Thursday, July 30, 2015

Rights groups condemn Malaysia’s human-trafficking upgrade ‘to ease TPP’

In May, mass graves of Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi illegal immigrants were found in the village of Wang Kelian, Perlis, along the Malaysian-Thai border. Rights groups say Malaysia has failed to suppress trafficking despite the United States upgrading its human-trafficking status. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, July 29, 2015.Human rights groups have roundly criticised Malaysia’s upgrade to the so-called "Tier 2 Watch List" status from Tier 3 in the annual report on human trafficking, reports the BBC today.

The United States upgraded Malaysia in an annual report on human trafficking on Monday despite calls by human rights groups and nearly 180 American lawmakers to keep the Southeast Asian country on the list of worst offenders in failing to suppress trafficking.

Malaysia's improved rating on human trafficking was an affirmation of the country's efforts to address the issue, newly appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times today.

Rights groups said the decision removed a barrier to President Barack Obama's 12-nation Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, which contained an anti-trafficking clause.

Malaysia is one of the TPP parties.

On Monday, the State Department said while Malaysia did not fully meet minimum standards to eliminate trafficking, it was making significant efforts to do so, citing a proposed strengthening of anti-trafficking laws and a more than doubling in trafficking investigations.

In May, mass graves of Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi illegal immigrants were found in the village of Wang Kelian, Perlis, along the Malaysian-Thai border. The village was described as a hotbed for people smugglers.

Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch told the BBC that convictions for trafficking were lower than last year and, citing the mass graves as an example, adding that trafficking and abuse of migrants were still done "with impunity".

"How can the State Department call this 'progress'? This upgrade is more about the TPP and US trade politics than anything Malaysia did to combat human trafficking over the past year," he was quoted as saying.

Workers’ rights group Tenaganita said with only “three traffickers convicted for forced labour, corruption at its highest level and the existence of policies that continue to suppress the migrant and refugee communities in the country”, it was “baffled” over the reasons for Malaysia’s upgrade this year.

It said the US government made 14 recommendations to Putrajaya in its report last year but “very few recommendations were followed through”.

Confiscations of passports, it said, remained a huge area of concern with employers often advised by agents as well as government officials to withhold the passports of their workers.

The non-governmental organisation also highlighted the issue of forced labour in the palm oil industry.

The BBC also reported US-based Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking as saying the upgrade "lacked credibility" and accused the US of "allowing political interests to influence how governments are held accountable".

A group of 25 rights groups have also sent a joint letter to Secretary of State John Kerry supporting the move to retain Thailand in Tier 3. Bangkok has been accused of not doing enough to stem the Rohingya migrant crisis, which saw thousands fleeing Myanmar for Thailand. – July 29, 2015.

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