A Change of Guard

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Wednesday 29 June 2016

Myanmar Takes a Tumble on Annual U.S. Human Trafficking Report

Myanmar Takes a Tumble on Annual U.S. Human Trafficking Report

A boy watches Karen National Union soldiers practice in Oo Kray Kee village near the Thai border in southern Myanmar's Karen State, Jan. 30, 2012.

The United States has downgraded Myanmar in its annual human trafficking report, citing the Southeast Asian nation’s failure to reduce the practice of using child soldiers primarily by the government army, the head of Myanmar’s anti-human trafficking force said Tuesday.

“The U.S. pointed out some points that we police have been working on. It also pointed out the child soldier issue, which the military is working on,” said Lieutenant Colonel Thet Naung, national head of the police Anti-Human Trafficking Team.

The U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, to be released Thursday, ranks 188 countries on how they handle human trafficking and assigns them one of four rankings—Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 2 Watch List, and Tier 3—based on whether they meet the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking, as mandated by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA).

The minimum standards under the U.S. law include a government’s prohibition of and punishment of severe forms of human trafficking, and serious and sustained efforts to eliminate such trafficking.

Myanmar’s use of child soldiers was also cited in last year’s TIP report.

“Some military personnel and some armed ethnic groups continue to be involved in the recruitment and use of child soldiers, particularly in conflict-prone ethnic areas,” the 2014 TIP report said.

It noted that although monitoring groups, such as the United Nations International Labor Organization (ILO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), had reported that the incidence of forced conscription had been decreasing, the government army and some armed ethnic groups continued to force Myanmar men and boys to serve in their outfits through the use of intimidation, coercion, threats, and violence.

U.S. no longer pleased

Myanmar had been listed as a Tier 3 country for 10 years in the TIP until 2010, and then as a Tier 2 Watch List nation for four years up to 2014 before reverting back to Tier 3 status this year, Thet Naung said.

“We heard that a country will automatically fall into Tier 3 if it stays on the Tier 2 watch list for three years, but the U.S. kept us under Tier 2 Watch List last year because it was pleased about what we had done regarding human trafficking,” he said.

Tier 2 Watch List nations do not fully comply with the TVPA but are seen as making significant efforts to bring themselves in line with the standards.

Tier 3 countries, however, do not comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.

The current report takes into account instances of Myanmar’s human trafficking situation when the former military-backed government of Thein Sein was in power up to the end of this March.

Rohingya issue

Though Washington and Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw have maintained good diplomatic relations, especially since Aung San Suu Kyi’s pro-democracy government came into power in April, the U.S. and Western countries have also criticized her administration for not adequately addressing the divisive Rohingya issue.

“The United States suggested 13 recommendations for us, but the Rohingya issue wasn’t one of them, although they put this issue in the annual report,” Thet Naung said, while not elaborating upon the recommendations.

Of the 1.1 million Muslim Rohingya who live in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, about 120,000 reside in refugee camps since being displaced by communal violence with ethnic Buddhists in 2012.

Thousands of others have left the country as asylum seekers, only to end up as trafficking victims and sold as forced laborers elsewhere in Asia.

Myanmar’s majority Buddhists refuse to use the term Rohingya to refer to members of the group, whom they consider to be “Bengalis,” illegal migrants from neighboring Bangladesh, though many have lived in Myanmar for generations.

The government does not consider the Rohingya to be full citizens of Myanmar and denies them basic rights, freedom of movement, and access to social services and education.

Western governments and the United Nations have called on the Myanmar government to end discrimination against the Rohingya.

Last year’s TIP report said the Rohingya and other refugee groups continued to be vulnerable to sex trafficking and forced labor in Myanmar as well as in other Asian countries. 

Reported by Tin Aung Khine for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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