Truth needed on human trafficking
The government, police and military must show a commitment to tackling human trafficking and take the matter seriously. This is the only option in response to Pol Maj Gen Paween Pongsirin’s request for asylum in Australia. If the authorities want to prove Pol Maj Gen Paween’s statement wrong, they have to ensure responsible agencies or officials are able to suppress human trafficking without fear or interference from influential figures. It would be unwise to blindly dismiss Pol Maj Gen Paween’s statement as simply politically motivated. Regardless of the officer's motives, his statement revealed some inconvenient facts about the situation.
Human trafficking has not suddenly gone away, because this insidious business often involves powerful people in the areas it takes place. Pol Maj Gen Paween told the Australian media that his life was at risk because the influential figures who were implicated in the illicit trade wanted him dead. His statement was very serious and it highlighted his lack of faith in the police department protecting his safety after he was assigned to investigate human trafficking gangs.
Pol Maj Gen Paween’s bid for asylum in Australia challenges Thai authorities to properly tackle the human trafficking that goes on here. It will be a test for the Prayut Chan-o-cha government to exercise its power and nail the influential figures who are part of the trafficking and smuggling gangs.
On Friday, Royal Thai Police chief Chakthip Chaijinda said Pol Maj Gen Paween’s statement could damage the country. He also said a legal team was checking whether his comments were defamatory. Instead of launching a lawsuit against Pol Maj Gen Paween for speaking out, the Royal Thai Police should be making it a priority to crack down on human trafficking networks to restore confidence in the much maligned law-enforcement institution and repair the damage the illicit trade has done to the nation's standing. Thailand is now in the lowest category for human trafficking according to Washington, which says the country is both a transit place and a destination for human trafficking, involving a wide range of illegal activities including labour abuse and sexual exploitation. The discovery of 36 bodies in shallow graves along the Thai-Malaysian border in May added salt to the wound by shining international light on the plight of the Rohingya migrants who are victims of the smuggling gangs.
Those responsible for these atrocities were obviously influential criminals and possibly officials from both sides of the border. Thailand attracts large numbers of migrant workers, some of whom are smuggled in. Economics, cultural prejudices, human rights as well as the demand and supply of workers are among the factors contributing to people trafficking. Thai authorities have made a decent effort by bringing cases against 88 suspected human traffickers, including a senior military general alleged to be a kingpin, other military officers, local politicians and business figures. There have been 153 arrest warrants issued related to people trafficking.
However, there are still many things to be done and the effort seems to have lost its momentum. The investigating team has been disbanded. Pol Maj Gen Paween resigned from his post as deputy commissioner of Provincial Police Region 8 last month, saying an order to transfer him to the South would expose him to revenge attacks by members of trafficking syndicates who were still at large. Rather than taking a swipe at Pol Maj Gen Paween, Pol Gen Chakthip should instead try to ensure his security and persuade him to return to Thailand. As a Thai citizen, Pol Maj Gen Paween should be able to come back and live in Thailand without fearing for his life. After all, he is a valuable asset in the effort to tackle human trafficking. He was listed as a key witness to testify against officials and other individuals facing criminal charges over their alleged involvement in trafficking.
If the Royal Thai Police can guarantee fairness and safety for Pol Maj Gen Paween, it would also boost the morale of other good officials in the fight to suppress criminal activities, which often involve mafia-type figures who pay influential people for protection. By dismissing Pol Maj Gen Paween’s statement as politically motivated, the Royal Thai Police may be missing the opportunity to finalise pending cases and pursue others, hindering the government’s efforts to suppress human trafficking gangs.
It is a fact that a number of people are still victims of trafficking networks in Thailand. Of course, as Pol Maj Gen Paween said, there are both good and bad officers and it would be wrong to stereotype every policeman as a bad guy. The challenge for the decision-makers and people in power is to ensure the good officers perform their duties honestly and the bad ones get punished and sidelined. It would be unfortunate if the situation was the other way around.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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