Martin Luther King, Jnr said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.” When it comes to combating human trafficking, Thailand has stepped up to the challenge to demonstrate that combating human trafficking does matter to the South East Asian nation. In a US$150 billion dollar industry that human trafficking is, globally, Thailand, being a hotspot of human trafficking in Asia has made considerable progress on this front. According to the 2016 Human Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, Thailand has been upgraded to tier-2 watch list last year from a tier-3 status that it held for four consecutive years, from 2012 to 2015. In order to appreciate Thailand’s ongoing progress with combating human trafficking, the magnitude of the problem as a global issue needs to be perceived first together with what human trafficking entails.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) defines human trafficking as sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud or coercion or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age. Human Trafficking is also defined as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery. A victim need not be physically transported from one location to another for the crime to fall within these definitions.
Human trafficking, globally, is a US$150 billion industry, of which, US$99 billion are from commercial sexual exploitation, US$34 billion in construction, manufacturing, mining and utilities, US$9 billion in agriculture, including forestry and fishing and US$8 billion is saved annually by private households that employ domestic workers under conditions of forced labor. Approximately 21 million victims are trafficked around the world, of which, 55 percent are women and the rest 45 percent are men and boys. The Asia Pacific region alone constitutes 56 percent of the trafficked victims in the world. While only 22 percent of victims are trafficked for sex, sexual exploitation earns 66 percent of the global profits of human trafficking. The average annual profits generated by each woman in forced sexual servitude is US$100,000, which is estimated to be six times more than the average profits generated by each trafficking victim worldwide.
Thailand is a source, destination and transit for men, women and children who are trapped into forced labor and sex trafficking. The victims trafficked into Thailand are from Thailand itself, mostly ethnic minorities, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar. The country is a also a transit for victims from China, North Korea, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, and Myanmar en route to countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Russia, South Korea, USA and countries in Western Europe.
Migrant workers from neighboring countries typically meet the demand for cheap labor in unskilled sectors in Thailand. The nature of labor creates vulnerability for migrant workers who do not speak Thai and don’t know and understand their rights under the Thai law. Also, unregistered migrant workers are highly reluctant to seek help from the law in apprehension of deportation. Men, women and children from Myanmar are typically subjected to forced labor in fishing, factories, agriculture, construction, domestic work and begging while those from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam are pushed into commercial sex exploitation. Trafficking is mostly facilitated by individuals and local level networks of friends, family, members of victims and former victims themselves. As the traffickers usually know the victims, trafficking cases usually begin with voluntary migration.
The estimated number of victims into forced labor and commercial sex exploitation in Thailand is 425,500, which is 0.63 percent of the country’s population. The complexity of Thailand’s human trafficking issues range broadly into the following areas:
- Forced labor
- Commercial sex exploitation
- Child soldiers
In the US$7 billion fishing industry of Thailand, young men and boys are allegedly enslaved into labor where they endure ruthless treatment including severe and recurrent physical abuse, threats, extreme and inhuman working hours, sleep and food deprivation, forced use of methamphetamine and long trips into the sea, confined to the vessel. Exploitation in seafood processing facilities is also allegedly prevalent with reports of men, women and children working excessive hours in abusive conditions. Even in households, domestic workers, mostly females from Thailand’s ethnic minorities and those from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar are subjected to physical and sexual abuse by their employers. Abuses include confinement within the home and withholding of their pay and identification documents, all of which make it nearly impossible for the victims to escape.
Commercial sex exploitation
Thailand’s sex industry allegedly subjects boys and girls between 15-17 years of age and young women to commercial sex exploitation. The victims are commonly found in entertainment hotspots like bars, hotels, massage parlors and karaoke lounges. On the streets, the victims are even younger, many less than 17 years of age, performing survival sex. There is also a higher prevalence of young boys servicing the demands of male tourist. In Thailand’s commercial sex exploitation, 52 percent are girls, 21 percent are men, 20 percent are boys and 7 percent are women.
With the southern border of Thailand overwhelmed by armed violence between the insurgents and the government’s security forces, the non-state violent groups typically recruit children and train them to be scouts, informers and combatants. Children as young as 14 years of age have reportedly been conscripted into these insurgent groups.
In 2016, the US government has removed Thailand from its global list of worst offenders in human trafficking. The country has been lifted to tier 2 watch list as it has met the minimum standards required to fight trafficking. Given the country’s past tier-3 status for four consecutive years, this upgrade is an indication of Thailand’s commitment to combating human trafficking.
