TWENTY-FIVE Western NGOs have written to US Secretary of State John Kerry, supporting the State Department's decision to maintain Thailand's Tier 3 designation in the 2015 Global Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report.
They included Human Rights Watch, Green Peace and the American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organisations (AFL-CIO).
The NGOs said the Tier 3 ranking, as well as the research and recommendations contained in the report, would “be an important tool … to continue to press Thai authorities to enact more substantive reforms to end the labour trafficking that can be found in many sectors of Thailand’s economy, including seafood”.
The letter said the decision comes at a vital time for leveraging change from the Thai government in its anti-trafficking efforts.
“Last year’s downgrade to Tier 3 in the 2014 TIP Report, the decision by the European Union to issue Thailand a ‘yellow card’ for its failure to adequately monitor its fishing industry, and high-profile global media exposure of human trafficking in Thailand’s fishing industry have together produced an unprecedented level of international pressure on Thailand…”
It added, however, that the Thai government has demonstrated its willingness to respond to that pressure, and has taken a few encouraging actions.
“In particular, efforts to register migrant workers, passage of the Regulation to Protect Labour in the Sea Fishing Industry, and reforms to the Fisheries Act that increase regulation and oversight of fishing vessels are positive steps… However, the government only began making these changes toward the end of 2014, many of them weren’t operational until mid-2015, and we remain deeply concerned that failure to effectively enforce these laws and policies may render those changes ineffectual.”
Thailand, the group wrote, “needs to demonstrate it is willing to enforce newly established mechanisms to increase transparency and regulatory accountability within its seafood industry, and apply those mechanisms to combating human trafficking by conducting more frequent inspections at sea, ensuring inspectors are trained to identify and respond to the needs of trafficking victims, and cracking down on the trade of fraudulent crew manifests and identification documents at ports.”
The NGOs also criticised the use of criminal defamation and the Computer Crimes Act to prosecute journalists and human rights defenders. “This month, Phuket Wan journalists Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian, and migrant rights defender Andy Hall, faced court proceedings.
“If found guilty, the verdict will have a chilling impact on the ability of trafficking victims to speak out and seek justice. Thailand should not be prosecuting journalists and activists for doing their jobs, and these court trials belie Thailand’s claims that it is working with civil society to address human trafficking issues.”
Finally, the report added that Thailand should ensure that migrant workers could associate and organise to protect their rights, including the right to form unions.
Thailand-based Migrant Rights Promotion Working Group yesterday claimed Thai officials’ mistakes in Myanmar, Cambodian and Laotian migrant workers’ registration had led to some registered workers being arrested and deported. They urged for procedure reform to ensure justice for workers, for more accessible and easy to understand information about the right to travel outside registered areas for the workers and law enforcers. They cited the case of a Bangkok-based Myanmar worker, who was passing through Tak’s Mae Sot district for nationality identification, when he was arrested on July 13, despite having all the documents, because one paper had two typos (his name and date).
Although the group later obtained confirmation over the typos, he was sued, sentenced to a one-year suspended jail term and a Bt2,000 fine – commuted from a four-month jail term and Bt4,000 fine on grounds of a confession – and deported, all on July 15.
The group urged state agencies to integrate better, especially for effective information checking.