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Thailand may face trade sanctions over human trafficking
Publication Date : 04-05-2014
In a few weeks, Thai diplomats and officials will be hard pressed to explain the kind of progress, if any, the country has made in addressing the issue of human trafficking.
A United States government report, on the Trafficking In Persons (TIP), could potentially affect bilateral relations between Thailand and the US and will be released next month.
US law requires that its State Department rate nations across the world with regard to human trafficking. Countries rated in tier one fully meet minimum standards while tier two nations do not meet the minimum standards but are making an effort.
Tier three countries, on the other hand, do not meet the standards and are not showing any signs of trying to make a meaningful effort. What concerns many Thai officials is that tier three countries, which could very well include Thailand, face the threat of sanctions by the US government.
At the discretion of the US president, Thailand has received a waiver from such punishment and allowed to remain in tier two for past two years. But time is up and Thailand is hard pressed to show that progress has been made.
Judging from the previous report, in which Thailand was accused of slow progress in prosecuting trafficking-related cases, there is a real chance that the country could be rated down.
A few days ago, a US Congressional panel reminded us how bad Thailand's performance and image is with respect to poor treatment of the Rohingya. The hearing in Washington DC was on "Effective Accountability: Tier Rankings in the Fight against Human Trafficking Lessons".
Representative Chris Smith, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organisa-tions, listened to testimonies about how Thai government officials were involved in the trafficking of Rohingya.
Smith is not just another lawmaker. He is the author of the landmark law, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, that created this three-tier system of reward and punishment for countries that do not comply with the requirements.
On the surface, it sounds like a big country is bullying a smaller country. But no matter how one sees it, the fact remains. Thailand's record in dealing with the Rohingya and other victims of human trafficking has never been great; some might even say two-faced.
Moreover, allegations about Thai officials being involved in human trafficking in award-winning reports by the Reuters news agency have been met with a lawsuit filed by the Thai Navy against the Phuketwan online newspaper. A navy official has accused Phuketwan of violating the computer crime law by citing the Reuters report.
Smith gave the report considerable weight by referring to it and citing it during the recent hearing.
The question is whether others in the world community should go beyond the usual legislative requirements and focus more on the root cause of the issue and make sound recommendations to resolve the issue.
A top UN envoy on Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, has said the most pressing priority for Muslims in violence-torn Rakhine state, who are considered illegal immigrants, is to get a path to citizenship.
Unless this is done the security of the Rohingya Muslims will remain threatened, "and that is sure to affect the international reputation of the country," Nambiar said at a recent international conference.
Communal violence and organised attacks against Muslims in Rakhine state over the past two years have claimed up to 280 lives and displaced some 140,000 Muslims from their homes.