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Trafficking in the News

Awareness

Awareness

Photo credit: Shutterstock/GongTo

Trends in the News on Trafficking

We’re breaking with our traditional format of relating the news to highlight an interesting trend in reporting on the news about trafficking, especially in regards to Thailand/Southeast Asia. In the past few months, there has been a growing narrative on the relationship between trafficking, human rights norms, and international trade and cooperation.

Increasingly, human rights considerations and the prevalence of human trafficking concerns are becoming a standard part of trade negotiations and international cooperation. Nations are expected to revise national laws to meet international standards or risking losing trade privileges due to noncompliance. As Sumano reports in the Bangkok Post, “Pressured by the new trade landscape, governments can no longer focus on economic prosperity without addressing social development through the promotion of fundamental human rights.”

In response to increased scrutiny over its trafficking record, Thailand became the third country in ASEAN to ratify a new convention on human trafficking. It’s the region’s first legally binding commitment to combatting trafficking, and it underscores the Thai government’s dedication to working in concert with other nations to eradicate the problem. (Source: The Diplomat)

However, there is some concern that while the pressure from trade deals highlights human rights abuses and encourages compliance with international standards, especially within the seafood industry, it allows other forms of human trafficking (such as child trafficking, etc.) to fly under the radar. Human rights organizations have been skeptical of the US’s move to upgrade Thailand’s TIP status, fearing the move has been made too soon, perhaps for political reasons to counterbalance against China’s growing influence. (Source: ASEAN Today)

In Other News

U.S. prosecutors are collaborating with Thai police to prosecute a major case against a large international sex trafficking ring, where hundreds of Thai women were brought to the U.S., promised lucrative jobs, and sold as sex slaves in cities as diverse as Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Dallas, Phoenix, Minneapolis, and Washington. The accused include 17 Thai nationals and 5 Americans. (Source: Bangkok Post) This highlights the growing relationship between American and Thai law enforcement agencies to prosecute cases in both nations and collaborate to fight trafficking. (Source: FBI)

NGOs fighting trafficking in Vietnam are arguing that prevention programs that focus on “raising awareness” alone, without any efforts to fight root causes, are not sufficient, especially with endemic corruption permitting trafficking to continue. (Source: ASEAN Today)

Cambodian trafficking victims are suing U.S. seafood importers and their Thai suppliers that they allege have been complicit in slave-like working conditions. (Source: VOA News)

Young Cambodian filmmakers have teamed up with human trafficking survivors to produce short films based on true-life events. The Chaktomuk Short Film Festival will highlight several films touching on issues such as migrant workers’ rights and how families must cope when a member leaves in search of work. Trafficking survivors have not only contributed their stories, but have also partaken in some of the acting. (Source: Cambodia Daily)

Last Month, Today: The News from August and September

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LOCAL

California is decriminalizing prostitution for minors who are victims of trafficking. Gov. Jerry Brown has signed into law several bills designed to better protect young trafficking victims by preventing disclosure of their personal details, providing victims’ services to trafficking witnesses, and allowing testimony through closed-circuit televisions in court. However, some of the bills were highly controversial, including ones to allow human trafficking victims to vacate prior convictions and seal their records.

Other bills are still pending, including one to repeal mandatory minimum sentences for some prostitution offenses.

Source: Jazmine Ulloa/LA Times

A special report from the FBI on trafficking in Thailand was released in two parts. The first part highlights how Thailand has ramped up efforts to counter trafficking with the assistance of the FBI and other partners, especially in regards to child exploitation, sexual abuse, and trafficking in persons. The second part highlights efforts to provide more and better services to victims, and how Thailand is starting to emulate victim-centered approaches that the FBI has been implementing since 2001.

Source: FBI

 

THAILAND

Thailand has agreed to extradite to Malaysia over 10 suspects charged with involvement in the human trafficking cases involving Rohingya and Bangladeshi nationals found in mass graves along the border of both countries last year. Thus far, warrants have been issued for more than 60 suspects, and 50 of them have been arrested and prosecuted.

Source: The Nation/The Star/Asia News Network

Relatedly, a man charged with the trafficking of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, in the high-profile case that brought the mass graves and trafficking camps to light, has been sentenced to 35 years in prison. He was also fined 660,000 baht ($19,000)

Source: Reuters

Thailand and Malaysia are discussing the possibility of building a wall along the border between the two countries to help reduce trafficking and cross border terrorism. It is believed the wall will help enhance security, though details about the size and details of wall construction–including who will shoulder the costs–remain unclear.

Source: International Business Times

A Northern Thailand police and press conference highlighted recent successes in combatting trafficking in the region, with an announcement that 30 suspects have been arrested thus far this year, with 22 cases involving underage prostitution. Suspects have been caught in Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Phayo, and Phrae.

Source: Suwit Rattiwan/Chiang Rai Times

 

GLOBAL

Thai trafficking victims have been discovered in Oman, after a raid involving over 100 Thai and Omani authorities was conducted in Muscat. Twenty-one Thai women had been lured by a Facebook ad offering masseuse jobs paying 100,000 baht a month, but upon arrival in Oman, their documents had been confiscated, their communication was cut off, and they were forced into prostitution. Three Thai woman and two Omani men have been identified as suspects.

Source: Bangkok Post

A new USAID program has announced it will dedicate $12 million in the first year of a 5-year plan to protect and compensate victims of trafficking in South East Asia. Victim services, especially for refugees, is often overlooked and agencies in the area believe that the additional resources can help organizations redirect government attention to this part of the problem.

