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Thailand, Other American Partners Downgraded to Worst Ranking in New Trafficking in Persons Report

by Joshua Kurlantzick
June 20, 2014

cambodian-migrants-from-thailand Cambodian migrant workers carry their belongings as they walk to cross the border at Aranyaprathet in Sa Kaew on June 15, 2014. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that over the past week 100,000 Cambodians have poured over the border, as the military that seized power in a May 22 coup intensifies lax measures to regulate illegal labour. The military's ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) insists Cambodians are leaving of their own accord and said 60,000 had crossed the border as of Saturday (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy: Reuters).



In the new State Department 2014 Trafficking in Persons report, officially released this morning by Secretary of State John Kerry, the administration pulls no punches. In previous years, some countries that had deserved being downgraded from a Tier 1 country to a Tier 2 country, signifying deteriorating progress in combating trafficking, or from a Tier 2 to a Tier 3 country, the worst possible rating in the report, had been saved from downgrades. Usually, they were saved due to their close strategic ties with the United States and their effective lobbying of this administration and its predecessors. A ranking in Tier 3, according to the report’s definition, means a country “whose government does not fully comply with the minimum standards [in combating trafficking in persons] and are not making significant efforts to do so.” Countries that fall into Tier 3, the report notes, “may be subject to certain restrictions on bilateral assistance, whereby the U.S. government may withhold or withdraw non-humanitarian, non-trade-related foreign assistance.…Governments subject to restrictions would also face U.S. opposition to assistance from international financial institutions.”

In the run-up to this year’s report release, the Thai government, as it had in the past, desperately attempted to lobby the United States to keep Thailand from being dropped into Tier 3, which is a particularly tough blow at a time when Thailand has just suffered a military coup and is facing penalties for the coup not only from the United States but also from Europe, Australia, and many other countries. Besides Thailand, other countries downgraded in the new report also had lobbied the administration hard, stressing not only that they were (allegedly) taking action against trafficking but also emphasizing their increasingly warm bilateral ties with the United States. Qatar, an important American partner which received a ranking slightly above that of Thailand, had pushed to be given a higher rating.

This time, to its credit, the White House was not swayed. For example, Thailand surely deserves to be placed among the Tier 3 nations, and should have been downgraded to Tier 3 years ago. In just the past year, the Thai navy has been implicated in the trafficking and outright murder of refugees fleeing Myanmar, Thailand’s seafood industry has been the subject of damning reports from nonprofit organizations and journalists revealing outright slavery in the industry, and in just the past two weeks over 100,000 Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand, many of whom worked under slave-like conditions, have fled the country in panic, fearing that the junta is going to arbitrarily detain and abuse them.

The Thai governments–both the elected government that was in place until May 2014, and the new junta government–have taken only woefully inadequate measures to reduce Thailand’s status as one of the biggest centers of trafficking in the world. The State Department got it right in this report.

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