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June 20, 2014

Thailand/Malaysia

Lowered to Tier-3 Because of Human Trafficking

 

On June 20, 2014, the USA State Department released a report that ranked Thailand and Malaysia among the two dozen countries doing the least to fight human trafficking, an embarrassment for the two Southeast Asian nations and a finding that could lead to economic and diplomatic penalties.

 

The downgrade to so-called Tier-3 status places the countries alongside North Korea, Iran and Zimbabwe in the eyes of the State Department, which publishes an annual report assessing efforts by the world’s governments to combat human trafficking.  Thailand now ranks below its neighbor Myanmar, a former Tier-3 country whose State Department rating has improved since it began moving toward democracy in recent years.

 

“Overall anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts remained insufficient compared with the size of the problem in Thailand, and corruption at all levels hampered the success of these efforts,” the report said.  “Despite frequent media and NGO reports documenting instances of forced labor and debt bondage among foreign migrants in Thailand’s commercial sectors—including the fishing industry—the government demonstrated few efforts to address these trafficking crimes.”

 

Recent reports by The Guardian newspaper and others have described the use of forced labor in Thailand’s seafood industry, often involving complicity on the part of Thai officials.  In a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of articles last year, Reuters reported that Thai officials had been involved in selling Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar to human-trafficking rings, which sometimes sold them into servitude on fishing boats.  The Thai Navy, some of whose personnel were implicated, has filed a lawsuit accusing two journalists of criminal defamation for printing an excerpt from one of the Reuters articles.

 

Because both Thailand and Malaysia had been in a “watch list” category for four consecutive years, both were due for automatic downgrades to Tier-3 status his year unless the State Department judged that they had made significant strides in addressing their trafficking problems.

 

China, which was downgraded to Tier-3 status a year ago, was moved back up to Tier-2 in the State Department’s latest report.

 

Recently, Thailand has argued that its efforts have improved enough for it to avoid a downgrade.  The Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a news release this week that it had substantially more trafficking-related investigations, prosecutions and convictions last year than in 2012.  Vijavat Isarabhakdi, the Thai ambassador to the United States, said in the release that Thailand was “committed to eliminating this inhumane exploitation.”

 

A Tier-3 designation by the State Department does not automatically result in penalties, but it can lead to the United States withholding some forms of aid and cultural exchange, or opposing some kinds of assistance from international bodies like the International Monetary Fund.

 

Source: The New York Times.  U.S. Gives Thailand and Malaysia Lowest Grade on Human Trafficking.  David Moll. June 20, 2014.

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