US House members concerned over Malaysia trafficking rating

A crowd gathers around a mass grave with the remains of unidentified Rohingya people found at a traffickers camp in Wang Kelian in Malaysia.
A crowd gathers around a mass grave with the remains of unidentified Rohingya people found at a traffickers camp in Wang Kelian in Malaysia.REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Dozens of members of the US Senate and House of Representatives wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday expressing “grave concern” that Malaysia may be upgraded in this year’s US list of human trafficking offenders.

“A premature upgrade of Malaysia would undermine the integrity of the TIP (Trafficking in Persons) report process and compromise our international efforts to fight human trafficking,” 19 US senators, 17 Democrats and two Republicans, said in a letter sent to Kerry on Wednesday.

The Senate letter said this year’s report is already more than five weeks overdue, which could make it the latest ever released.

Separately, more than 100 members of the House, also including Democrats and Republicans, had signed a letter being prepared in that chamber on Wednesday and expected to be sent to Kerry on Thursday.

“We request that the Department carefully consider the rank Malaysia has earned... before finalising this year’s Trafficking in Persons Report,” said the House letter, which was seen by Reuters on Wednesday.

Reuters reported last week that the US State Department plans to reverse last year’s downgrade of Malaysia in its annual TIP report, which could smooth the way for a major US-led free-trade deal with the South-east Asian nation and 11 other countries.

Last year, the United States downgraded Malaysia to Tier 3, alongside North Korea and Zimbabwe, citing “limited efforts to improve its flawed victim protection regime” and other problems.

In the letters, the lawmakers called for the integrity of the TIP report ranking process to be upheld, and said an unwarranted upgrade of Malaysia would weaken the credibility of the ranking system.

Senators signing their letter included Democrats Robert Menendez, Sherrod Brown, Debbie Stabenow, Richard Blumenthal, Edward Markey, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Gary Peters, Jeff Merkley, Robert Casey, Martin Heinrich, Kirsten Gillibrand, Patrick Leahy, Ron Wyden, Amy Klobuchar, Michael Bennet and Al Franken.

Republicans Rob Portman and Marco Rubio also signed the letter.

The list of House members signing was not yet complete, but 109 had signed on by late Wednesday, including some Republicans.