US demotes Indonesia in human trafficking report over decrease in investigations

Shailaja Neelakantan
US demotes Indonesia in human trafficking report over decrease in investigations U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during the 2022 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report launch ceremony at the State Department, in Washington, July 19, 2022.
AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta/Pool

Updated at 4:45 p.m. ET on 2022-07-19

The U.S. State Department on Tuesday demoted Indonesia in its latest annual report on nations’ efforts to combat human trafficking, but promoted Thailand, basing the rankings on the number of trafficking investigations conducted in those countries.

Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, Malaysia remained at the bottommost tier and the Philippines stayed at the top tier in the department’s 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report.

In South Asia, Bangladesh stayed at the second tier, with the State Department saying that while Dhaka didn’t fully meet the minimum standards for eliminating trafficking, it was making significant efforts to do so.

“I think most of you know this, but it’s worth repeating: The scale of this problem is vast. There are nearly 25 million people currently victims of trafficking – 25 million people,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a news conference in Washington where he unveiled the report.

“The United States is committed to fighting it because [human] trafficking destabilizes societies, it undermines economies, it harms workers, it enriches those who exploit them, it undercuts legitimate business, and most fundamentally, because it is so profoundly wrong,” the top American diplomat said.

The U.S. Congress enacted the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act to prevent trafficking, protect victims and punish traffickers and that requires the secretary of state to produce the annual TIP report and rank foreign governments based on anti-trafficking efforts. The law stipulates that the worst performers could be subject to potential restrictions on U.S. foreign aid and other funds.

Indonesian worker Abdul Rahim Gani cuts a fruit in his house near a palm oil plantation at Felda Bukit Cerakah in Klang, outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, April 16, 2014. [Samsul Said/Reuters]


In its latest TIP report, the State Department said it demoted Indonesia to the Tier 2 Watch List, from Tier 2, because investigations of trafficking crimes had fallen for a fifth consecutive year, and convictions had decreased for a fourth consecutive year.

Last year, Indonesia had received praise for investigating, prosecuting and convicting recruitment agents who facilitated the forced labor of Indonesians aboard Chinese fishing boats.

This year, official complicity in trafficking crimes remained a concern that the government failed to address, the report said.

“The lack of robust, systematized victim identification procedures continued to hinder the proactive identification of victims overall, particularly male victims, while the government’s protection services remained inadequate as they did not specifically address the needs of trafficking victims,” it said.

“Coordination between the national anti-trafficking task force and its provincial and local-level counterparts was insufficient to translate central government policies into nationwide implementation. … Therefore Indonesia was downgraded to Tier 2 Watch List,” the State Department said.

Indonesia needs to investigate, prosecute and convict traffickers, including complicit officials who ignore, facilitate, or engage in trafficking crimes, it said. Jakarta also needs to amend a 2007 law to remove the required demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute child sex trafficking.

However, Indonesia this month temporarily stopped sending workers to Malaysia as it criticized Kuala Lumpur for allegedly violating an agreement on recruiting workers and putting them at risk of being used as forced laborers. 

Indonesia said Kuala Lumpur was using an “illegal” online recruitment system to hire Indonesian domestic help, contrary to a deal signed with much fanfare in April. 

Indonesian envoy to Malaysia Hermono, who goes by one name, said earlier this month that the so-called MAID Online System (MOS) used by the Malaysian immigration department could put Indonesian workers at risk as it allows them to enter the country using a tourist visa before applying for a work permit. 

Border patrol police officers dismantle an abandoned migrant camp on Khao Kaew Mountain, near the Thai-Malaysian border in Padang Besar, in southern Thailand’s Songkhla province, May 5, 2015. [Sakchai Lalit/AP]

Despite being at the bottommost rung, Tier 3, since last year, Malaysia did not make significant efforts to combat human trafficking, which is why it remains at the lowest tier in the latest report as well, the State Department said.

Over the past year, Malaysia amended its anti-trafficking law and Employment Act to include a more expansive definition of forced labor, but anti-trafficking investigations declined, and the government did not prosecute or convict government officials allegedly complicit in trafficking crimes.

“As in previous years, the government did not adequately address or criminally pursue credible allegations from multiple sources alleging labor trafficking in the rubber manufacturing industry and palm oil sector, with the government owning 33 percent of the third-largest palm oil company in the world. Its failure to address trafficking in these sectors allowed for abusive employers to sometimes operate with impunity,” the report said.


Thailand, Malaysia’s next-door neighbor, however moved up a notch to Tier 2, from the Tier 2 Watch List, because among other things, the country had increased trafficking investigations, the State Department said in its report.

Thailand also identified more victims than in the previous year, and initiated investigations of 17 alleged complicit officials in 2021, sentencing two to prison terms.

Still, “the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas,” the report said.

“Despite reports that forced labor was prevalent among migrant workers in many industries in Thailand, inconsistent and ineffective interviewing practices during labor inspections left many labor trafficking victims unidentified,” the report said. 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken presents the 2022 Trafficking in Persons Hero Award to Mohammed Tariqul Islam of Bangladesh during the 2022 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report launch ceremony at the State Department, in Washington, July 19, 2022. [AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta/Pool]

Heroes honored

In addition to releasing its report, the State Department on Tuesday honored Bangladeshi Mohammed Tariqul Islam and Thai citizen Apinya Tajit as TIP Report Heroes.

The U.S. agency recognized Tariqul Islam for his “tireless” efforts advocating for trafficking victims – noting that he started the Bangladesh branch of the United Kingdom-based Justice & Care NGO.

“I really wish to have all the countries connected together in terms of fighting against human trafficking because it’s transnational. So we have to be connected internationally to have a kind of an end to an intervention to tackle the criminal networks,” Tariqul Islam told Radio Free Asia, an online news service affiliated with BenarNews.

“And of course, in Bangladesh, I really want the government to invest more in more investigation and prosecution because, if you are able to prosecute the criminal successfully, I am quite sure that it’s going to at least reduce [trafficking by] a significant level.”

Apinya, meanwhile, serves as deputy director of Stella Maris Seafarer’s Center, an NGO in Thailand that provides pastoral care, services and support for workers in the Thai fishing industry.

The State Department said she has combatted human trafficking in for more than seven years, helping hundreds of workers in the fishing sector from Thailand and other countries including Indonesia, Cambodia, Myanmar and Bangladesh, while raising awareness of child trafficking.

“The issue of human trafficking around the world should be reduced because it is not the problem of governments only, but everyone should get involved and take care of this problem and get rid of it, eradicate this problem from all over the world,” Apinya told RFA.

“Currently, the human trafficking in Thailand mostly is sex trafficking, especially that targets juveniles. For labor trafficking … the numbers are decreasing.”

Eugene Whong of Radio Free Asia in Washington contributed to this report.


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