Manas case all too rare

Manas case all too rare

The conviction of Lieutenant General Manas Kongpan and Co for human trafficking earlier this week, demonstrates a major step in efforts to combat serious crime involving modern-day slavery.

Lt Gen Manas, former head of the 42nd Military Circle in Songkhla and army adviser, fell into disgrace in 2015 when authorities unmasked him as part of efforts to eradicate human smuggling and trafficking across the country.

After a lengthy court trial, he received a 27-year prison sentence for human trafficking and organised transnational crime. Most of the victims were Rohingya migrants fleeing Myanmar in search of jobs in Muslim countries in Southeast Asia.

The trial was the biggest human trafficking case in the country's history. Apart from Lt Gen Manas, others convicted included Banchong Pongphon, or Ko Chong, the mayor of Padang Besar, and Patchuban Angchotphan, or Ko Tong, ex-head of the Satun provincial administration.

They were arrested in a massive crackdown following the discovery of more than 30 graves in May, 2015 on Khao Kaew mountain in tambon Padang Besar in Songkhla's Sadao district near the Thai-Malaysian border.

All the authorities involved in the arrests and the trial deserve praise for this success. The crackdown in effect helps get rid of the Rohingya factor that cast the country in a bad light for a long time.

Catching a big fish like Manas, and all those state officials and major traffickers is indeed a rare achievement.

We remember when the then Thaksin Shinawatra government embarked on the so-called war on drugs in 2003 that resulted in an estimated 3,500 deaths, mostly from state extrajudicial killings that trampled on human rights principles.

Despite harsh state measures, there were virtually no big-time warlords or drug dealers among the victims. Worse, many of those killed are believed to have been innocent. Illegal drugs remain a major social issue today.

This week's convictions have earned applause from human rights advocates who hailed what they called a landmark trial that sent a strong message that, despite status and wealth, no one is above the law.

It should be noted that Manas' conviction came shortly after the European Union (EU) decided to uphold its "yellow-card" warning for Thailand in what it regards as improved but not yet satisfactory efforts by Thai authorities to suppress Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing that includes the use of illegal migrants.

The warning has put Thailand at risk of having its seafood exports banned in Europe.

The EU decision to keep the yellow card in place followed the US State Department's TIP report ranking in June which kept the country on the Tier 2 Watchlist -- the designation for countries that do not fully meet the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPC) minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to meet them. Thailand was placed on the Tier 2 Watchlist on 2016.

It's understood that the refusal by the EU and US to fully recognise the country's efforts in tackling trafficking stems from the fact that while there are hundreds of arrests, cases that lead to prosecution are too few -- let alone convictions. It's found that too many cases are still pending judicial procedures.

This proves one thing. We cannot afford to be complacent. Fortify Rights, a Southeast Asia human rights watchdog is correct in its statement: "Thailand has a long way to go to ensure justice" for those who were exploited, tortured and killed by human traffickers.

Needless to say, apart from Lt Gen Manas and Co, there must be other big fish out there who have managed to escape the long arm of the law. These people must be hunted down and brought to justice.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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