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April 14, 2014

Vietnam frees Nguyen Tien Trung and Vi Duc Hoi

BBC News - Asia

 

Vietnam frees Nguyen Tien Trung and Vi Duc Hoi

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-27019624

File photo: Dissident Cu Huy Ha Vu (centre) in court in Hanoi during his trial on 4 April 2011
Activist Cu Huy Ha Vu (centre) was released earlier this month and is now in the US

Vietnam has released two high-profile political activists amid ongoing free trade talks with the United States.

Democracy activists Nguyen Tien Trung and Vi Duc Hoi were freed from prison over the weekend.

Analysis

Le Nguyen BBC Vietnamese
Although the release of prisoners of conscience in the past weeks may be surprising, it should not be seen as an indication that the communist government is easing its grip on dissidents.
Vietnam made it into the UN Human Rights Council last year, so it has a clear motivation to polish its human rights record.
On top of that, the country’s stumbling economy, which fuels public disillusion with the leadership, desperately needs a boost from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
But the US has made it very clear that it will not sign the trade deal unless Vietnam shows “demonstrable progress” on human rights
In any case, observers say those released can hardly do harm to the communist government anymore. Cu Huy Ha Vu is now in the US, while activist Dinh Dang Dinh, who was granted a presidential amnesty on health grounds in March, has since died of cancer.

Earlier in April, prominent activist Cu Huy Ha Vu was also released from jail. He has since flown to the US, which had campaigned for his release.

Vietnam is in negotiations with the US over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a major free trade deal.

Members of the US Congress said that greater US-Vietnam co-operation should be tied to Vietnam improving its human rights record.

‘Long way to go’

Vietnam, a one-party Communist state, has one of south-east Asia’s fastest-growing economies. However, the government suppresses political dissent and religious freedom, and private media is banned.

Blogger Nguyen Tien Trung had been serving a seven-year jail term for subversion, while former Communist Party official Vic Duc Hoi, who campaigned for democracy, was serving a five years for anti-government propaganda.

Vic Duc Hoi told US-funded broadcaster Radio Free Asia: “It was due to international pressure that the government of Vietnam had to release me.”

Meanwhile, legal activist Cu Huy Ha Vu was released this month after spending three years in prison.

Mr Vu, the son of a celebrated poet who was also a leading revolutionary and confidant of the former president Ho Chi Minh, was sentenced to seven years in jail for spreading anti-government propaganda.

He had called for democratic reforms in Vietnam and tried to sue the Vietnamese prime minister twice over a mining project he said would harm the environment.

Speaking after the releases of Nguyen Tien Trung and Vi Duc Hoi, Human Rights Watch Asia director Phil Robertson said: “There are still hundreds more political prisoners languishing in Vietnam’s prisons, so there is a very long way to go before we can say that Vietnam is making any sort of appreciable progress on human rights.”

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April 14, 2014

Mekong River at risk as Laos forges ahead with dam-building spree

Vietnam latest news - Thanh Nien Daily

 

