Thailand’s Human Downgrade

Thailand expects to fall into the bottom tier of the watch list on human trafficking. Officials aren’t happy.

Luke Hunt

Thai authorities are bracing for a downgrade to Tier Three on the U.S. State Department’s watch list of countries with the worst records in combating human trafficking. At a recent panel discussion, the government made it clear this wasn’t what they wanted to hear, nor did they think it’s fair.

Thailand was initially classified as a Tier Two country on the Trafficking in Persons list in 2010 for not complying with minimum standards required to address the trafficking of people across borders who were then pressed gang into forced labor ranging from prostitution to working on fishing vessels.

The relegation is almost a matter of course. If a country shows no sign of improvement after two years at that level it automatically drops into the bottom, or Tier Three, list alongside North Korea, Cuba and Burma.

This can potentially trigger non-humanitarian sanctions, which seems absurd given Thailand’s most favored status with Washington.

To be fair, the current government of Yingluck Shinawatra only came to power seven months ago, after years of factional brawling between the Red and Yellow shirts on the streets of Bangkok.Her government has also had to contend with the worst floods in this country’s recent history, which bought daily life to a halt and took months to subside.

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However, Non-Governmental Organizations say regardless of this, Thailand has experienced an increase in trafficking, in particular young girls, over recent years.

Human Rights Watch Asia Deputy Director Phil Robertson told a panel at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand that authorities have passed laws that should be sufficient to stem the tide of human trafficking.But he also said there has been a reluctance to use those laws to prosecute and defend the rights of victims.

“The police themselves are frankly predatory. They see migrant workers as an opportunity to extort, abuse, and we have stories of instances where police have been involved in human-trafficking issues.”

A preliminary report released last year by the U.N. Special Rapporteur for Trafficking in Persons sharply criticized Thailand for a weak legal framework on trafficking, deep rooted corruption among the police, and poor victim identification.

The panel also heard that girls aged between 11 and 15 were increasingly being trafficked into prostitution. But because they are underage, they were being delivered to the homes of clients and weren’t working out of brothels or karaoke bars.

This made it difficult to detect the true extent of the problem.

Still, Thailand Ministry for Foreign Affairs Deputy Director General for International Organizations Chutintorn Gongsakdi defended his government’s anti-trafficking efforts, saying relegation would be seen as a blow for his country.

“We are an upper middle-income country, according to the members of the committee on the rights of the child. With that status comes greater expectations, and we are finding it is not so easy to live up to those expectations,” he said adding his government had accepted more than 130 recommendations made in the U.N. report by the Special Rapporteur.

“We have a willingness. We know we have those responsibilities.”

However, those steps may be seen as too little too late to stave off the relegation of Thailand to Tier Three status. The U.S. State Department report on human trafficking is due out in June.