East and Southeast Asian Nations Remain Static on US Human Trafficking Report

By Roseanne Gerin
north-korea-defector-prison-camp-speech-june21-2012.jpg Former North Korean defector Kim Hye Sook talks about the 28 years she spent in one of country's notorious prison camps at a forum of the Asian Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, June 21, 2012.

North Korea’s practice of exporting labor but keeping most of the workers’ pay places that country among the world’s worst offenders in human trafficking, according to the U.S. State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report issued Monday.

The annual TIP report 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.

The six countries that RFA covers — Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, North Korea and Vietnam — were placed in the same categories as they appeared in the 2014 report, with the first four as Tier 2 Watch List  nations; North Korea in Tier 3; and Vietnam in Tier 2.

Nearby Malaysia and Thailand — whose traffickers often trade in people from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar — were placed on Tier 2 Watch List and Tier 3, respectively. A Tier 3 ranking can trigger sanctions against a given country.

As a Tier 3 country, which does not comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards and is not making significant efforts to do so, North Korea was cited for its forced labor in prison camps and through the government’s bilateral agreements to send its citizens to work in other nations where they are prohibited from switching jobs and must surrender most of their earnings to the state.

North Korea has imprisoned about 80,000-120,000 of its people in camps in remote areas of the country without judicial prosecutions, convictions or sentencings, the report said, while the number of workers it sends abroad is estimated to be 50,000 or more.

Most contract workers end up in neighboring Russia and China, while others are sent to Africa, Central Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia, where they forced to work in the logging, construction, mining, garment, and agriculture industries for long hours in hazardous temperatures with no pay for up to three years, the report said.

“The government did not demonstrate any efforts to address human trafficking through prosecution, protection, or prevention measures,” the report said. “The government participated in human trafficking through its use of domestic forced labor camps and its provision of forced labor to foreign governments through bilateral contracts. It also failed to protect victims of trafficking when they were forcibly repatriated from China or other countries.”

Watch List countries

Cambodia, China, Laos and Myanmar were listed as Tier 2 Watch List countries which don’t fully comply with the TVPA but are making significant efforts to bring themselves in line with the standards. Such countries, however, have a significantly increasing number of victims of severe forms of trafficking and fail to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat human trafficking from the previous year.

Cambodians who migrate to other regional countries and the Middle East for work are subject to sex trafficking or forced labor on fishing vessels as well as in agriculture, construction, factories or domestic servitude, the report said. Thais routinely recruit Cambodian men to work on fishing boats, but then subject them to forced labor on Thai-owned vessels that operate in international waters.

China’s internal migrant population of more than 236 million people has been forced to work in brick kilns, coalmines and factories, some of which operate illegally, the report said, while state-sponsored forced labor continues to be an area of significant concern in the communist country.

Chinese women and girls are typically recruited from rural areas by sex traffickers and taken to cities where they are forced into prostitution, the report said. Tibetan girls are sent to other parts of China where they are subject to forced marriage and domestic servitude.

By contrast, Lao trafficking victims are usually migrants who seek work outside the country, sometimes using brokers who charge high fees, the report said. They often end up in Thailand where they are subject to labor or sexual exploitation.

Some Myanmar citizens who leave for work abroad in Thailand, China, the Middle East, and the U.S. are subject to forced labor or sex trafficking, the report said.

In Myanmar, government officials are complicit in trafficking, it said.

Men are subjected to forced labor in the fishing, manufacturing, forestry and construction industries abroad, while women and girls are forced into the commercial sex industry, domestic servitude or working in garment factories, it said.

Some Myanmar men who work in the Thai fishing industry are subjected to debt bondage, passport confiscation, or fraudulent recruitment as well as physical abuse and years of captivity aboard boats in international waters.

The report also said the estimated 98,000 persons displaced by conflicts in Kachin and northern Shan states and roughly 146,000 displaced persons in Rakhine state are particularly vulnerable to trafficking. Some Rohingya, the Muslim ethnic minority group that lives primarily in Rakhine state, have been subject to sex trafficking there, while locals have used dubious tactics to trick men into forced labor on palm oil and rubber plantations or in jade and precious stone mines.

Tier 2 nation

Vietnam, which is classified as a Tier 2 country, was noted as a place where men, women, and children are subject to sex trafficking and forced labor within the country and abroad.

Although Vietnamese migrate abroad for work on their own or through state-owned or private labor export recruitment companies, some are forced to work  in the construction, fishing, agricultural, mining, logging, and manufacturing sectors in Taiwan, Malaysia, South Korea, Laos, the United Arab Emirates and Japan, the report said.

“Vietnamese authorities continued to prosecute and convict internal and transnational sex traffickers, but did not pursue criminal prosecutions for labor traffickers exploiting victims transnationally or within Vietnam,” the report said.

“The government reported an increased number of officials received anti-trafficking training; however, many officials were unable to identify and investigate labor trafficking cases, resulting in a failure to identify victims and to pursue criminal investigations in 2014,” it continued. “Often, government responses to overseas workers facing debt bondage or forced labor situations were inconsistent and inadequate.”

The State Department report is based on information from U.S. embassies, government officials, nongovernmental and international organizations, published reports, news articles, academic studies, research trips and information sent to the email tipreport@state.gov.

The report can be accessed at http://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/2015/index.htm.


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