The U.S. State Department on Thursday boosted Thailand in an annual assessment of how countries worldwide perform in stopping human trafficking, but bumped Malaysia down a notch from its rank in 2017.
The neighboring Southeast Asian nations were at the center of a scandal three years ago when scores of unmarked graves of trafficked Rohingya and Bangladeshi people were uncovered at jungle camps on both sides of their shared border.
In its 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) released Thursday, the department upgraded Thailand from the Tier 2 Watch List to Tier 2, saying that while Thailand did not fully meet minimum standards for eliminating human trafficking in 2017, it had demonstrated increasing efforts toward doing so by prosecuting and convicting more people smugglers and by decreasing prosecution time in such cases.
The State Department dropped Malaysia to the watch list from Tier 2, only a year after promoting it to that rank.
The Malaysian government demonstrated significant efforts in combating human trafficking by convicting more traffickers, among other measures, but “the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared to the previous year,” the report said.
Malaysia’s victim protection efforts “remained largely inadequate and the government identified fewer victims” than in 2016, it added.
Complicity among law enforcement officials hampered some anti-trafficking efforts and culpable officials typically avoided prosecution and punishment, the report said.
It also pointed to the past scandal along the Thai-Malaysia border.
“No Malaysian officials, including suspected complicit officials, have been prosecuted for the possible trafficking crimes that were uncovered on the border of Thailand in 2015,” the report said.
Across the border in Thailand, however, 62 people including a former three-star army general were convicted last year as part of a criminal case stemming from the discovery in May 2015 of the graves and abandoned trafficking camps in the jungle along the southern border with Malaysia.
Countries relegated to the Tier 2 Watch List are making significant efforts to meet standards but failing to provide evidence of increasing efforts, according to the department’s explanation of the four tiers in its ranking system. The TIP report assesses countries’ individual performances in fighting human trafficking during the previous calendar year.
Tier 1 countries fully comply with minimum standards of protecting trafficking victims. Tier 2 countries are making significant efforts to meet those standards and countries categorized under Tier 3 are performing the worst in combating the problem.
In its report Thursday, the State Department kept Bangladesh on the Tier 2 Watch List. It said official complicity in trafficking crimes “remained a serious problem,” and noted that only one trafficker was convicted in the country last year.
Elsewhere, the two most populous countries in South and Southeast Asia, India and Indonesia, held steady at Tier 2, while the Philippines received a Tier 1 rank for the third year running.
But in its chapter on the Philippines, the TIP Report criticized the government for not improving “the availability and quality of protection and assistance services for trafficking victims,” such as mental health services and programs for job training and placement.