DSI admits failure to prosecute top officials involved in human trafficking.
WHILE THE government expressed disappointment over the US State Department’s Tier 2 Watchlist of the 2017 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, officials and civic groups admitted that many efforts to battle modern-day slavery had not been effective.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said the government’s continuing work was not intended to earn a favourable evaluation but sought to protect people, both Thais and foreigners, in the Kingdom according to humanitarian principles.
The US State Department left Thailand on the watchlist for another year since the government had not aggressively prosecuted and convicted officials complicit in trafficking crimes, while official complicity continued to impede anti-trafficking efforts, according to the report.
Police chief Pol General Chakthip Chaijinda said police would use the TIP report’s conclusions to review the force and fix areas that showed deficiencies. “Remaining on the Tier 2 watchlist is better than falling to Tier 3. We also aim high to reach Tier 1,” he said.
Meanwhile, rights advocates said inadequate legal enforcement had contributed to problems dealing with human trafficking efficiently.
National Human Rights Com-missioner Angkhana Neelaphaijit said authorities tended to have practical troubles adjusting to changes enacted by related laws and bills, many of which have been issued recently. For instance, while authorities have passed regulations to allow foreign human trafficking victims and witnesses to stay and work in the Kingdom, there were still problems on victim protections, working permits and coordination, Angkhana said.
Thailand had made remarkable progress on fisheries and sex workers, but there had been limited prosecution of influential perpetrators, she said.
Sompong Srakaew, executive director of the NGO Labour Rights Promotion Network, suggested that authorities could expand legal interpretations to correspond with actual problems.
The freshly enacted decree on managing alien workers, for instance, was intended to curb illegal treatment of migrant workers by prescribing heavy punishment for employers engaging in violations, he said. “It would be better if there were ways to facilitate legalisation procedures for those workers,” he said. “It would encourage labour registration, which would then help to prevent bribery in labour deals.”
The acting director of the Anti-Human Trafficking Centre at the Department of Special Investigation, Pol Lt-Colonel Komvich Padhanarat, said the result of the TIP report reflected well on efforts to suppress human trafficking, adding that Thailand would perform better in next year’s assessment.
“I see the results of this year’s TIP report as an opportunity, as the United States’ assessment lets us know our weaknesses in fighting human trafficking so we can intensify our operation against traffickers,” Komvich said.
He said the greatest concern expressed in the report was the inability of officials to catch so-called “big fish”, as many anti-trafficking raids had been conducted but few masterminds or high-ranking officials prosecuted.
Komvich said that failure to prosecute was the main problem for investigators because powerful people behind human-trafficking crimes were very cautious and often did not get directly involved in crimes, but instead worked through nominees.
Moreover, arrested suspects and witnesses are often afraid of influential figures and will not testify against them, making it hard to track down masterminds and arrest them.
“This is the great challenge we have to overcome. It is very hard because our society is still full of corruption and the misuse of power,” he said.
While the private sector expressed disappointment over the rating and concerns that the US could justify trade sanctions due to the Tier 2 status, Commerce Minister Apiradi Tantraporn said she had instructed trade representatives in the US and other markets to explain how Thailand was handling the issue of trafficking.
The ministry maintained its 5-per-cent export growth target for this year, Apiradi said.
The Tier 2 status would not have an immediate impact on trade with the US, said Thavorn Kanokvalee-wong, president of the Thai Garment Manufacturers Association. “But we have to closely monitor whether the US will issue any follow-up measures that affect our exports,” he said.
The Trump administration has recently complained that Thailand has too large a trade surplus with the US and plans to dispatch a trade delegation to negotiate with its Thai counterparts.