Sunday, June 22, 2014

Cambodians are both victims and enablers of the worst kind of slavery and sex trafficking in Thailand

Name, shame, repeat
Published: 22/06/2014 at 09:23 AM
Online news:

Pretty well the whole world knows that the traffic in Thailand is horrible, but events in the past week showed that the trafficking is even worse.

A double reality check struck the country, exposing an ugly streak of nasty human rights abuses that go to the very top of the political and military hierarchy. New national master Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha was even forced to interrupt himself to talk about the issue during his Friday night speech to the nation.

While lauding his coup administration, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), for achievements gained and soon to come, Gen Prayuth was forced by events to discuss the scandals of human trafficking and slavery. "The NCPO will concentrate on a crackdown on influential people who reap benefits from trafficking illegal labourers," he said.

TRAFFICKING JAM: Cambodian workers 
leaving Thailand last week are assembled 
near the border crossing in Sa Kaeo. 
(Photo by Thanarak Khunton)
Gen Prayuth was forthright, although he spoke only in generalities. He detailed how "corrupt officials"
and traffickers work the migrant-labour scam, charging hapless Cambodian, Lao and Myanmar citizens to cross the Thai border, and then press-ganging them into abusive jobs.

But at the same moment he was speaking to a national audience, the United States State Department was speaking to an international audience with its Trafficking in Persons Report, known as TIP. And it had a more specific message: "Corrupt Thai civilian and military officials profited from the smuggling of Rohingya asylum seekers," it said. It specifically named the Royal Thai Navy, which has launched a criminal defamation lawsuit against Phuketwan web-based journalists for reporting exactly the same thing.

The report dumped Thailand (and Malaysia) into the "Tier 3" category of very worst slave-dealing, human-trafficking, rights-abusing nations, a category where one finds serial villains such as Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and North Korea. Even Myanmar rates a Tier 2.

The TIP report is released every June by Washington. It is generally considered as "the gold standard" of compilations of trafficking reports. The US State Department describes it immodestly as "the world’s most comprehensive resource of governmental anti-human trafficking efforts" which "reflects the US government's commitment to global leadership on this key human rights and law enforcement issue". So there.

The thing is, compared with all other reporting on the issue, the US TIP report is the best source. It even drops the flattery and reports on itself: "The US is a source, transit and destination country for men, women and children - both US citizens and foreign nationals — subjected to forced labour, debt bondage, involuntary servitude and sex trafficking."

An event not covered by the US report shook the country more, and more directly caused Gen Prayuth's pledge to go after big-time human traffickers.

The unprecedented exodus of Cambodians was mind-boggling. Officials estimated last month there were about 180,000 Cambodian migrants in Thailand, some with work papers, many without. Last week, Cambodia counted more than 200,000 who crossed the border from Thailand, back home. So 110% of all Cambodians in Thailand fled in two weeks.

Officially, Thailand has no idea at all why the Cambodians fled. Granted that the junta may have mentioned in passing that the military would rearrange the migrant workforce, and detain for deportation anyone who wasn't strictly legal, but still.

Unofficially, the Cambodians were terrified of a military crackdown, fearful that it would again turn violent against the Khmer. Many scoffed at such "irrational" thoughts, but tales of violence against Cambodians in Thailand are continuously passed, and taken seriously by most.

The connection with trafficking is obvious. Cambodians are part of the overall migrant labour force mentioned for years by US, United Nations and human rights reports. And in addition to the low-end workforce that is often exploited by employers, Cambodians are both victims and enablers of the worst kind of slavery and sex trafficking.

Inside Cambodia, reaction was muted, presumably because anti-Thai feelings sometimes get out of hand there. But Interior Minister Sar Kheng pointed directly at Bangkok. "I think the current Thai junta leader must be responsible for the problems happening, including loss of lives," Sar Kheng told The Phnom Penh Post.

Cambodian ambassador Eat Sophea was the perfect diplomat. She met the top foreign ministry official, Sihasak Phuangketkeow, and told the media they had discussed maybe setting up some sort of hotline at an unspecified future date in case there was ever another such crisis. She did knock down the worst of the rumours, however, stating: "The reports about shootings, the reports about other abuses are rumours and are not true." It could have been worse.

Research four years ago found that 23% of Cambodians deported from Thailand to Poipet were actually victims of human trafficking in the first place - around 6,000 cases every year that are disposed of by simply getting rid of the casualties. "Corrupt officials on both sides of the border facilitate the smuggling of undocumented migrants between Cambodia and Thailand," the latest report says.

The same is true of Myanmar and Lao migrants. They are dupes in the hands of equal-opportunity slavers of the 21st century. Human trafficking gangs originate in Thailand, but also in every neighbouring country. Often, a foreign gang and a Thai gang cooperate, to ensure the "smooth handling" of their human goods.

For all its sturm und drang, the US human trafficking report is another exercise in name-and-shame. US law specifically forbids trade sanctions over the demotion of Thailand to Tier 3, and even de-funding human rights programmes is likely to be vetoed by President Barack Obama.

The report, then, draws attention to the real and lamentable fact that in Thailand, and around the world, some humans in comfortable positions treat less-fortunate humans, well, inhumanely. What to do about that is a separate question.

Original article can be found here.

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