Governments worldwide have a sworn duty to protect the weak and vulnerable from physical exploitation by criminal gangs. The onus becomes even greater if forced prostitution, domestic servitude or slavery in sweatshops or aboard fishing vessels is involved. When the authorities neglect this obligation they risk being branded as culpable by the US State Department in its annual human trafficking report, a fate that has just befallen Thailand for the fourth consecutive year. Washington has again declared this country to be an international people trafficking hub.
The US Trafficking in Persons report, released this week, contains a blistering indictment of corrupt practices. It cites "credible reports that corrupt officials protected brothels, other commercial sex venues, and seafood and sweatshop facilities from raids and inspections, colluded with traffickers, used information from victim testimony to weaken cases, and engaged in commercial sex acts with child trafficking victims". It notes that although the government reported investigating 305 trafficking cases in 2012, versus 83 in 2011, it initiated prosecutions in only 27 cases during the year and obtained just 10 convictions.
If this isn't bad enough, the US assessment says that evidence exists of collusion between specialist police officers assigned to trafficking hotspots and the gangs operating there and that "Thai police officers and immigration officials reportedly extorted money or sex from Burmese [Myanmar] citizens detained in Thailand for immigration violations and sold Burmese migrants unable to pay labour brokers and sex traffickers". Despite such strong allegations, Thailand remains on Washington's Tier 2 watch list for another year but can expect a downgrade in 2014 if the government fails to carry out its declared plan to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of such trafficking.
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