Mekong River at risk as Laos forges ahead with dam-building spree 

Monday, April 14, 2014 16:35
The Challenge Program on Water and Food- (CPWF) Mekong dams database provides the locations of every known commissioned, under-construction and planned dam in the Mekong River Basin
Construction of a giant controversial dam in Laos has been well underway since it began in late 2012. Laos is also set to push ahead with a second hydropower dam on the Mekong River this year in the face of growing concerns among its neighbors.
Opponents of these projects said their commencement would also kick off the construction of the 9 other dams planned by Laos on the lower reaches of the 4,900-kilometer (3,045-mile)-long Mekong, which is second only to the Amazon in terms of biodiversity. The river begins in the Tibetan plateau and flows through China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam before emptying into the East Sea, internationally known as the South China Sea.
Regional leaders have continued to beat the drum of safeguarding the mighty river, but in reality, the rhetoric has been more prominent than action, environmental activists say.
They say that although it is still not too late to put a brake on the damming frenzy and devise a plan to promote the sustainable development of the Mekong, success in doing so would hinge on the political will of governments to make scientifically sound decisions before forging ahead with any more dam construction.
But apparently, “powerful commercial interests have been allowed to ransack the Mekong River’s rich resources by building damaging hydropower dams which have yet to demonstrate proven and effective mitigation measures,” said Pianporn Deetes, Thailand Campaign Coordinator for International Rivers, a California-based environmental group.
In November 2012, Laos broke ground on the US$3.8-billion Xayaburi dam project despite vehement objections from environmental groups and its neighbors who said the 810-meter (2,600ft) dam would unleash massive ecological changes on a river that feeds around 60 million people.
A technical review released in March 2011 by the Mekong River Commission (MRC) – a regional body established to coordinate dam projects on the river – on the Xayaburi dam is considered the most comprehensive analysis of its potential impact. It warns that more than 50 studies are still required before regional governments reach a consensus over whether the Xayaburi and other Mekong mainstream dams should be built.
But last September, Laos notified the MRC that it would forge ahead with the second dam, the Don Sahong, on the lower Mekong, despite calls from foreign donors to consult neighbors that face a trans-boundary impact on fisheries and the risk of deprived livelihoods.
A regional summit that ended recently in Vietnam dismayed environmental activists who had hoped for tougher stance against the dam-building binge.
“While [we are] pleased that Mekong leaders recognize the negative environmental and social impacts that hydropower development poses to the mainstream, we are disappointed that leaders did not condemn the current rush of dam building on the Mekong mainstream,” Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia program director for International Rivers, said in a statement issued after the Mekong River Commission summit wrapped up April 5 in Ho Chi Minh City.
“Words without actions are meaningless,” Trandem said. “The Lao government must stop its free reign of Mekong mainstream dam building.”
Business as usual
Viraphonh Viravong, Laos’s deputy energy minister, confirmed to Thanh Nien News that the Xayaburi project is now around 30 percent complete and construction on the Don Sahong dam would begin at a site less than 2 km away from the Cambodian border in December this year.
Landlocked Laos, looking to become the “battery of Southeast Asia” by exporting the vast majority of its power – mostly to Thailand, has promoted the Xayaburi dam as a potential source of income and investment that will spur its small economy.
“The Lao government sees hydropower as something of a silver bullet to lift the country out of poverty and genuinely believes there is no alternative,” Philip Hirsch, director of the Australian Mekong Resource Center at the University of Sydney, told Thanh Nien News.
But given that the power to be produced by the 260-megawatt Don Sahong dam is quite small, experts say an important question, in this context, is which are the more and less damaging sites for dam construction.
“Building a dam that blocks the major fish migration route in the model of one of the world’s most significant artisanal freshwater fisheries does not seem like a very sensible priority,” Hirsch said.
Environmental groups warn that the impacts posed by the Don Sahong dam bring a new level of risk to the biodiversity of the Mekong River, threatening to block the only channel of the Mekong that currently allows for year-round fish migrations on a large scale, while also wiping out one of the last pools of the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins.
Viraphonh shrugged off such concerns.
“We are very confident that there will be no significant impact on the downstream of the river,” Viraphonh said, adding that Laos hired a number of independent experts to review the feasibility studies on these dam projects.
But those in the opposing camp do not buy into this assurance.
They say these claims are based on models which have never been tested in the Mekong, and there are doubts as to whether they could be successful on such a large scale.
“The stakes are high and continuing to build Mekong dams through a trial and error approach is reckless and irresponsible,” Trandem of International Rivers said. “The Mekong is too valuable for risky experiments.”
‘Right to develop’
Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia are bound by a 1995 Mekong treaty to hold inter-governmental consultations before building dams. But none has a veto, and Laos will have the final say, though considerable diplomatic pressure can be exerted on it.
Laos and its neighbors – particularly Vietnam and Cambodia – have been at odds over the decision-making stage, or the prior consultation process, of the Don Sahong project.
While Laos maintains it only needs to notify its neighbors of its intent to build the dam because it is located neither in the tributary nor on the mainstream of the Mekong, the other two countries demand that the consultation process take place to decide over whether to build the dam, citing its trans-boundary impacts.
Vietnam and Cambodia reiterated their position at the Mekong River Commission summit on April 5.
Viraphonh, the Lao energy official, bristled at criticism that his country has provided no information to its neighbors about how it plans to address the serious impacts that experts expect to see on important migratory fishes species, saying Laos has nothing to hide.
He maintained that for a small project like Don Sahong, only notification would be needed. But, more importantly, he stressed that “Laos [also] needs to develop and for the right to develop, [we] don’t need a consensus or agreement [to go ahead].”
A Cambodian fisherman who lives by the Mekong River casts his net outside Phnom Penh. Regional leaders have continued to beat the drum of safeguarding the mighty Mekong River, but in reality, the rhetoric has been more prominent than action, environmental activists say. Photo: Reuters 
Muddy the Mekong water
Addressing an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Russia in 2012, Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang called for sustainable exploitation of the Mekong River, saying nations could soon get embroiled in conflicts over access to water.
“It would not be over-exaggerating… to view the water resources of the 21st century as the oil of the 19th and 20th centuries,” Sang said.
Environmental activists say Laos’s “unilateral” move to plow ahead with the construction of two controversial dams highlights the urgency to give the 1995 Mekong Agreement more teeth.
“Because the [treaty] and its procedures are riddled with ambiguities, the Mekong River faces a dangerous trajectory, in which unilateral interests are hijacking regional cooperation and well-being,” said Pianporn of International Rivers.
Meanwhile, experts have lamented that China’s dam-building spree in both Southeast Asia – in Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar – and at home is threatening to have a serious impact on the lower Mekong.
International Rivers, a US-based nonprofit group that works to protect rivers, has been collecting information on China’s global role in dam building since 2008.
In Southeast Asia alone, it said, the number of Chinese dams that are under construction or are proposed include 10 in Cambodia, 26 in Laos, and 55 in Myanmar. Of them, four are to be built on the mainstream Mekong – three in Laos and one in Cambodia.
In the meantime, China’s upstream dams continue to cause worry due to the lack of information about their water flows, development plans, cumulative environmental impacts, and trans-boundary impacts. China has constructed or planned to build a total of 13 dams on the cascade.
Given the scale and size of these dams, experts say there are certainly other environmental impacts like withholding sediment and changed flow volumes and quantity on the lower Mekong.
They also say there are well-grounded fears that China could capitalize on the lack of political agreement there to gain a lot when taking into account dam development activities in the lower Mekong.
“China itself doesn’t need the power but stands to gain in two ways: First, work for Chinese dam-building and engineering companies,” said Richard Cronin, director of the Southeast Asia program at Stimson Center, a US-based research institute.
“Second, China gains a lot of political influence,” Cronin said. “China has already largely displaced Vietnam’s former influence.”

