Thai gov’t must crack down on traf­fick­ing

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

Thai Prime Min­is­ter Prayuth Chan-ocha was dig­ni­fied in his re­sponse to the an­nual U.S. Traf­fick­ing in Per­sons (TIP) re­port last week when he said Thai­land needed to solve its own prob­lems rather than blam­ing the United States for keep­ing the coun­try rel­e­gated to Tier 3, its most damn­ing rat­ing.

Cheer­lead­ers for the gov­ern­ment are dis­ap­pointed with the re­port for its ap­par­ent fail­ure to re­flect Thai author­i­ties’ crack­down on the trade, which has led to the dis­cov­ery of a mass grave at an aban­doned camp in Songkhla province and the ar­rest of a high-rank­ing mil­i­tary of­fi­cer on charges of aid­ing the traf­fick­ers. But these gov­ern­ment sup­port­ers should rec­og­nize that the in­for­ma­tion upon which the re­port was based col­lected be­tween April 2014 and March this year — be­fore the round-up of peo­ple-traf­fick­ing syn­di­cates

In­for­ma­tion from that pe­riod showed that the num­ber of traf­fick­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions and pros­e­cu­tions had ac­tu­ally de­clined dra­mat­i­cally since last year.

Ac­cord­ing to the TIP re­port, the Thai gov­ern­ment con­ducted 280 traf­fick­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions (com­pared with 674 in 2013), pros­e­cuted 155 traf­fick­ers (483 in 2013) and con­victed 151 ( 225 in 2013). De­spite the preva­lence of forced la­bor in Thai­land, the gov­ern­ment re­ported only 58 in­ves­ti­ga­tions (154 in 2013) into sus­pected cases and pros­e­cuted only 27 traf­fick­ers for forced la­bor, down from 109 in 2013. Twenty traf­fick­ers re­ceived prison sen­tences greater than seven years, and the ma­jor­ity of con­victed of­fend­ers re­ceived sen­tences of more than two years’ im­pris­on­ment. The Anti-Money Laun­der­ing Of­fice (AMLO) re­ported that 107 in­ves­ti­ga­tions into money laun­der­ing linked with sus­pected peo­ple traf­fick­ing are un­der way. In one case the AMLO seized 30 mil­lion baht (US$850,000) in sus­pected traf­fick­ers’ prof­its.

Peo­ple-traf­fick­ing is a chronic prob­lem in Thai­land and its so­lu­tion will not come overnight. It will take time, but the Thai author­i­ties should have no ex­cuse for low­er­ing their guard. With or with­out the TIP re­port, Thai­land needs to work hard to curb this crime against hu­man­ity.

There are Thais who blame poor re­la­tions be­tween Thai­land and the United States for the Tier 3 rat­ing. The U.S. State Depart­ment has been ac­cused of plac­ing trade ben­e­fits ahead of the bat­tle against traf­fick­ing in de­cid­ing to up­grade Malaysia to Tier 2 on the Watch List. But this is hardly an ex­cuse for Thai­land to ease up on ef­forts to solve the prob­lem. The TIP re­port also of­fered the gov­ern­ment valu­able tips in com­bat­ing the il­licit trade.

Stamp­ing out the com­plic­ity of state of­fi­cials is the key. The TIP re­port said cor­rup­tion within Thai of­fi­cial­dom con­tin­ues to un­der­mine anti- traf­fick­ing ef­forts. Cor­rupt of­fi­cials are ac­cept­ing pay­ments from smug­glers mov­ing mi­grants be­tween Thai­land and neigh­bor­ing

coun­tries, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

Media Re­ports Have Backed up

That Al­le­ga­tion

Yet, rather than in­ves­ti­gate the claims, the author­i­ties and the Royal Thai Navy are crack­ing down on the “mes­sen­gers,” su­ing two Phuket-based jour­nal­ists for defama­tion af­ter they pub­lished part of a Pulitzer Prize-win­ning Reuters re­port on traf­fick­ing here. Prayuth and his gov­ern­ment need to take a fresh look at the facts if they are se­ri­ous about tack­ling this prob­lem.

“The pros­e­cu­tion of jour­nal­ists and ad­vo­cates for ex­pos­ing traf­fick­ers, and state­ments dis­cour­ag­ing media re­port­ing on traf­fick­ing crimes, un­der­mined some ef­forts to iden­tify and as­sist vic­tims and ap­pre­hend traf­fick­ers,” the U.S. re­port says.

The navy and other author­i­ties should heed the calls from the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity and rights groups, drop the charges against the jour­nal­ists and turn their fo­cus on catch­ing and pros­e­cut­ing cor­rupt of­fi­cials who are abet­ting the il­licit trade.

The gov­ern­ment’s sup­port­ers also need to learn from the re­port. In­stead of whip­ping up anti-Amer­i­can sen­ti­ment, they could make bet­ter use of their time by seek­ing to raise so­cial aware­ness of the mis­eries of hu­man traf­fick­ing and the fight to erad­i­cate it from Thai shores. This is an ed­i­to­rial pub­lished by The Na­tion on Aug. 4.

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