By Christine Khamis
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia —
Malaysia has been upgraded to the Tier 2 Watch List on the U.S. State Department’s yearly Trafficking in Persons Report ranking. This means that the United States no longer considers Malaysia one of the worst offenders when it comes to human trafficking. Thailand, on the other hand, is ranked among the worst offenders.
Countries are placed in one of four tiers on the Trafficking in Persons Report. Tier 1 includes countries that fully comply with the United States’ Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). Tier 2 includes countries that do not fully comply with the TVPA, but who are making significant efforts to comply. The Tier 2 Watch List includes countries who do not fully comply and still have negative indicators, yet who are are making significant efforts to comply. Tier 3 includes countries who do not fully comply and are not making significant efforts to do so.
Thailand remains in Tier 3, the lowest ranking group, for a second consecutive year. Only two other countries from the Asia region, North Korea and the Marshall Islands, were placed in Tier 3. In part, Thailand was downgraded from the Tier 2 Watch list in last year’s report because of labor abuses in its fishing industry. There is also a U.S. State Department Rule that countries have to be either upgraded or downgraded after two years on the Tier 2 Watch list.
Both Malaysia and Thailand have been internationally criticized this year for their trafficking of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants on overcrowded ships. Human traffickers transported the migrants,then leaft thousands stranded at sea with meager supplies.
Graves of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants were also found about two months ago in abandoned camps on both sides of the Thai-Malaysian border, along with pens that appear to have been used as cages for the migrants.
The Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs has released a statement that Thailand’s ranking is not an accurate portrayal of the efforts Thailand has made to decrease human trafficking. For instance, Thai state prosecutors brought charges against more than 100 people last week who have been suspected of trafficking migrants.
Lawmakers and human rights groups have criticized Malaysia’s upgrade, claiming that Malaysia was upgraded from Tier 3 to the Tier 2 Watch List for politicized reasons. They believe that the upgrade is politicized because it enables Malaysia to be a participating country in the Asia-Pacific trade agreement, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). In June, the United States Congress approved legislation that limits President Obama’s ability to make free trade agreements with Tier 3 countries.
To counter those claims, Sarah Sewall, the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights has stated that Malaysia has made the effort to reform its trafficking victim protection system as well as to increase the number of investigations and prosecutions connected to human trafficking. However, convictions of human traffickers have decreased in Malaysia. Ms. Sewall denies that Malaysia’s upgrade was politicized.
Human rights groups assert that Malaysia has not sufficiently improved its handling of human trafficking issues to justify its upgrade from a Tier 3 country. They also claim that Malaysia’s upgrade diminishes the reliability of the Trafficking of Persons report.
For more information, please see:
CNN – Who’s Fighting Human Trafficking? U.S. Releases Rankings – 28 July 2015
Associated Press – Malaysia, Cuba Taken off U.S. Human Trafficking Blacklist – 27 July 2015
New York Times – Key Shift on Malaysia Before Trans-Pacific Partnership Deal – 27 July 2015
Reuters – U.S. Softens View of Malaysia, Cuba in Human Trafficking Report – 27 July 2015