 

An Dien
Thanh Nien News

April 11, 2014

Vietnam Dissident Released, Arrives in US – เวียดนามปล่อยตัวนักโทษการเมือง

 

Vietnam Dissident Released, Arrives in US

WASHINGTON April 8, 2014 (AP)

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory/vietnam-dissident-released-arrives-us-23229757

By MATTHEW PENNINGTON Associated Press

This file picture taken on April 4, 2011 shows French-trained prominent dissident and legal expert Cu Huy Ha Vu (Center) in court in Hanoi during his trial. One of Vietnam’s most prominent dissidents, who was jailed after trying to sue the prime minister, has been freed and has left for the United States, a US official said Tuesday. — PHOTO: AFP

ภาพถ่ายเมื่อวันที่ 4 เม.ย. 2554 เผยให้เห็น นายกู่ฮวีห่าหวู (กลาง) ยืนอยู่ในศาลกรุงฮานอย ระหว่างการพิจารณาคดี นายหวูเป็นหนึ่งในผู้เห็นต่างกับรัฐที่มีชื่อเสียงที่สุดของเวียดนาม ถูกตัดสินจำคุกหลังพยายามฟ้องร้องนายกรัฐมนตรี ล่าสุดนายหวูได้รับการปล่อยตัวเป็นอิสระและตัดสินใจเดินทางไปสหรัฐฯ.– Agence France-Presse/Files/ Vietnam News Agency.

