The big issue: The TIP-ping point

The big issue: The TIP-ping point

Tracking trafficking: Rights activist Patima Thungprachayakul and Channel 3 reporter Thapanee Ietsrichai in Benjina, Indonesia. (Photo courtesy of Thapanee Ietsrichai)
Tracking trafficking: Rights activist Patima Thungprachayakul and Channel 3 reporter Thapanee Ietsrichai in Benjina, Indonesia. (Photo courtesy of Thapanee Ietsrichai)

The annual March campaign to pass laws, speak sternly and promise sincerely began last week. It will run until the April announcement by the United States to cut the talking and start writing the new human trafficking report. That will be published in June.

What used to be the most important US report, the April Special 301 compilation of the world's worst copyright violators, has been replaced in status by the TIP Report - Trafficking in Persons.

Stuck in the mix this year is a threat from the European Union, and not just to write a strongly worded report. The Europeans have the ability, and may have the gumption to actually set sanctions against Thai seafood exports. These are serious, and would knock on to packers, trawlers, fishermen, prawn peelers, tens of thousands of people.

Thai officials call this Europe's "yellow card" and "red card" option. If the European Union sees enough and hears enough and is pressured enough about human trafficking and actual slavery in the seafood trade, one of these cards will be shown. A yellow card is a 180-day warning that if things don't improve in six months, out comes the red card (sports fans get the descriptive metaphor).

The red card sends Thailand off the field of selling seafood to EU members and neighbours. That's 21 billion baht lost to the world's top seafood exporter. There's a further, potential loss of 86 billion-plus baht if the US joins after it declares Thailand a Tier 3 violator yet again. So you see why, every March, like clockwork, there's a campaign to talk the West out of such ideas.

Exactly a year ago this week, the elected government was just about to arrest the mastermind behind the Rohingya smuggling. Exactly two years ago this week, the government was on the trail of a human trafficking gang bringing in women from abroad for the sex trade. Every March.

Irony alert! On Wednesday, the prime minister unleashed one of his tirades against the press. As Yosemite Sam might say, the dad-gummed sasser-frasser media is always running those stories that make the country look bad.

Take that Channel 3 reporter Thapanee "Jennifer" Ietsrichai. She went to Indonesia for a report to hurt her country. "Reporters should not elaborate on this [human trafficking] problem," he explained. And he finished up with one of those cringeworthy "jokes" that he would not only be watching the media but considering whether to execute the worst of them.

The problem within hours was that both Ms Jennifer and the Associated Press had a heartbreaking story from Indonesia. Real, actual slaves, some of them Thai, were being forced to man fishing trawlers. The catch was coming back to Thailand, and mixed in with more legitimate seafood.

The man of the hour was Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister and anti-human trafficking czar and regime strongman Gen (whew!) Prawit Wongsuwon. He was able to assure the world that there are no slaves in the Thailand fishing industry, none at all. So that was a huge relief.

Fishing boat operators were warned they would soon be asked if they used slaves on their boats, and any of them who say "yes, I do" will be investigated for possible preparation of laying of criminal charges. A new law, taking effect on April Fool's Day, will require them to have a licence before they set sail again for Indonesia.

And on cue for the trafficking season, the military-approved legislature met and passed tough new laws. Again.

Probably because harsh penalties and executions have worked too well to wipe out drug trafficking, the regime's appointed parliamentarians even passed a new law providing the death penalty for human trafficking as well.

The new law authorises the death penalty and fines of up to 400,000 baht for human traffickers if their "customers" die - which they do in depressing numbers. The bill does not stipulate the penalty for a trafficker who is sentenced to death and refuses to pay the fine.

The bill was essentially a copycat version of a law passed the previous day by the British parliament, although the British version has life imprisonment, not Death Row.

And it's like a snowball, this passing of new laws to double penalties, then double them again, then again … Now, though, the penalty has reached infinity, they can no longer be multiplied - not by Thailand or Britain.

It is sheer desperation anyhow. Unable to stop human trafficking (just like drug trafficking) helpless politicians tried convincing themselves that if they can just make laws tough enough, the traffickers will stop it themselves.

The reason human traffickers and drug traffickers aren't going to stop in Thailand is simple enough. They're protected. Police and other security forces know where human trafficking takes place, and how. There are numerous specific reasons none have been arrested. They boil down to one generality: protected perpetrators.

Alan Dawson

Online Reporter / Sub-Editor

A Canadian by birth. Former Saigon's UPI bureau chief. Drafted into the American Armed Forces. He has survived eleven wars and innumerable coups. A walking encyclopedia of knowledge.

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