Friday, January 13, 2012

Burma’s ‘archaic’ laws enable human trafficking abuses


Friday, 13 January 2012 11:52 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – Greater accountability of Burmese government officials and military officers is needed to combat human trafficking in Burma, a top U.S. human trafficking official told government officials this week.

Ambassador for Human Trafficking Luis CdeBaca said one of the biggest obstacles to fighting human trafficking in Burma seems to be the archaic legal structure, especially in the villages and towns act, which allows civilian authorities to conscript labor for building projects and other activities.

“So that it [laws] basically say that it is legal for the municipal government or the military to use forced labor,” CdeBaca said. “And even though there are positive things happening with transnational sex trafficking, and those types of trafficking, as long as it's still legal for the government to use forced labor in that manner, it will be very hard for there to be improvement under these international standards.

“It’s not just an issue of resources or better training or political will to fight the criminal traffickers.  It's changing the law to make it clear that the government cannot actually hold its own people in forced labor.  That's probably the biggest challenge that we see.  But it's also a challenge that could be solved very easily if government and the Parliament took steps to end that practice.”

CdeBaca travelled to Burma with U.S. special envoy and policy coordinator for Burma Derek Mitchell, as a follow-up visit to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who visited Burma in December in an effort to improve U.S.-Burmese relations following a series of moves to foster democratic principles.

CdeBaca told Voice of America that Burmese officials are aware of the issues and are making tentative moves to tackle the problems which are “encouraging.”

“I would like to see both legal and policy statements that end this practice of state sponsored labor," he was quoted as saying.  "That would be a very positive step forward.  A more robust victim identification (program) where we see more victims being helped both here in Burma but also through the offices of the Burmese diplomats in Malaysia and Thailand.”

In his press conference, he said: “We think it's very important for there to be regional focus on this because we recognize that a sending country has limited capacity to prosecute the factory owner who may be enslaving their people somewhere else.  China, Thailand… these are the places that I think many people think of when they think of the human trafficking problem here.”

CdeBaca said the U.S. did not talk about direct assistance in combating human trafficking issues in Burma, but assistance could be provided at a later date.

“What we do in countries around the world ranges from supporting shelters, supporting police training, supporting the training of judges and other members of the governmental response, but also making those linkages between civil society and government,” he said. “We have some limited funds that we spend each year in countries around the world.  But we also have technical assistance, and we work within the international bodies.”

He said the U.S. took part in training that was held in Singapore last year under the auspices of Asean in which “our counterparts from the Burmese prosecutors' offices were able to come and receive best practices from a host of prosecutors from around the world.”

CdeBaca said the media and the role of the press within Burma is an essential tool to increase awareness within the country of the violations of human rights in areas of forced labor, enforced prostitution, the recruitment of child soldiers, forced portering and other issues.

It’s not just about reporting on one particular case, he said, but reporting on the phenomenon of women going to China and becoming trapped in the sex industry, reporting on what's happening to the men who are held on Thai fishing boats and threatened with deportation, or the role of child soldiers in the government and ethnic armies.

“Probably the most important thing is calling attention to the problems right here at home,” he said. “It is something that we'll want to continue to take on board and in fact it's something that, at the Embassy, press freedom is something we care about very deeply.”

Press freedom is “something we would be very interested in raising if there are situations where you feel your coverage of this is being impeded,” he said.

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