A prominent Vietnamese dissident whose father was an associate of the nation’s founding president Ho Chi Minh arrived in the U.S. Monday after being released from prison by Vietnam, the State Department said.

Cu Huy Ha Vu arrived on a flight to Washington with his wife. He is a legal scholar and among the ruling Communist Party’s highest-profile critics.

In a one-day trial, Vu was sentenced in April 2011 to seven years in prison and three years of house arrest on charges that included conducting propaganda against the state, calling for multiparty government and demanding the abolishment of the party’s leadership.

“The United States welcomes the decision by Vietnamese authorities to release prisoner of conscience Dr. Cu Huy Ha Vu,” Aaron Jensen, a spokesman for the State Department’s bureau of democracy, human rights and labor, told The Associated Press.

Jensen said Vu and his wife, Nguyen Thi Duong Ha, had decided to travel to the U.S. after Vu’s release. He provided no further details on the circumstance of the release, and a spokesman at the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington declined to comment.

Vu is among the many government critics who have been imprisoned as the one-party authoritarian state cracks down on dissent amid widespread concerns over its handling of a stuttering economy. He’s among the highest-profile as his father Cu Huy Can was a revolutionary poet and a minister in Ho’s government.

Vu was arrested in 2010 after attempting to sue Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung twice — first for approving a Chinese-built bauxite mining project in Vietnam’s central highlands, and later for prohibiting the filing of class-action lawsuits. The first suit was rejected by a Hanoi court, and the second was ignored.

Vu reportedly went on hunger strike between late May and mid-June over alleged poor treatment in prison.

The U.S. has sought closer ties with its former enemy, Vietnam, in recent years, but relations have been hobbled by concerns over Hanoi’s rights record. President Barack Obama, however, met current Vietnam President Truong Tan Sang at the White House last July.

 Vietnam releases high-profile dissident who tried to sue PM

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://www.straitstimes.com/news/asia/south-east-asia/story/vietnam-releases-high-profile-dissident-who-tried-sue-pm-20140408

Published on Apr 8, 2014

HANOI (AFP) – One of Vietnam’s most prominent dissidents, who was jailed after trying to sue the prime minister, has been freed and has left for the United States, a US official said Tuesday.

French-trained lawyer Cu Huy Ha Vu, the son of a Vietnamese revolutionary leader, was sentenced in April 2011 to seven years in prison for “anti-state activity”.

The release of the 55-year-old, who last year staged a hunger strike to draw attention to his treatment in jail, followed intense campaigning by rights groups and foreign governments.

“We welcome the decision by Vietnamese authorities to release prisoner of conscience Dr Cu Huy Ha Vu,” US Embassy spokesman Spencer Cryder told AFP.

เวียดนามปล่อยตัวนักโทษการเมืองชื่อดัง ยังไร้สาเหตุแน่ชัด

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://www.manager.co.th/IndoChina/ViewNews.aspx?NewsID=9570000040124

เอเอฟพี – เจ้าหน้าที่สหรัฐฯ เผยวานนี้ (8) ว่า หนึ่งในผู้เห็นต่างกับรัฐที่มีชื่อเสียงที่สุดของเวียดนาม ที่ถูกโทษจำคุกหลังพยายามฟ้องร้องนายกรัฐมนตรี ได้รับการปล่อยตัวเป็นอิสระและเดินทางไปสหรัฐฯ เป็นที่เรียบร้อย

