News / Asia

Thailand Defends Human Rights Record

Cambodian workers wait for their documents to be processed at the Aranyaprathet police station as they prepare to move back to Cambodia in Sa Kaew, Thailand, June 15, 2014.
Cambodian workers wait for their documents to be processed at the Aranyaprathet police station as they prepare to move back to Cambodia in Sa Kaew, Thailand, June 15, 2014.
Thai government officials are defending their country's rights record as the U.S. State Department prepares to issue its annual human trafficking report. Thailand faces a possible downgrade to the worst offenders' category.

Government officials in Bangkok are reiterating that their country's progress in combating human trafficking exceeds Washington's criteria needed to upgrade Thailand's ranking.

The kingdom was previously placed on the Tier 2 watch list on the State Department's Trafficking in Persons report.

The 2014 report, covering 188 countries, is to be issued later this week. Western diplomats told VOA they expect Thailand to be dropped to Tier 3.

That would equate Thailand with such countries as Cuba, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Syria, as well as a number of African nations deemed to not fully comply with minimum standards and not making significant efforts to do so.

Report's impact

The director general of the American department at Thailand's foreign ministry, Songsak Saicheua, told VOA if the United States is objective, he is confident the kingdom will move up -- not down -- in the report.

“But if it happens that we will be downgraded to be Tier 3 we are prepared to go ahead with all efforts to combat human trafficking. We will intensify the prosecution and law enforcement, step up protection and prevention system, increase and expand international partnerships with other countries,” said Songsak.

Thailand could face economic sanctions and loss of development aid if it is blacklisted. Songsak does not expect any direct impact, though, based on how other countries have fared that were placed in the bottom tier.

“It might have some sort of psychological effect on the consumer of the U.S. or Europe and so on," said Songsak. "Then we will also have to work closely with the buyers in the United States and also the European market to make sure they understand our efforts and they understand the process and what is going on in Thailand.”

The determination could not come at a worse time for Thailand, with events combining to form what the Bangkok Post calls an “imperfect storm of humiliation.”

Thailand is on the defensive over its Navy's alleged involvement in trafficking Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, also known as Burma, and Bangladesh.

Slave labor

The country last week was the only one to vote against a protocol strengthening the International Labor Organization's convention against slave labor. And an investigative report in a British newspaper (The Guardian) last week detailed alleged slave labor on shrimp (prawn) boats operating off Thailand's coasts.

Meanwhile, Cambodians are fleeing home after the military junta announced it wants to rid Thailand of illegal aliens.

The mass exodus is composed of 200,000 people, about half the total number of Cambodians working in Thailand, according to officials.

Cambodia's government alleges Thailand has begun forcing factories and companies to stop using illegal foreign workers.  

Police general Chatchawan Suksomjit, a top official at Thailand's labor ministry, rejects allegations that authorities are using force, including killings, in rounding up Cambodians.

He blamed rumors spread by “foreign sources” that physical violence is being used. He said authorities have checked with the Royal Thai Police and railways agencies and have found these reports to be “completely unfounded.”

There also are reports the crackdown is targeting illegal workers from Myanmar. It is believed that at least half of the estimated 2 million people from Myanmar working in Thailand do not have proper documentation.

A larger exodus could have disastrous consequences for Thailand's economy, dependent in several key sectors on cheap, foreign labor from neighboring countries.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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