A battle only half won
Whether the United States' views on Thailand and human trafficking remain the same or improve, the government must continue its battle against this despicable scourge.
The Trafficking in Persons Report 2015 was six weeks late off the US State Department's press. The delay gave critics lots of opportunity and ammunition to assail the report. One claim, never denied by Washington, said it favoured Malaysia, in order to secure Kuala Lumpur's support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade treaty. For Thailand, however, there were other key concerns.
The first was the actual publication date, because there were two timelines involved. On one side, the US for many years had a clear series of dates it adhered to. US embassies and other sources performed research to gather official and unofficial reports on human trafficking. The last reports were due in the TIP office in Washington by the morning of April 1. Then came the writing, editing, publishing and finally the printing of the report by, approximately, June 15.
In Bangkok, meanwhile, a somewhat different timeline was in force. It began last June, when Washington dumped Thailand into the pit of Tier 3, a list of the world's worst offenders on fighting human trafficking. This action by the US was taken seriously by the (then) new military regime. Even as US-Thai diplomatic relations hit their bumpiest road ever, the government led by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha turned human trafficking into a national agenda item.
On March 31, the two timelines merged, but unhappily. Thailand reported its preparations for imminent action against human traffickers. The United States, in effect, said: "See you next year.'' It was in April and May that police and the army moved in full force against the human trafficking networks. In June, the government took a leading role in trying to solve the Rohingya crisis.
Here at the end of July 2015, the government's actions against human trafficking are real and recognised. Just last week, in an event that could not have made it into the State Department's report, charges were advanced against more than 100 people including "big fish" - an army general, police officers and influential figures across the South.
These aren't promises or vague new laws from the appointed parliament. The US government, from President Barack Obama down, should take note of the real action against human trafficking, rather than depend entirely on the TIP report, which was out of date when published.
Whatever the result, human trafficking is a true evil, a new form of slavery. The military regime is the first government ever that has taken the issue so seriously. Credit is certainly due to the US State Department for emphasising shortcomings and for its dramatic reminder to Thailand about its responsibilities. But climbing out of Tier 3 in US diplomatic opinion is not nearly as important as ridding the country of the scourge of this evil malignancy.
Thursday is the United Nations World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, a reminder that the government must step up its fight. The traffickers are cornered, dangerous, and will respond with tricks, intimidation and violence to try to stay out of prison by any means they can find.
Stronger and even more concentrated efforts are necessary to break up this barbaric business once and for all.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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