Friday, 18 June 2010

Burma among 13 worst for human trafficking: US report

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Burma is among the 13 countries that fail to meet US minimum standards in fighting the crime of human trafficking, according to the US State Department in its 10th annual trafficking in persons report.

The report released on Monday reviewed global efforts to stop the trade in people and sexual slavery and listed 13 countries, including Iran, North Korea, Burma and Cuba, which were likely to be punished with US sanctions, it said.

Classification of nations, Trafficking in Persons Report 2010 report
Tier 1 Full compliance with the minimum standards of the TVPA
Tier 2 Significant efforts to comply with the TVPA
Tier 2 Watch List (do not fully comply with the TVPA but
are making significant efforts to comply AND:
a) the absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing;
b) there is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking from the previous year, including increased investigations, prosecution and convictions of trafficking crimes, increased assistance to victims and decreasing evidence of complicity in severe forms of trafficking by government officials; or,
c) the determination that a country is making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with minimum standards was based on commitments by the country to take additional steps over the next year.
Tier 3 (No efforts to comply with the TVPA)
Source: US State Department
According to the report, despite fears for what happens to Burmese trafficked out of the country, internal trafficking remained the State Department’s most serious concern, and the key factor in keeping Burma in Tier 3.

“The military engages in the unlawful conscription of child soldiers, and continues to be the main perpetrator of forced labour inside Burma,” the report said in its section on Burma. “The direct government and military use of forced or compulsory labour remains a widespread and serious problem, particularly targeting members of ethnic minority groups.

“Military and civilian officials systematically used men, women and children for forced labour for the development of infrastructure and state-run agricultural and commercial ventures, as well as forced portering for the military,” the report said.

Duean Wonsa a project manager with the Anti-Trafficking Co-ordination Unit Northern Thailand (Trafcord) also blamed the junta for Burma’s lack of progress.

“There are overlapping reasons behind the high intensity of human trafficking in Burma, [but] it is mainly the failure of the Burmese dictatorship to provide protection to its nationalities, and the suppression of ethnic minorities [that is at fault],” she said.

She added that other reasons behind high human-trafficking rates in Burma – such as poverty, lack of education and general life skills, lack of information on safe migration and the increase of violence against women and children – “combine to make Burma a prime target for international criminal traffickers”.

A large proportion of those trafficked to neighbouring countries by couriers promising better work were from Burmese ethnic minorities.

NGO project manager, Duean, corroborated the point. “Families are tricked by traffickers, saying that their daughters or sons will have a respectable job in Thailand for example,” she said. “The families are offered money to make them believe, later they were brought and sold, and are forced to work in the sex trade.”

“Burmese workers rank the highest in numbers of human-trafficking victims in Thailand, and more than half of the population we serve originates from Burma,” Duean said. “The remainder are from Thailand, Laos and China, in that order.”

The US also rated the Burmese junta low in its sub-section on prosecution, revealing that the junta’s reporting to observers rarely matched reality, was unjust and that often those who reported cases of forced labour were themselves prosecuted.

“There was only one reported criminal prosecution of a member of the Burma Army for his role in child soldier cases. [Meanwhile], the government continued to incarcerate six individuals who reported forced labour cases involving the regime to the ILO or were otherwise active in working with the ILO on forced labour issues,” the report said, referring to the UN’s International Labour Organisation.

The report also said it was common practice for police to hamper investigations into people with official connections. It further cited a lack of transparency, included under-reporting of abuses and denial of access to public records or court proceedings by independent observers.

“Police can be expected to self-limit investigations when well-connected individuals are involved in forced labour cases,” it said. “Although the government reported four officials prosecuted for involvement in human trafficking in 2009, the government did not release any details of the cases.”

Global human trafficking in figures
Adults and children in forced labour, bonded labour and forced prostitution around the world: 12.3 million
Successful trafficking prosecutions last year: 4,166
Successful prosecutions related to forced labour: 335
Victims identified: 49,105
Ratio of convicted offenders to victims identified, as a percentage: 8.5
Ratio of victims identified to estimated victims, as a percentage: 0.4
Countries that have yet to convict a trafficker under laws in compliance with the Palermo Protocols: 62
Nations without laws, policies or regulations to stop victim deportation: 104
Prevalence of trafficking victims in the world: 1.8 per 1,000 inhabitants
Prevalence in Asia and the Pacific region: 3 per 1,000 inhabitants

Source: US State Department
The ILO last year saw an increase in complaints of forced labour, according to the report, and indicated a lack of follow-up in such cases.

“Ninety-three cases were submitted to the Burmese government for action, an increase from 64 cases in 2008; 54 cases remain open and are awaiting a response from the government,” it said. “Despite a report of a child labour case involving as many as 100 children on an agricultural plantation near Rangoon, the regime did not report any efforts to investigate the allegation.”

The report, further quoting ILO figures, said many victims of forced labour were themselves prosecuted if they had complained about officials.

“Seventeen complainants and their associates in a series of forced labour cases involving 328 farmers in Magway Division were prosecuted and jailed by local authorities for their role in reporting forced labour perpetrated by local government officials,” it said. “Burmese courts later released 13 of the individuals, but four of the complainants remain in prison.”

It added that the national military government failed to act against such abuses.

“The central government did not intervene with local authorities to stop the politically motivated harassment, including lengthy interrogations, of the forced labour complainants,” it said. “Such unaccountable harassment and punishment discouraged additional forced labour complaints.”

On the other hand the Obama administration praised Malaysia and Taiwan for improving efforts to stop sexual and forced-labour exploitation of women and children. The countries rank in Tier 1, up from Tier-2.

The US ambassador for human trafficking issues, Luis CdeBaca, said Taiwan had for example improved in its efforts by allowing victims of trafficking to work while their cases were being investigated.

Malaysia earned its spot, according to the report, with statistics released by Malaysia’s Home Ministry that showed at least 56 victims of trafficking from Burma, including some underage children, had been rescued from slavery by Malaysian authorities since February 2008. The government had granted 292 protection orders to protect victims from February 2008 until March this year.

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