As we upload this issue
of ACHR REVIEW, the ongoing 13th Annual Meeting
of the Framework on Regional Cooperation for the Promotion
and Protection of human rights in the Asia-Pacific region
being held in Beijing on 30 August to 2 September 2005 is
holding thematic discussion on the issue of trafficking.
The original intention of
the Annual Meeting of the Regional Framework was to draft
a regional human rights instrument akin to the ones in Europe,
America and Africa. When the proponents of Asian values refuse
to subject themselves to external scrutiny even by the Asians,
in 1998 they adopted what came to be known as Tehran Framework
to focus on four pillars, instead of a regional framework,
for promotion and protection of human rights. These four pillars
are national human rights institutions, National Plans of
Actions on Human Rights, Human Rights Education and realization
of economic, social and cultural rights. In order to further
scuttle any scrutiny on effective implementation of the Tehran
Framework, the governments at the 12th Annual Meeting,
decided to hold today’s thematic discussion on trafficking.
The question is what is
the added value for discussion on trafficking at the Regional
Framework when substantive discussions on the issue are being
held at different forums across Asia. Obviously, trafficking
is considered as a “soft” and politically non-controversial
As the submission of Asian
Centre for Human Rights, “Beyond Gender: Illegal Laws, Ethnicity,
Armed Conflicts and Trafficking” (http://www.achrweb.org/theme/trafficking0105.htm)
shows consideration of trafficking as a “soft and non-political
issue” is one of the root causes of the inability to effectively
combat trafficking. The approaches to addressing the problems
of trafficking tended to ignore the root causes of trafficking.
Is there a solution to the crisis of trafficking in Thailand
without addressing discriminatory nationality law against
the hill-tribes and improvement of situation in Myanmar?
Though gender is the central
aspect of trafficking, it is essential to go beyond gender
to understand the root causes of trafficking and develop programmes
of action accordingly.
First, while the victims
of trafficking come from different races and nationalities,
indigenous peoples/hill tribes and ethnic minorities have
been disproportionate victims of trafficking because of the
age-old prejudices and institutionalised discrimination against
them, conflict in the areas where they live and extreme poverty,
gender discrimination, illiteracy, unemployment and most importantly,
Beyond the wars in Iraq
and Afghanistan, almost all the internal armed conflicts in
Asia - whether in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar,
Nepal, Philippines and Sri Lanka - involve ethnic minority
groups. The hill tribes in Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam
are victims of institutionalised discrimination. Majority
of the victims of trafficking are refugees, undocumented migrant
workers and internally displaced persons who often flee to
escape from internal armed conflicts and gross human rights
violations including torture, rape and extrajudicial killings.
In Thailand, only an estimated
1,50,000 Burmese refugees have been allowed to register to
live in refugee camps, leaving more than one million others
to live illegally both inside and outside of the refugee camps.
A large majority of them are victims of trafficking. According
to some estimates, 90% of trafficked sex workers in northern
Thailand are Burmese nationals.
While it is easy to classify
refugees and migrants from Myanmar as “Burmese” on the basis
of their nationality, the large majority of these Burmese
refugees belong to ethnic minority groups who have been engaged
in decades old armed conflicts with the State Peace and Development
Council. In addition, the refugees from Laos in Thailand belong
to the ethnic Hmongs.
In recent years, refugees
fleeing from Northern and Central Highlands of Vietnam to
Cambodia belong to the ethnic minorities.
A study by International
Labor Organization (ILO) in 2004 found that out of total trafficked
persons, 43.1 percent belong to hill ethnic groups. The Maoists
conflict, which is more concentrated in the areas of hill
tribes, has further increased the vulnerability of the hill
tribes to trafficking.
A study by the National
Human Rights Commission of India and UNIFEM in 2004 found
that 70% of the victims they surveyed belong to the disadvantaged
sector. Earlier, a report of the government of India of 1998
stated, “about 60% of the victims (of trafficking) belong
to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and the Other
Backward Castes”. Obviously, the situation has further deteriorated.
This is not surprising considering that tribal peoples have
been disproportionate victims of forced displacement of the
development projects undertaken in India.