นายกู่ฮวีห่าหวู (Cu Huy Ha Vu) บุตรชายของนายกู่ฮวีเกิ่น แกนนำปฏิวัติ ถูกตัดสินโทษจำคุกเมื่อเดือน เม.ย. 2554 เป็นเวลา 7 ปี ในความผิด “ดำเนินกิจกรรมต่อต้านรัฐ”

การปล่อยตัวนายหวู ที่เมื่อปีก่อนได้อดข้าวประท้วงเพื่อเรียกร้องความสนใจต่อการปฏิบัตที่ได้ เขารับในเรือนจำ มีขึ้นหลังกลุ่มสิทธิมนุษยชน และรัฐบาลต่างชาติวิพากษ์วิจารณ์อย่างหนัก

“เรายินดีต่อการตัดสินใจของทางการเวียดนามที่ปล่อยตัวนักโทษการเมือง ดร.กู่ฮวีห่าหวู” โฆษกสถานทูตสหรัฐฯ กล่าว

“ดร.หวู และภรรยา ตัดสินใจเดินทางไปยังสหรัฐฯ หลังได้รับการปล่อยตัว และเดินทางถึงกรุงวอชิงตัน ดี.ซี. เมื่อวันจันทร์ (7)” เจ้าหน้าที่คนเดิมกล่าว แต่ปฏิเสธที่จะระบุว่านายหวู จะพำนักอยู่ในสหรัฐฯ อย่างถาวรหรือไม่

ฝ่ายรัฐบาลเวียดนาม ไม่ได้ระบุถึงเหตุผลในการปล่อยตัวนายหวู แต่ยืนยันว่า ภรรยาของนายหวูมีอาการเจ็บป่วยจากโรคหัวใจ ด้านทนายความของนายหวูกล่าวว่า เหตุผลการปล่อยตัวยังไม่ชัดเจน

นายกู่ฮวีห่าหวู ถูกจับกุมตัวในปี 2553 หลังพยายามฟ้องร้องนายกรัฐมนตรีเหวียน เติ๋น ยวุ๋ง แต่ไม่ประสบความสำเร็จ เกี่ยวกับแผนการก่อสร้างเหมืองแร่ที่ก่อให้เกิดการคัดค้านเป็นวงกว้าง

หัวหน้าผู้พิพากษาในการพิจารณาคดีระบุว่า งานเขียน และบทสัมภาษณ์ของนายหวู เป็นการป้ายสีพรรคคอมมิวนิสต์เวียดนาม

อดีตศัตรูสงครามเวียดนาม และสหรัฐฯ ได้ทำงานร่วมกันที่จะพัฒนาความสัมพันธ์ในช่วงหลายสิบปีที่ผ่านมา แต่ประเด็นปัญหาเกี่ยวกับสิทธิมนุษยชนยังคงเป็นอุปสรรคต่อการพัฒนาความ สัมพันธ์ของ 2 ประเทศ

เวียดนาม มักถูกประณามโดยกลุ่มสิทธิมนุษยชน และรัฐบาลชาติตะวันตก ต่อการไม่ยอมรับความคิดเห็นทางการเมืองที่แตกต่าง และการละเมิดเสรีภาพในการนับถือศาสนา

รองผู้อำนวยการฮิวแมนไรท์วอช ประจำภูมิภาคเอเชีย ระบุว่า การปล่อยตัวนายหวู เป็นการพัฒนาที่น่ายินดี โดยเฉพาะอย่างยิ่งปัญหาสุขภาพของนายหวู ขณะที่ถูกจำคุกอย่างไม่เป็นธรรมโดยเจ้าหน้าที่เวียดนาม

“นายหวู ไม่ควรถูกจำคุกตั้งแต่แรก เพราะสิ่งที่ นายหวู กระทำไปทั้งหมดนั้นเป็นการใช้สิทธิของตัวเองในการแสดงความคิดเห็นอย่างเสรี” ฟิล โรเบิร์ตสัน กล่าว

เวียดนาม ไม่อนุญาตเอกชนผลิตสื่อ หนังสือพิมพ์ทุกฉบับ และสถานทีโทรทัศน์ทุกช่องล้วนเป็นกิจการของรัฐ ทนายความ บล็อกเกอร์ และนักเคลื่อนไหวมักตกเป็นเป้าในการจับกุม และควบคุมตัวอย่างไม่มีสาเหตุ

องค์กรนักข่าวไร้พรมแดนระบุเมื่อต้นเดือนว่า เวียดนามมีบล็อกเกอร์ถูกควบคุมตัวอย่างน้อย 34 คน เป็นรองเพียงแค่จีนเท่านั้น.

