Southeast Asian governments added to the US State Department’s human trafficking watch list must bolster efforts to prosecute and convict traffickers, activists say.
Thailand, Vietnam and Laos all slipped in their efforts over the past year to tackle human trafficking, according to the US State Department’s latest Trafficking in Persons report, which put them on a Tier 2 Watch List along with Afghanistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.
“The situation has not particularly changed in the sense of getting better or worse. What you’re seeing here is a more accurate calling of the situation by the US State Department - it's them saying we’re really going to examine what’s happening in these countries,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director for the Asia division of Human Rights Watch.
“Those governments that moved on to the watch list will be eager to get themselves off that list so they will go to the US Embassy and other organizations asking where the problems occurred,” he said.
The 13 countries doing the least to tackle human trafficking, including Iran and Papua New Guinea, are in Tier 3 and subject to economic sanctions if they do not comply with the minimum standards outlined in the 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
Michael Turner, press attaché for the US Embassy in Bangkok, said there had been progress in tackling human trafficking, but not at the level many had hoped for in countries such as Thailand.
“Thailand’s government has made some effort, but there were low numbers of convictions for trafficking offences. We would like to see better identification of victims. One place to start is to take considerable efforts in investigations, prosecutions and convictions of those engaged in trafficking of persons,” Turner said.
Photo: Courtesy Mitch Mauricio
The eyes of a trafficking victim (file photo)
Must do more
“The report measures efforts and the US State Department for the last year thinks Thailand and Vietnam haven’t been making enough effort, but in terms of the situation on the ground, we haven’t detected any major change in either government’s efforts,” Richard Danziger, head of the International Organization for Migration’s counter-trafficking division, told IRIN from Geneva.
Rather than a kick in the teeth, the report is more of a nudge for the region’s governments to act.
“In the last couple of years many countries have made great progress to strengthen their legislation against trafficking,” said Patchareeboon Sakulpitakphon from ECPAT, a global network of organizations working to eliminate the trafficking of children for sexual purposes. “But it’s still the beginning of a long process. They still have challenges to identify victims. It’s down to the commitment of governments to really enforce the law.”
Meanwhile, new forms of trafficking – in the global fishing industry and on the internet – are difficult to tackle.
“The traffickers increasingly come up with different strategies and unfortunately get ahead of all those who make the effort to fight them. Cyber crime facilitates easier access to potential victims,” said Rasa Sekulovic, Plan International’s regional adviser for child rights and protection.
“It is on the increase and it constantly changes its shape, takes on new forms and new clandestine identities because the nature of the communication creates a huge space for involvement.”
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions