Critics suspect political agenda to tarnish Thailand despite progress in trafficking fight
27 Jul 2015 at 03:28 2,787 viewed8 comments NEWSPAPER SECTION: NEWS | WRITER: CHANANTHORN KAMJAN
The long wait for the US State Department’s 2015 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report will end Monday when Secretary of State John Kerry releases the annual report detailing human trafficking in 188 countries, including the US.
The issue came back into the news recently when Reuters reported Malaysia was upgraded from the lowest rank, Tier 3, to the Tier 2 watch list, paving the way for its participation in the US-led free trade deal, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Non-governmental organisations said it was a bad sign that the report was driven by political goals, as Malaysia has yet to show any important progress in tackling trafficking.
Meanwhile in Thailand, the government has played down the TIP report for some time, especially Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who said the country has done its best to meet the US’s concerns, including rounding up trafficking networks.
Panitan Wattanayagorn, an academic from Chulalongkorn University’s political science faculty, said the Prayut government has made progress in dealing with human trafficking in line with recommendations from the US side, such as intensifying law enforcement that led to the arrests and indictments of human trafficking rings, including high-ranking officers.
Mr Panitan said if Thailand remains at Tier 3, it would show there are some weak points in the system that needed to be improved, concerning the victim screening process and legal proceedings in particular.
However, he said the credibility of the report could be brought into doubt if the report’s findings are exploited as diplomatic and political tools to pressure countries, or used to pursue bargaining on trade issues.
While it may seem there is nowhere to go but up, most predictions are for Thailand to remain at last year’s Tier 3 level.
“The 2015 TIP report will be closely scrutinised as to whether it will be used as a tool to put pressure on us over political developments or our close ties with particular countries,” Mr Panitan said.
Although the TIP report does not detail punishments, such as sanctions, some economic effects would be unavoidable for a country placed in the lowest rank, according to Mr Panitan, who is also an adviser to Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon.
Gen Prawit is the key figure in the government resolving human trafficking problems.
“If we are still at Tier 3, it means our attempt has yet to meet their expectations and we need to work harder. But the worst scenario is political and diplomatic pressure,” Mr Panitan added.
The coordinator of the Migrant Working Group, Siwawong Suktawee, recognised the government’s effort in tackling human trafficking problems.
“I hope our country bounds back, maybe to the Tier 2 watch list, but I’m not sure if we have done well enough to meet the TIP standards,” he said.
However, Mr Siwawong said having Thailand stay on Tier 3 may not be all bad, as it will motivate the government to continue tackling the problem.
“If Thailand is still at Tier 3, we should be optimistic since it would force us to put in more effort. Actually it is about continuity and sustainable management, not just reaching a goal and stopping,” Mr Siwawong said.
An academic on human rights, Sriprapha Petcharamesree, also acknowledged the government has been trying to deal with trafficking problems but said the administration only started working actively after the end of March, past the cut-off date of the TIP assessment.
She said all progress after March, including law changes and court cases involving trafficking rings, might have to wait until next year’s report before it is recognised.
“The report won’t just criticise but also provide recommendations for change. We have to accept that we do have human trafficking problems, tackle them and prevent them from re-occurring,” Ms Sriprapha said.
Under the US Tier guidelines, countries where governments fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA)’s minimum standards would be placed at Tier 1, while Tier 2 is for countries that make significant effort to meet the standards, even if they do not fully comply.
The Tier 2 watchlist takes into account a significant increase in victims, a failure to increase efforts to combat trafficking and the strength of commitments by countries to strengthen measures for the following year.
The lowest rank, Tier 3, is for countries that do not fully comply with the TVPA’s standards and have made no significant efforts towards dealing with the problems.