April 11, 2014

Luci Baines Johnson: Vietnam War ‘Lanced’ LBJ’s Gut Every Night

April 10, 2014 4:48 PM ET

APLuci Baines Johnson greets residents as she accompanies her mother, Lady Bird Johnson, to Savannah, Ga., on Oct. 8, 1964.

The 50th anniversary of President Johnson’s signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act is being celebrated this week at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas.

NPR’s Don Gonyea spoke Wednesday to Luci Baines Johnson, the 66-year-old younger daughter of the 36th president, about some of the human dimensions of the presidency.

Here are some highlights from their discussion:

On the toll the presidency took on her father

President Johnson’s birthday letter to Luci Baines Johnson, dated July 2, 1964 — her 17th birthday, the same day the Civil Rights Act was signed.

“[The Vietnam War] was a personal burden. I saw it as if somebody was lancing his gut, every night — the sleepness nights,” she says. “It was his cross to bear and we felt it very much at home as well as in a public way.”

Recalling life in the White House during the Vietnam War

“Back then you could picket on Pennsylvania Avenue, and the walls of the White House are pretty thin and the last thing I might hear before I went to bed would be, ‘Hey, hey LBJ! How many boys did you kill today?’ and that might be the first thing I heard in the morning.”

On the unspoken bond between first families

“The children of first families — they serve, too,” she says. “So much of that common tie is of public service and of seeing your parents — who you adore —sometimes from your perspective gravely misunderstood.”

April 11, 2014

Special Report: Flaws found in Thailand’s human-trafficking crackdown

Reuters - US Edition

 

Special Report: Flaws found in Thailand’s human-trafficking crackdown

SATUN, Thailand Thu Apr 10, 2014 6:02pm EDT

(Reuters) – After a two-hour trek through swamp and jungle, Police Major General Thatchai Pitaneelaboot halts in a trash-strewn clearing near Thailand’s remote border with Malaysia.

“This is it,” he says, surveying the remains of a deserted camp on a hillside pressed flat by the weight of human bodies.

Just weeks before, says Thatchai, hundreds of Rohingya Muslim refugees from Myanmar were held captive here by one of the shadowy gangs who have turned southern Thailand into a human-trafficking superhighway.

With Thatchai’s help, Thailand is scrambling to show it is combating the problem. It aims to avoid a downgrade in an influential U.S. State Department annual report that ranks countries on their anti-trafficking efforts.

But a Reuters examination of that effort exposes flaws in how Thailand defines human trafficking, exemplified by its failure to report the lucrative trafficking of thousands of Rohingya confirmed in Reuters investigations published in July and December.

In March, Thailand submitted a 78-page report on its trafficking record for 2013 to the State Department. Thai officials provided a copy to Reuters. In the report, Thailand includes no Rohingya in its tally of trafficked persons.

“We have not found that the Rohingya are victims of human trafficking,” the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement. “In essence, the Rohingya question is an issue of human smuggling.”

The distinction between smuggling and trafficking is critical to Thailand’s assertion. Smuggling, done with the consent of those involved, differs from trafficking, the business of trapping people by force or deception into labor or prostitution.

A two-part Reuters investigation in three countries, based on interviews with people smugglers, human traffickers and Rohingya who survived boat voyages from Myanmar, last year showed how the treatment of Rohingya often constituted trafficking. Reporters found that hundreds were held against their will in brutal trafficking camps in the Thai wilderness.

