Thai treatment of Rohingya highlighted

As the Obama government is finalising its decision on whether Thailand should be downgraded in the Trafficking In Persons (TIP) report to be released next month, a congressional panel has been reminded of how bad the country's image is in respect of issues relating to the Rohingya.

Human trafficking in China, Russia, Myanmar, Malaysia and Thailand was discussed at the April 29 hearing in Washington DC on "Effective Accountability: Tier Rankings in the Fight against Human Trafficking Lessons."

The public discussion chaired by Chris Smith, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organisations, heard "the alleged complicity of Thai government officials in the trafficking of vulnerable Rohingya refugees was extremely concerning".

Mr Smith is the author of the landmark law, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA), which created a comprehensive policy that not only established the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons at the Department of State, but also the annual Trafficking in Persons Report that focuses anti-trafficking work in 187 countries including Thailand.

Wakar Uddin, the director-general of the Arakan Rohingya Union and a professor at Pennsylvania State University, testified at the hearing that eyewitness accounts said "some Rohingya women and minors were sold to sex traders in southern Thailand".

Mr Uddin said several hundred Rohingya refugees are currently held captive by shadowy gangs that have turned southern Thailand into a “human-trafficking superhighway”.

A record 40,000 Rohingya victims are reported to have passed through the trafficking camps in 2013, he said.

"There are reports of serious physical and sexual abuse of the victims by Thai police. The reports also allege that Thai officials collaborate with the traffickers by transferring Rohingya held in Thailand to the custody of the trafficking cartel. Thai officials reportedly adopted a secret policy, known as 'option two', to expel Rohingya refugees using the smuggling cartels from Thailand," Mr Uddin testified to the House subcommittee.

Mr Smith said there were more slaves in the world today than at any previous point in human history. He reaffirmed that the Trafficking in Persons report and tier rankings has helped the US ensure more accountability and progress in the fight to rid the world of slavery.

"In conducting oversight regarding key countries treated in the upcoming annual TIP Report (whether Thailand, Qatar, Afghanistan, Brazil, or Italy), Congress would do well to focus on these two particular priorities of United States policy worldwide: demand and survivor empowerment," said Mark Lagon, Global Politics and Security Chair, Georgetown University's Master of Science in Foreign Service Program and former ambassador-at-large for Trafficking in Persons.

Countries rated in Tier 1 fully meet minimum standards. Tier 2 countries do not meet the minimum standards but are making significant effort to do so. Tier 3 countries do not meet the standards and are not making significant effort to do so. Along with the embarrassment of being listed in Tier 3, such countries are open to sanction by the US government. Over the last 14 years, more than 120 countries have enacted anti-trafficking laws and many countries have taken other steps required to significantly raise their tier rankings.

The US government waived the restrictions on non-humanitarian, non-trade-related foreign assistance, as prescribed in the TVPA for Tier 3 countries.

Those from Tier 2 with no progress for two years would be automatically downgraded to Tier 3 but the US president can waive an automatic downgrade for two additional years if he certifies "credible evidence" that the country has a written and sufficiently resourced plan, which if implemented, would constitute significant effort to meet the minimum standards. Thailand has been waived to stay in Tier 2 for two years and this year all concerned sectors were worried if the country would be rated downward or not as the previous TIP report was dismayed at the slow progress in prosecution of trafficking-related cases.

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