Human trafficking case only deals with the tip of the iceberg

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The huge human trafficking court case in July where 62 people were given sentences was only the tip of the iceberg in the country’s murky record on human rights.

[See http://bit.ly/2uJ8Hqh ]

Although Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the convictions are a “major step” in combat human trafficking, the trial was criticised by Fortify Rights. Amy Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights stated that “Thailand has a long way to go to ensure justice for thousands who were exploited, tortured, and killed by human traffickers during the last several years.” The rights organisation criticised the fact that the government did not prevent witnesses and interpreters from being threatened with violence. Most vulnerable were the Rohingya witnesses who are the victims of these gross crimes of trafficking. Despite the fact that the Thai government issued a Cabinet Resolution providing automatic protection to witnesses involved in human trafficking trials, the implementation of this Cabinet Resolution failed to extend to Rohingya witnesses confined to closed-door government-run shelters. [See http://bit.ly/2uA4QeI ]

What is more, the most senior military figure who was on trial, Lt.-Gen. Manas Kongpan, was allowed to give evidence and be cross-examined in secret “in order to protect state security”. At the time of the crimes he was deputy of the special military unit of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) Region 4. ISOC was in charge of the disgusting government policy of pushing Rohingya refugees back out to sea. In contrast to government policies, local villagers offered the Rohingya humanitarian help.

In December 2015 the chief police investigator in the case fled the country to seek political asylum in Australia because he was facing intimidation.

This trial raises a number of serious issues.

Firstly, given that a senior member of ISOC was involved in human trafficking, and that his evidence was heard in secret, who else among the top military generals were involved but have so far not been charged?

Secondly, human trafficking of refugees on this scale is only possible because Thailand does not accept the resettlement of refugees within the country. According to Human Rights Watch, Thailand has not ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and does not have a refugee law or functioning asylum procedures. Therefore refugees are either forced to live in appalling prison camps indefinitely without the right to work or earn a living, or to become illegal migrants without any protection from exploitation, arrest and deportation. [See http://bit.ly/2uJuZs5 ]

So when will Thailand ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention and bring in a humanitarian refugee and asylum law? Given the poor state of human rights for refugees throughout the world and especially in the West, and given the track record of the junta in abusing the rights of Thai citizens, this is unlikely to happen in the near future.

Within Thailand itself, the rabid nationalism and racism throughout society, which is continuously promoted by the ruling class, means that there is virtually no social movement which calls for the humane settlement of refugees. [See http://bit.ly/1JaeTJY , http://bit.ly/1ZEwTnj ]

Thirdly, we should long ago have stopped idolising the Burmese Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. It is her government in alliance with the Burmese military and extremist Buddhists who have been oppressing the Rohingya and forcing them to escape the country into the arms of the human traffickers.

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