The United States' ranking of countries on efforts to mitigate human trafficking has led some to question its merits and others to call for more efforts to prevent the criminals from getting away. Here are excerpts from commentaries in Asia News Network newspapers.
Thai govt's efforts against traffickers not recognised
Pornpimol Kanchanalak, The Nation , Thailand
"We are very surprised by this year's report, which seems to be making blatantly political decisions that we consider will have a really detrimental impact on both the integrity of the report and progress in the global fight to end modern slavery."
No, this response to the US State Department's 2015 Report on Trafficking in Persons (TIP) did not come from the government of Thailand. It came from Ms Melysa Sperber, director of the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking.
"I would say that this year had the biggest cases where politics seems to have gotten involved," commented Mr David Abramowitz, vice-president for Policy and Government Relations at Humanity United.
"Here are some cases where there are really serious and significant concerns that the department seems to be ignoring in order to pursue other interests."
"Disappointed," chimed in Democrat senator Bob Menendez from New Jersey.
"The administration turned a blind eye to the facts."
In Bangkok, Premier Prayut Chan-o-cha offered a dignified response to a TIP ranking that puts Thailand in the same league as North Korea, Libya, Syria, Russia, Algeria and other 18 backwater countries.
"It's their report, not ours," he said. "They can do whatever they want. We, for our part, will continue to do our very best in combating human trafficking. Some facets of the problem can be rectified quickly, some not."
To be fair, the current government, in its short time in office, has done more than all its predecessors combined to combat this crime against humanity.
For the first time, high-ranking and influential government officials have been arrested for aiding and abetting the traffickers.
The war on human trafficking has been made a national priority. Existing laws have finally been enforced, resulting in a spike of prosecutions. New laws have been promulgated to tighten the noose on traffickers.
A registration process for migrant workers is finally in place, so that the 1.6 million foreign labourers are now legally entitled to the same protection as Thai workers.
The government has enacted and enforced regulatory measures in the fishing industry to close loopholes for human trafficking. It has sought cooperation with neighbouring countries, both bilaterally and regionally, to arrive at concerted and effective measures and action plans for human rights protection.
Still, the US State Department insisted that Thailand had not "fully complied" with the minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and was not making significant efforts to do so.
Meanwhile, Washington quite expediently upgraded certain countries with blatant human trafficking problems, making them eligible to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the US is championing as the new framework for trade across the Pacific.
While Washington placed Thailand on the lowest rung of the human-trafficking ladder, the Global Slavery Index 2013 called the US - a self-appointed Tier 1 member - a major destination country for internationally trafficked individuals.
In this report on 162 countries, the US was ranked 134th for the prevalence of slavery, with 60,000 people enslaved.
Malaysia needs to do more to combat problem
Editorial in The Star, Malaysia
It is important to have a basic grasp of what the TIP report is all about. First, here is a key statement on Malaysia from the 2015 edition: "The government does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so."
Those minimum standards are set out in the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
We should understand that the report is the US government's "principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking". And we should also realise that the placement of countries in the four tiers is based more on the extent of government action in eliminating trafficking than on the size of each country's trafficking problem.
The report does not deal only with absolutes. And to say that Malaysia is not making any significant efforts to meet the Act's minimum standards - that is the definition of a Tier 3 country - is too harsh.
But where do we go from here?
In the 15 years of the TIP report, the highest level that Malaysia has reached is Tier 2 and that has happened only four times.
This year is our seventh time on the Tier 2 Watch List, which essentially signifies that some indicators are not moving in the direction that would have moved us to Tier 2. At best, it is a middling track record that does not inspire pride.
We can all agree that Malaysia has to do more on the anti-trafficking front. Recent amendments to the Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act will hopefully boost this area.
Also, Malaysia formulated a national action plan against trafficking in persons, covering 2010 to 2015. The naysayers claim the plan has not translated well into action. That aside, we need a new action plan and it must be executed effectively.
The question really is not about which is the right tier for Malaysia. What we should be asking ourselves is this: Can we be an advanced economy and inclusive nation if we are ineffective in fighting forced labour and sex trafficking in our country?
Don't let human traffickers exploit global crises
Yury Fedotov , The Jakarta Post, Indonesia
For human traffickers, hardships represent business opportunities. Many millions of vulnerable women, men and children are being cruelly exploited - coerced into working in factories, fields and brothels or begging on the street; pushed into armed combat or forced marriages; trafficked so their organs can be harvested and sold.
More and more detected victims of trafficking are children, especially girls under the age of 18. No place in the world is safe: The latest Global Report on Trafficking in Persons by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime found that the trafficking victims identified in 124 states were citizens of 152 different countries.
And the traffickers are getting away with it. Over the past decade there has been no significant improvement in the overall criminal justice response to this crime. In the period covered by the Global Report, some 40 per cent of countries reported fewer than 10 convictions per year. Some 15 per cent did not record a single conviction.
The world is facing many grave challenges, and our resources are strained. But we cannot allow criminals to exploit these crises and take advantage of desperation and suffering.
•The View From Asia is a weekly compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 newspapers. For more, see www.asianewsnet.net
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