Bangladesh Placed on Watch List in US Trafficking Report

BenarNews staff
2017.06.27
Washington
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170627-SEA-trafficking-620.jpg Boom Mosby (right), of Thailand, receives her 2017 Human Trafficking Report Hero award from Ivanka Trump during an event at the U.S. State Department, June 27, 2017.
AFP

Bangladesh has done less to investigate and prosecute human trafficking crimes over the last year and has been placed on a “watch list” of countries where the number of trafficking victims is very significant or is significantly increasing, a U.S. government report said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Malaysia was taken off the watch list and moved up a notch in the four-tier grading system of the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report released annually by the U.S. State Department.

The report cited a decrease in investigations of sex and labor trafficking cases in 2016 as a reason for downgrading Bangladesh.

The government investigated 122 sex and 168 labor trafficking cases last year, a decrease from 181 sex and 265 labor cases in 2015. Convictions – three traffickers last year – also fell from four in 2015 and 15 in 2014, the report said.

“[C]onvictions remained rare because the government had not dedicated adequate resources to pre-trial investigation and short timelines for the completion of cases led to inadequately prepared and subsequently unsuccessful prosecutions,” the report stated.

It credited the Bangladesh government with making an effort to prevent trafficking, but said it had not addressed the issue of fees charged to citizens who travel to other countries to work.

“The government continued to allow the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies to set recruitment fees sufficiently high to render migrant workers indebted and vulnerable to trafficking,” it said.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, said the downgrade was merited.

“In just about every area and on every indicator, Bangladesh is failing in its battle to control brokers, protect overseas workers fleeing abuse, tackle rampant corruption benefitting traffickers, or ensuring basic protection services to both vulnerable groups from Bangladesh and the over 200,000 Rohingya who have fled violence in Myanmar,” he said.

“Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina needs to get directly and personally involved to re-start efforts to address this situation,” he told BenarNews. “The Bangladesh government needs to lead the efforts to mobilize people and resources to take on the anti-trafficking fight.”

Malaysia upgrade

Malaysia, for its part, was removed from the Watch List because of an increase in trafficking investigations, prosecutions and convictions, the report said.

In 2016, the government conducted 581 probes of potential trafficking cases, compared to 158 the previous year. It initiated prosecutions against 175 alleged traffickers, up from 38 in 2015, and convicted 35 – 18 for labor and 17 for sex trafficking.

The report credited the government with increasing efforts to identify trafficking victims but said it fell short on protection.

“The government did not always proactively screen the vulnerable migrant worker population for indicators of trafficking, which left an unknown number of potential victims without proper care,” the report said. In addition, “not all victims of trafficking were granted freedom of movement and the ability to work while their investigations were pending in the judicial system.”

Robertson said the State Department had “whitewashed” Malaysia’s record on combatting human trafficking.

“The reality is that Malaysia officials identify very few victims compared to the numbers present in Malaysia. Foreign workers from Southeast and South Asia are debt bonded and controlled, and the government’s efforts to shelter and care for victims is really sub-par, and marred by bureaucratic red-tape,” he said.

20 million victims

A U.S. law, the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, requires the State Department to release the TIP report each year to raise awareness of human trafficking. It ranks 188 countries, including the United States, on how they deal with the problem.

Tier 1 countries fully comply with minimum standards of protecting trafficking victims. Tier 2 countries are making significant efforts to meet those standards and Tier 2 Watch List countries are making significant efforts to meet standards but fail to provide evidence of increasing efforts.

India and Indonesia stayed at Tier 2 in the 2016 report. Thailand remained on the Watch List and the Philippines stayed at Tier 1. None of the countries were listed on Tier 3, the lowest level of compliance.

There are an estimated 20 million victims of human trafficking around the world today, U.S. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson said at the launch of the report in Washington.

“Human trafficking is one of the most tragic human rights issues of our time. It splinters families, distorts global markets, undermines the rule of law, and spurs other transnational criminal activity,” he said. “It threatens public safety and national security.

“But worst of all, the crime robs human beings of their freedom and their dignity. That’s why we must pursue an end to the scourge of human trafficking.”

‘Heroes’

The report continued its tradition of naming “TIP Report Heroes” including a Thai woman and an Indian man for their efforts to aid trafficking victims.

Boom Mosby, the founder and director of Thailand’s HUG Project, was honored as “a passionate advocate for child victims of sexual abuse.” In 2015, she played a fundamental role in opening the Advocacy Center for Children Thailand in Chiang Mai, the first such center in all of Southeast Asia.

Mashesh Bhagwat, the commissioner of police of Rachakonda in India’s Telangana state, was honored for his commitment to fighting human trafficking over the last 13 years.

“Under his command, Rachakonda police closed 25 brothels – five hotels and 20 residential apartments – in less than a year and participated in one of the largest crackdowns on labor trafficking in the country, which led to the identification and removal of more than 350 children forced to work in brick kilns,” the report said.

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