Burma was moved one notch higher for its efforts to stop human trafficking during the past year, a new report by the U.S. State Department showed on Tuesday.
Burma moved from Tier 3, which it had occupied since 2001, to Tier 2, because of positive efforts to combat human trafficking and arrest and prosecute offenders, including members of the military.
One of the world's worst offenders of human trafficking laws in the past, Burma was urged to continue with its “unprecedented steps” over the past year.
Luis CdeBaca, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for human trafficking issues, said Burma was upgraded after the government repealed an antiquated law that had been used to justify forced labor and replaced it with a law expressly forbidding the practice.
The government also made progress identifying and helping victims, and a national trafficking hotline introduced in September has led to the rescue of 57 victims. Much of its recent efforts have been undertaken with the cooperation of the International Labour Organization (ILO).
However, the report said many Burmese men, women and children who travel abroad for work are subjected to forced labor or sex trafficking, as trafficking by both private individuals and government officials “continues to be a significant problem.”
The Burmese military still conscripts child soldiers and is the leading perpetrator of forced labor within the country, particularly in conflict-prone ethnic areas, said the report.
The country is taking steps to alleviate Burma’s chronic underdevelopment and lack of jobs, said he report, but trafficking within Burma by both government officials and private actors continues, including military personnel and militant ethnic insurgents.
“The climate of impunity and repression and the government’s lack of accountability in forced labor and the recruitment of child soldiers represent the top casual factors for Burma’s significant trafficking problem,” the report said.
The Burmese government does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, the State Department said, but “it is making significant steps to do so.”
CdeBaca praised the work of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in combating human trafficking and forced labor in the country.
CdeBaca said that the State Department had been particularly concerned in recent years by “state-sponsored forced labor” in Burma which had been allowed to continue under the 1907 Villages and Towns Acts.
The law has been repealed by the newly formed Parliament.
Since the dissolution of a cease-fire with the Kachin Independence Army in June 2011, fighting has displaced an estimated 60,000 Kachin residents, who are highly vulnerable to forced labor and sex trafficking, said the report.
An NGO study published in 2010 found an acute problem in Chin State, where a survey of over 600 households indicated that over 92 percent experienced at least one instance of a household member subjected to forced labor, it said. The Burmese military reportedly imposed two-thirds of these forced labor demands. Because authorities refuse to recognize members of certain ethnic minority groups (including the Rohingyas) as citizens and do not provide them with identification documentation, members of these communities are more vulnerable to trafficking.
“The Kachin ethnic minority is particularly vulnerable to trafficking due to an ongoing conflict between the Burma Army and the Kachin Independence Army. Military and civilian officials subject men, women, and children to forced labor, and men and boys as young as 11 years old are forced through intimidation, coercion, threats, and violence to serve in the Burma Army as well as the armed wings of ethnic minority groups,” said the report.
“The Government of Burma does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so,” it said. “The Burmese government took a number of unprecedented steps to address forced labor and the conscription of child soldiers; these steps amount to a credible commitment to undertake anti-trafficking reforms over the coming year.”
The report called for the implementation of the terms of the ILO action plan for the elimination of forced labor offenses perpetrated by government employees, particularly military personnel.
It said that 26 Anti-Trafficking Task Forces operated in key cities and at international border crossings, and the police continued to identify and investigate trafficking offenses and to arrest suspected trafficking offenders. The government reported investigating 136 cases of trafficking, and prosecuting 231 offenders in 2011 – 160 of whom were female – compared to 234 convicted in 2010, but it said the statistics are based on a lack of transparency and hard to verify.
During the year, it said the government showed unprecedented cooperation with the ILO and other international partners in discussing remedies for the long-standing problems of forced labor and child soldier conscription committed by members of the military or civilian administrators. The ILO continued to receive and investigate forced labor complaints; 324 were received in 2011, of which 236 involved alleged conscription of children for military service. The ILO submitted 145 cases to the Burmese government for action in 2011. The government resolved 80 cases; 65 cases are pending resolution by the government and six cases were closed with an “unsatisfactory outcome,” according to the ILO.
For the first time in several years, the Ministry of Defense provided data on military personnel disciplined for forced labor offenses: four officers and 37 enlisted personnel were punished for “improper recruitment,” though none of these offenders were imprisoned. The four officers received official reprimands and, of the 37 enlisted personnel, 22 received reprimands, nine were suspended without pay for seven days, five were suspended without pay for 14 days, and one was reduced in rank, said the report.