US downgrade move 'wrong'

national June 22, 2014 00:00

By Kornchanok Raksaseri,

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Foreign Ministry says tangible progress not taken into account; vows to continue fight against human trafficking

THAILAND is “disappointed and disagrees” with the US State Department over its decision to downgrade the country in the latest Trafficking in Persons report to the lowest ranking, insisting tangible progress has been made in trying to solve the problem. 
However, officials said Thailand would continue to improve its methods in preventing and suppressing human trafficking. 
Foreign Ministry permanent secretary Sihasak Phuangketkeow told a press conference yesterday that Thailand was “disappointed and disagrees” with the decision and had previously provided the US with a rundown of the measures it had taken to combat the issue.
“My point is Tier 3, as described [by the US], are the countries that put in no effort. We did. We have the figures. It’s not right to say we did nothing,” he said.
Officials are preparing to try and boost Americans understanding of Thailand, while executives of the Thai Frozen Foods Association will this week fly to the United States for a meeting with American importers and super stores to convince them to keep importing Thai products.
The move is a response to the US move to downgrade. 
Sihasak said Thailand was not adopting measures against human trafficking to please a particular country but to protect human rights. 
“With or without the TIP report, Thailand will continue with our efforts to tackle this problem. It’s a scourge we are facing, it’s a challenge to mankind,” he said. Sihasak said that over the past year, Thailand had taken up more than 400 cases involving human trafficking violations and more than 200 people had been prosecuted. At least 30 corrupt officials had been prosecuted. 
He said considering the effort, which US Congress representatives had witnessed, placing Thailand in Tier 3 – on the same list as North Korea – did not reflect what Thailand had done. 
Moreover, it was not right for a country to evaluate others based on its own standards, he added. 
“The US should stop using such unilateral evaluations,” he said, adding that the US should also review its stance towards Thailand.
The 2014 TIP report was released on Friday. Thailand was downgraded from the Tier 2 watchlist, on which it had stayed for four years.
Tier 3 is for countries that have not made sufficient progress in tackling human trafficking or not made significant efforts to do so.
As a result, Thailand could face sanctions from the US. Sihasak said, however, the sanctions would not relate to trade or humanitarian assistance. He said the military coup was not the reason behind the downgrade as the year-long evaluation prepared for the report had concluded in April. 
The military coup took place on May 22. The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has put the fight against human trafficking on the national agenda, Sihasak said. 
Thailand will continue to intensify measures to prevent and suppress human trafficking, he said.
NCPO chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha on Friday addressed the issue of migrant workers and human trafficking. NCPO spokesman Colonel Winthai Suvari yesterday said the downgrade was according to US law, with a Tier 2 country’s ranking automatically dropping if it could not improve to Tier 1.
He said the NCPO had started working on bringing more foreign workers into the country and ensuring their human rights were protected. Another related urgent agenda was taking legal action against those who violated the laws on labour. 
Caretaker director-general of the Department of Special Investigation Chatchawal Suksomjit said he was disappointed with the US decision, as human trafficking arrest statistics had clearly improved over the past five years. 
However, he believed other factors were considered by the US, including the problem of law enforcement in the fisheries industry and the cases of Rohingya illegally coming to work in Thailand and being considered part of the human trafficking problem. 
He also cited the problem of taking legal action against government officials, who were subject to harsher penalties but they must be convicted on concrete evidence.
He said the effect of the downgrade would be mainly psychological and it would hurt the country’s image. 
Five export products – textile, fish, shrimp, sugarcane and pornography – could be affected by the downgrade.
But Sihasak said Thailand’s exports should not be affected, and Thailand did not export pornography.
“So far as the TIP report is concerned, whatever is mentioned as a result of the report or retaliation is not related to trade, not related to humanitarian assistance,” he said. 
Responding to retailer Carrefour’s decision to suspend shrimp purchases from a Thai company, Sihasak said the Kingdom had already clarified that the company did not buy shrimp from factories that used forced labour.

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