We shouldn't need the US Trafficking in Persons report to tell us we have a serious problem
The United States has released this year’s Trafficking in Persons Report, with a disappointing result for Thailand. The Kingdom remains stuck for the second consecutive year on Tier 3, the lowest rank in the annual report by the US Department of State.
The TIP Report said the Thai government “does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so”. The Thai Foreign Ministry has voiced disagreement with the evaluation, saying it did not accurately reflect Thailand’s efforts to combat people-trafficking over the past year. Deputy government spokesman Maj-General Sansern Kaewkumnerd said it was Washington’s responsibility to explain to the global community why Thailand remained in Tier 3 and prove that the evaluation was based on facts rather than political expediency.
After spending three years on the Tier 2 Watch List, Thailand was demoted to the lowest tier last year, after the coup in May.
Critics of the latest report allege that certain countries, including Malaysia and Cuba, have been the beneficiaries of politically motivated preferential treatment. Some critics in Thailand have even claimed that the Kingdom’s efforts to combat human trafficking were ignored and the Tier 3 status maintained so as to undermine the economy and incite public anger against the post-coup government.
Malaysia, which is currently part of the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations for a free-trade pact, was upgraded to Tier 2. Cuba, which is normalising ties with the US after 50 years of enmity, was elevated to the Tier 2 Watch List.
Human Rights Watch said Malaysia’s upgrade undermined the credibility of the US report. “Malaysia’s record on stopping trafficking in persons is far from sufficient to justify this upgrade. This upgrade is more about the TPP and US trade politics than anything Malaysia did to combat human trafficking,” the group said.
In Thailand, the US Embassy’s charge d’affaires W Patrick Murphy rejected suspicions of ulterior motives behind the TIP Report’s evaluations.
But in the US, the Barack Obama administration has been accused of playing politics with the report. US Senator Robert Menendez said the upgrade for Malaysia and Cuba represented “a clear politicisation of the report and a stamp of approval for countries who have failed to take the basic actions to merit this upgrade”. Senator Marco Rubio voiced doubt over the upgrade for Cuba, which comes as the administration is pushing to restore relations with the communist-ruled country. “I find it difficult to believe that Cuba has been elevated this year solely based on the Cuban regime’s record,” he said.
The lesson in this controversy is that, while evaluations by Western countries may serve as a valuable mirror for Thailand in its efforts to meet international standards of human rights, the mirror does not always offer an accurate reflection. The picture given can be distorted by the evaluating countries’ own interests or political motivations.
The danger is that we rely too much on such evaluations, seeking short-term and knee-jerk measures to satisfy an external judge, then responding with bad grace if we fail. Instead, Thai authorities must pay more attention to what is actually happening within our borders. We are the best judge of how serious is the problem of human-trafficking within our borders, and we are in the best position to solve it. We can determine by ourselves what problems need to be solved and if we have done enough to tackle them. We shouldn’t have to rely on other countries, whose evaluations may be swayed by vested interests, to tell us that it’s time we took abuse of human rights seriously.