foreign Affairs Ministry's Department of American and South Pacific Affairs. "The involvement starts at the Prime Minister's level, and not only in the government sector; we involve Thai and international non- government organisations as well."

Last year's downgrade to the Tier 3 Watch List in the annual TIP report came after four consecutive years in which Thailand was on the Tier 2 Watch List.

International human rights groups have also reported on the complicity of corrupt officials with human traffickers especially in southern Thailand, where thousands of Rohingya boat people en route to Malaysia have fallen victim to traffickers.

Mr Sunai Phasuk, Thailand researcher for Human Rights Watch, disputed the claims of progress. He told The Straits Times "the government, while claiming priority to human trafficking, has wasted more than six months doing almost nothing but holding inter- agency meetings and making promises".

The US State Department gives a Tier 3 rating goes to "countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so".

Thailand got an automatic downgrade after four years at Tier 2 with no improvement. Tier 3 usually triggers non-humanitarian and non-trade related sanctions from the US, and the loss of its support in international financial institutions.

But US President Barack Obama waived sanctions on Thailand in September last year. The next TIP report is due in June.

This article was first published on January 31, 2015.
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