Thai gov’t must crack down on trafficking
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
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.