Myanmar retains second-to-worst spot on US trafficking list
|Thousands of Rohingya attempting to reach Malaysia end up in the hands of traffickers (Photo: MAPIM)|
By Laignee Barron
July 28, 2015
After a four-week delay and a leaked ranking controversy, the US released its 2015 Trafficking in Persons report last night, keeping Myanmar positioned one notch above the worst offenders.
The annual report ranks over 180 countries on efforts to comply with international standards on eliminating human trafficking, taking into account the number of cases recorded, pursued and prosecuted, as well as whether the country dedicates resources to counter trafficking. Tier 1 countries are considered to be doing the most to prevent trafficking, while tier 3 nations face sanctions on non-humanitarian aid.
For the fourth year in a row, Myanmar was given a second-lowest tier 2 watch list ranking. The spot was created to recognise countries plagued by rampant human trafficking, but that were seen to be making an effort – through official, written plans and dedicated funding – to comply with standards.
But the spot – called a “parking lot” by Ed Royce, chair of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee – has garnered criticism for allegedly allowing some of the world’s trafficking hot spots to avoid penalties. To thwart last-ditch efforts to scrape together anti-trafficking measures, the US State Department instituted limits on the warning category. Myanmar this year has reached the end of its warnings before an automatic downgrade next year unless it seriously ratchets up its efforts.
Out of Myanmar’s 98 recorded cases of primarily sex trafficking during the reporting period of March 2014-2015, some 143 traffickers were prosecuted, compared with 183 the year before, according to the report. Only 18 cases of labour trafficking, considered by rights workers to be rampant in Myanmar, were recorded. No cases were recorded in Rakhine State, though the report notes “the 146,000 displaced persons in Rakhine State are particularly vulnerable to trafficking” with reports of Rohingya women “subjected to sex trafficking”.
The report’s publication follows raids on “death camps” in Thailand which exposed the region’s smuggling route for desperate Bangladeshis and Rohingya from Myanmar. The boat people crisis erupted after this year’s reporting period however, and will likely be incorporated into next year’s list.
While the State Department report is seen as exerting influence over the region, a controversy over its release this year has prompted questions over its usefulness. This month Reuters revealed that Malaysia had been upgraded from its tier 3 status, largely so it could participate in President Barack Obama’s legacy-making Transpacific Partnership, according to US legislators. Anti-trafficking experts slammed the State Department for such politicisation of the rankings.