A record 40,000 Rohingya passed through the camps in 2013, according to Chris Lewa, director of Arakan Project, a humanitarian group.

The Rohingya’s accelerating exodus is a sign of Muslim desperation in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, also known as Burma. Ethnic and religious tensions simmered during 49 years of military rule. But under the reformist government that took power in March 2011, Myanmar has endured its worst communal bloodshed in generations.

After arriving by boat to Thailand, criminal networks transport Rohingya mainly into neighboring Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country viewed by Rohingya as a haven from persecution. Many are held by guards with guns and beaten until they produce money for passage across the Thai border, usually about $2,000 each – a huge sum for one of the world’s most impoverished peoples.

Thailand faces an automatic downgrade to Tier 3, the lowest rank in the U.S. government’s Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Report, unless it makes “significant efforts” to improve its record, according to the State Department. The agency is expected to release its findings in June.

“GRIEVOUS RIGHTS ABUSES”

A Tier 3 designation would put the Southeast Asian country alongside North Korea and the Central African Republic as the world’s worst centers of human trafficking, and would expose Thailand to U.S. sanctions.

If Thailand is downgraded, the United States, in practice, is unlikely to sanction the country, one of its oldest treaty allies in Asia. But to be downgraded would be a major embarrassment to Thailand, which is now lobbying hard for a non-permanent position on the United Nations Security Council.

Reuters asked New York-based Human Rights Watch to review the report that Thailand recently submitted to the State Department. The watchdog group, which monitors trafficking and other abuses globally, said it was concerned that two-thirds of the trafficking victims cited in the report were Thai nationals.

“Any examination of trafficking in Thailand shows that migrants from neighboring countries are the ones most trafficked,” said Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director. “Yet Thailand’s identification statistics show far more Thais than migrants are found as victims.”

He added that the numbers were also flawed due to the absence of Rohingya among the list of trafficking victims. Thailand failed to recognize “the grievous rights abuses the Rohingya suffer in these jungle camps, and the fundamental failures of the Thai government to do much about it.”

The State Department said it is examining Thailand’s submission. “We have received the information from the Thai government, and it is currently under review,” Ambassador at-Large Luis CdeBaca of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons said in a statement to Reuters.

“PLIGHT OF THE ROHINGYA”

The next TIP Report will appraise Thailand’s anti-trafficking efforts in 2013.

That year ended with the State Department and the United Nations calling for investigations into the findings of a December 5 report by Reuters. That article uncovered a secret Thai policy to remove Rohingya refugees from Thailand’s immigration detention centers and deliver them to human traffickers waiting at sea.

Thailand made “significant progress” in combating human trafficking in 2013, said its foreign ministry, citing data included in the recent 78-page report Bangkok submitted to the State Department.

According to the Thai report, Thailand convicted 225 people for human trafficking in 2013, compared to 49 people in 2012. (According to the State Department, Thailand convicted only 10 people in 2012.)

The report said Thailand identified 1,020 trafficking victims in 2013, compared to 592 in 2012, and almost doubled the government’s anti-trafficking budget to 235 million baht ($7.3 million).

It identified victims by nationality, counting 141 people from Myanmar among the victims. But none were Rohingya, who are mostly stateless. The Myanmar government calls the Rohingya illegal “Bengali” migrants from Bangladesh. Most of the 1.1 million Rohingya living in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State are denied citizenship.

In January 2013, said the Thai report, more than 400 Rohingya illegal migrants were found in rubber plantations near the Thai-Malay border in Thailand’s Songkhla province. Seven Thai suspects were arrested and charged with smuggling and harboring of illegal migrants, and were later convicted.

The Thai report describes this group of Rohingya as being smuggled, not trafficked.

However, the Reuters article in December documented a clandestine Thai policy to remove those Rohingya from immigration detention centers and deliver them to human traffickers and smugglers waiting at sea. Many Rohingya were then ferried back to brutal trafficking camps in Thailand, where some died.