Second, most governments
in the Asia-Pacific region have adopted some form of anti-trafficking
laws. Yet, the victims of trafficking are first considered
as undocumented migrants or criminals or both, before being
considered as a victim of trafficking.
Most importantly, many governments
continue to have laws which make citizens or persons under
the jurisdiction of a country
“illegal” and make them easy prey of the traffickers
and their agents.
In Thailand, the birth records of a child of a Burmese
asylum seeker born in a Thai hospital are removed. In addition
to the migrants, the government of Thailand also imposed restriction
on the freedom of movement to the hill-tribes whose applications
for citizenship are being processed. About 3,77,677 indigenous
hill tribes who have not been granted citizenship as yet continue
to be issued different colours of identity cards. Each colour
reflects the extent of restrictions on the freedom of movement
and the racial discrimination against the hill tribes. For
them, Thailand is an “Open Jail”.
Women belonging to the hill
tribes who have not been accorded citizenship as yet cannot
register births or marriages. They are denied opportunities
for education and work, and cannot access public health care
services through the universal health care plan. Financial
hardship or loss of farmland often drive hill tribe women
and girls from their villages to cities where their lack of
legal status pushes them into exploitative situations. Traffickers
and unscrupulous employers exploit their socalled illegal
status. In fact, fear of and intimidation
by Thai police and government officials have denied Burmese
migrant workers and hill tribe people along the northern border
access to HIV/Aids treatment.
Under the hukou system as provided under the Provision of the People's Republic
of China on Household Registration of 1958, citizens do not
have the right to select the place of their residence. Migration
is permitted only in cases relating to job assignment and
transfer, and school enrolment. Those who migrate without
seeking permission are “illegal” and can be subjected to detention
and various punishments. They are also denied of access to
a range of economic, social and cultural rights.
According to the estimate
of an authoritative department, China's floating population
would be about 130 million by 2005. Many of these are illegal
in their own country. In
2000, there were reportedly 3.2 million instances of detention
under Custody and Repatriation. The "vast majority"
of detainees were internal migrants from rural areas.
Since 1990, there have been
reforms of hukou system but they failed to address
the basic problems. The demands for changing hukou
system found resonance in the National Peoples Congress of
China. But, the response of the government has been slow.
In March 2005, the government
of China has reportedly begun drafting a new law on household
registration. Unless the new regulation presently being drafted
by the government of China is restricted to two functions
i.e. proving an individual's identification and calculating
the population, any penalty, punishment, restriction on the
freedom of movement has the potential to make internal migrants
as “illegal” and therefore, potential victims of trafficking
and other forms of exploitation.
Third, while activities such as awareness building among potential
victims and communities, information exchanges, rescue and
rehabilitation efforts, training and capacity-building programmes
may be considered as soft, trafficking is a big business with
involvement of organised criminal gangs and complicity of
the corrupt border guards, police, state officials and sometimes,
political leaders and members of the judiciary. Confronting the criminal gangs is not a soft issue and the failure
of law enforcement contributes to further trafficking.
There are no reliable data
on victims of trafficking. According to the US State Department’s
Annual Report on Trafficking in Persons, between 800,000 to
900,000 women, children, and men are trafficked each year.
Earlier, in 2000, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against
Women put the figure of trafficking at 4 million per year.
The collection of accurate
and disaggregated data is fundamental for understanding intensity
and complexity of trafficking and taking appropriate measures
to combat the menace. Yet, “The scale of the phenomenon (of
trafficking) is difficult to judge” is a common refrain of
all the governments. Today, most governments, agencies and
NGOs rely on the figures provided the United States State
Department’s Annual Report on Trafficking in Persons. It will
not be an understatement to state that the attempts of many
governments are aimed at not to be listed in different tiers
by the United States State Department rather than combating
trafficking on their own volition.
Given the complexity of the trafficking menace, there
are obviously no ready-made solutions. However, the governments
must take certain measures as provided in the submission of
ACHR to ensure that their laws, policies and practices do
not directly and indirectly contribute to trafficking and
that effective measures be taken also address the root causes