Source: VOA News

A Yazidi survivor of ISIL/Da’esh’s human trafficking has recently been appointed as a UN Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Nadia Murad Basee Taha, who is a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, suffered severe abuse at the hands of ISIL in Iraq and the Levant. Thousands of Yazidi, especially women and children, continue to be held captive and the UN is calling for their immediate release.

Source: UN News Centre

Last Month, Today: The News in July

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LOCAL

Ad Campaign Reveals ‘Ugly Truth’ About Trafficking in U.S.

In July, the San Diego District Attorney’s Office launched a new ad campaign directed at debunking myths about sex trafficking. These billboards can be found around the city, and even at popular sports events where the information is projected onto buildings. These posters say, “The Prostitution Myth: Sex trafficking? Not in America’s Finest City. The Ugly Truth: According to the FBI, traffickers are exploiting people here every day.” and “The Prostitution Myth: If a woman chooses to sell her body that’s her business. The Ugly Truth: Prostitution is rarely a choice.” According to the article, these messages illuminate the prevalence of trafficking..

Source: Sarah Grossman at Huffington Post

Thailand Cracking Down on Sprawling Sex Industry

Thailand has recently made the decision to eradicate its sex industry. Thailand is notorious for a vast number of sex workers and a huge sex tourism industry. Although prostitution is already illegal in Thailand, the law is not enforced. The goal is to close the sex trade to make Thailand a female-friendly travel destination. Moreover, the tourist minister is pushing to change Thailand’s reputation from being a hub for sex tourism to a place with beautiful landscapes and a fascinating culture.

Source: Newsweek/Reuters

 

NATIONAL

Truckers Uniting to Halt Sex Trafficking

Kylla Lanier founded Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) with her mother and three sisters a few years ago. Since then TAT stickers, wallet cards, and posters that provide information and a phone number for a sex trafficking hotline have become ubiquitous in the trucking industry, teaching truck drivers the clues that indicate a possible trafficking situation. Trucking companies and law enforcement are excited about this new non-profit. Nearly 250,000 drivers are aware of and on board with TAT’s mission, and drivers’ calls to the hotline have freed hundreds of trafficking victims.

Source: Frank Morris at NPR

This goes hand in hand with the latest initiative from The Department of Homeland Security:

Transportation Industry to Combat Human Trafficking

Since traffickers use transportation systems to carry out their heinous criminal activities, there has recently been an initiative to bring together various mediums of transportation uniting under the purpose of combating human trafficking. The Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign and the Department of Transportation hosted an event that brought together leadership from both departments, and representatives from airline, rail, bus, and trucking companies. As a part of the Blue Lightning Initiative, these departments train transportation workers to identify traffickers and their victims. They are to report their suspicions to federal law enforcement.

Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security

GLOBAL

Controversy Regarding Thailand’s New Ranking in Annual Human Trafficking Report

In June, the U.S. Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report upgraded Thailand from Tier 3 to the Tier 2 Watch List. The Tier 2 Watch List is designated to countries that do not meet the minimum U.S. standards for the elimination of trafficking, but are making significant efforts to do so. This new ranking is controversial because many who are working against trafficking in Thailand believe that this move is unwarranted and could slow progress. An international coalition of human rights, labor, and environmental organizations said that this would “undermine international efforts to significantly and permanently improve working conditions among migrant workers in Thailand.”

Source: International Labor Rights Forum

PREVENTION

Education is the Key to Ending Sex Trafficking

Sofia Aumann, a student at Cornell University, recently returned from a 10-day trip to Thailand, where she witnessed the prevalence of prostitution there, even though it’s illegal. Her research showed that it is vital to boost self-confidence when girls are young so that they will stay in school. Staying in school will keep them out of sex trafficking, drugs, and crime.

Source: Kathy Hovis at Cornell Chronicle

TECHNOLOGY

Why Syria Children are Holding Pictures of Pokemon

Recently a media campaign to highlight the plight of Syrian children emerged, making use of Pokemon Go. The new and extremely popular app operates on going to real-world locations to catch certain Pokemon. Therefore, young children in Syria are holding the Pokemon to help people become aware of the crisis. The United Nations estimated that 4.5 million people in Syria are living in “besieged or in hard-to-reach areas, with civilians prevented from leaving and with little to no access to food, medicine or other essentials.” These Pokemon characters are at least able to get a large population to pay attention to or become aware of an immense tragedy.

Source: Tucker Reals at CBS News

 

Thailand Issues Major Crackdown on Trafficking Camps

Awareness

Following the crisis of Rohingya refugees being trafficking through Thailand from countries like Myanmar and Bangladesh, the Thai government has issued a major investigation into and a crackdown on trafficking camps found along the Thai-Malaysian border.

According to Reuters, seven camps and 139 graves containing the remains of migrants had been found after a thorough investigation, and the camps have since been eradicated. In addition, more than 50 officers have been transferred from their posts upon suspicion of links to traffickers, and at least 18 arrest warrants have been issued. Authorities believe there are no longer any camps left in the south after these actions have been taken. 

Furthermore, last month, Thailand called in a regional conference with leaders from other surrounding nations to discuss how to deal with the crisis. Thai authorities have also agreed to provide humanitarian aid to the refugees on boats and have indicated readiness to offer aid to Malaysia.

These most recent actions by the Thai government represent an important battle victory in the fight to end trafficking.