The official Thai report said the government “has taken every effort to suppress the smuggling of Rohingyas over the years and to reduce the risk of Rohingyas being exploited by transnational trafficking syndicates.”

“The plight of the Rohingyas who left their homeland is essentially one of people smuggling, not one that is typical of human trafficking,” said the report.

Pongthep Thepkanjana, the caretaker deputy prime minister, said he would not speculate on whether Thailand’s efforts were enough for an upgrade on the U.S. trafficking rankings.

“We don’t do this just to satisfy the United States,” Pongthep, who chairs Thailand’s national committee to implement anti-trafficking policy, told Reuters. “We do this because trafficking in persons is a bad thing.”

HUNTSVILLE, THAILAND

The anti-trafficking efforts of Police Major General Thatchai are part of that undertaking.

At the abandoned camp he recently examined, Thatchai said scores of Rohingya were beaten until relatives agreed to pay for their release and onward passage to Malaysia. Other Rohingya have died of abuse or disease in nearby trafficking camps whose locations were revealed by the December 5 Reuters report.

Thatchai took charge of the region’s anti-trafficking efforts in October. He has vowed to shut the trafficking camps, break up the gangs and jail their leaders.

“They torture, they extort, they kill,” said Thatchai, 46, who speaks in an American accent picked up while earning a doctorate in criminal justice in Texas. “It’s too much, isn’t it?”

His campaign has freed nearly 900 people from camps and other trafficking sites and unearthed new detail about criminal syndicates in southern Thailand.

Well-oiled Rohingya-smuggling networks are now being used to transport other nationalities in large numbers, said Thatchai. He said he has identified at least six smuggling syndicates in southern Thailand, all run by Thai Muslims.

This year, along with hundreds of Rohingya, he has also detained about 200 illegal migrants from Bangladesh, as well as nearly 300 people claiming to be Turks but believed to be Uighur Muslims from China’s restive province of Xinjiang.

Like officials in Bangkok, Thatchai generally characterized the transporting of Rohingya through Thailand as human smuggling, not human trafficking.

At the same time, he said his aim was to disrupt the camps through raids and use testimony from victims to unravel the networks. He hopes to gather enough evidence to convict southern Thailand’s two main people-smuggling kingpins on human trafficking charges.

One target lived in Ranong, a Thai port city overlooking Thailand’s maritime border with Myanmar. This suspect, Thatchai said, sells Rohingya to the other syndicates. They then resell the Rohingya at marked-up prices to Thai fishing boats, where bonded or slave labor is common, or take them to camps to beat more money from them – usually a sum equivalent to about $2,000.

The Ranong kingpin made about 10 million baht ($310,000) a month this way, alleged Thatchai, and owned dozens of pick-up trucks to move his human cargo.

“THERE WAS TORTURE”

The second suspect was a leader of a syndicate in the province of Satun. That gang is believed to operate a string of camps along the province’s border with Malaysia – including the abandoned camp Reuters visited with Thatchai on March 27.

At least 400 Rohingya, including many women and children, were held at that camp for up to a month, said Thatchai. The Rohingya were guarded by armed men and fed two meals of instant noodles a day.

“Today we have proved that what the victim said is true,” Thatchai said after the site visit. “There was a camp. There was torture and kidnapping.”

But Thatchai also said he thinks no amount of raids and arrests in Thailand will staunch the flow of Rohingya out of Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

Deadly clashes between Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists erupted in Buddhist-majority Myanmar in 2012, leaving hundreds dead and thousands homeless, most of them Rohingya.

Since then, about 80,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar by boat, according to the Arakan Project.

More look set to follow, after attacks by ethnic Rakhine mobs in late March forced foreign aid workers to evacuate the state capital of Sittwe. This has jeopardized the delivery of food and water to tens of thousands of Rohingya.

(Amy Sawitta Lefevre reported from Bangkok. Additional reporting by Jason Szep in Washington. Editing by Jason Szep, Bill Tarrant and Michael Williams.)

 

 

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