By now it is no secret that Thailand has been ranked in the bottom tier of countries in regards to anti-trafficking efforts. There have been accusations of inaction, or often only having the appearance of action while still allowing the worst to continue. After the military coup last May, the government has come under even more strict international scrutiny.
In January, the current government responded by arresting and prosecuting several top officials, including senior policemen and a naval officer, in connection with trafficking. At least 15 officials face prosecution.
They also set up anti-trafficking centers in 37 provinces to support law enforcement efforts and provide services and protection of victims.
This sounds like promising and exciting news. However, the government declared itself “confident” that it has now met minimum standards to improve its ranking—which calls into question whether these events constitute a meaningful change in policy and a tangible commitment to anti-trafficking efforts.
In February, the London-based organization Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) issued a report that found Thailand’s stance on trafficking to be wholly inadequate in several key areas including prosecution of traffickers, labor brokers, and corrupt officials, providing support for victims, or addressing root causes. The report cited “interviews with victims who described threats at gunpoint and severe injuries from beatings by staff at government shelters designated to protect victims.”
The latest development came from the Thai Parliament, which recently has raised the penalties for traffickers, especially in cases where a victim’s trafficking has resulted in their death. In such cases, prosecutors can seek life imprisonment or even the death penalty and fines up to 400,000 baht (around $12,500).
This pronouncement sounds promising. To be effective, however, they need to prosecute traffickers in the first place. Stiff penalties mean little if it is found that bribery and corruption ensure cases never even see a courtroom.
We hope that these developments are signs that leadership will embrace more meaningful measures.