The Thai government, this year, has allocated over US$900 million to prosecute, protect and prevent human trafficking. Thailand is now among the most active nations in addressing human trafficking issues in the region. Human trafficking convictions in the country have also increased to 268 cases last year from 205 in 2015. About 90 cases have been sentenced to more than 2 years of jail terms and 98 cases, greater than 5 years. The improved incentive in fighting trafficking likely has some correlation to potential consequences of being ranked down to tier-3 status. Under the US law, a tier-3 status could trigger non-trade related sanctions on countries, leading to restrictions on US foreign assistance and denial of access to global financial institutions such as the World Bank. Other factors that attribute to Thailand’s improved performance in combating human trafficking include the government’s focus on the matter as a national priority, increased budget by 24 percent relative to last year to combat human trafficking, quicker processes for human trafficking law suits by the Office of the Attorney General and the Thai courts and severe punishments to convicted traffickers with high risk of no-return proposition.
Last week, French president-elect Emmanuel Macron won an offer of support from Socialist ex-prime minister Manuel Valls as he and his aides worked on strategy ahead of parliamentary elections, which are seen as being crucial to his reform plans.
The 39-year-old centrist’s victory over the anti-European Union (EU) Marine Le Pen of the National Front (FN) on 7 May brought relief to France’s EU allies and to financial markets, however he now faces the task of securing a second election victory in June for his start-up party, which has now been renamed “La Republique en marche” or “Republic on the Move,” in order to get the majority needed to implement his plans for economic recovery.
On 9 May, former prime minister Manuel Valls offered to stand for “En March” in the two-stage legislative elections in June, in what is the first high-profile defection since Mr Macron’s election win. The move could also be a boost for him. The following day, the president-elect’s camp announced that if the former prime minister wants to run for parliament, under its banner, he must officially join the party. The news effectively sends a signal to politicians to the left and the right of Mr Macron’s party that they cannot sit on the fence as they seek to position themselves for the elections, which will complete the political landscape for the next five years.
Successive centre-right and centre-left governments in the country have failed to pull France out of deep economic malaise, which includes slow growth, high unemployment of around 10 percent and dwindling competiveness.
While Mr Macron’s “En March” party currently has no seats in parliament, an opinion poll earlier this month predicted that it would emerge as the largest in the parliamentary elections, due to take place next month. A majority in parliament would provide Mr Macron with a decent chance of implementing a blueprint for lower state spending, high investment and reform of the tax, labour and pensions systems.
While candidates from both the right and the left failed to secure any wins in the general election, some leading centrist Republicans appear to be ready to override the party hierarchy and work closely with Mr Macron. One of them is former conservative prime minister Alain Juppe who recently told journalists in his power base in Bordeaux, “I am not envisaging systematic obstruction and head-on opposition (to Macron). We have to help France succeed and help vital reforms succeed.” However a strong element in The Republicans have a different strategy, as they hope to win a majority in the June elections and be able to name a conservative prime minister with whom Mr Macron would have to share power in a so-called “cohabitation.” However on past form in French politics, this has left an incumbent president unable to exert control over economic policy.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reported on Friday 12 May that an Ebola outbreak has been declared in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), after the deadly virus causes three deaths in the area since 22 April. Nine suspected infections have been reported.
According to the WHO, the outbreak affects an equatorial forest region in Bas-Uele province, which borders the Central African Republic (CAR). The WHO has disclosed that it is working closely with DRC authorities in order to help deploy health workers and protective equipment in the remote area to “rapidly control the outbreak.” In a television address, Health Minister Oly Ilunga confirmed the outbreak while urging the population “not to panic,” and stating that the country “has taken all necessary measures to respond quickly and efficiently to this new outbreak.”
Logistical Challenge in Latest Outbreak
The remote region in the DRC’s far north poses a logistical challenge for doctors and aid workers, however the sheer remoteness of the area could also help in limiting the spread.
According to the WHO, the zone at Likati, which is located some 1,300 kilometres (930 miles) from the capital Kinshasa, was very difficult to access, stressing however that it was crucial to pinpoint who had had contact with those affected in order to contain the outbreak. While the main city in the northeast, Kisangani, is accessible by air, and then one could travel by road to Buta, which is the capital of Bas-Uele, covering the 150 kilometres that separates Buta and Likati is another matter, combining travel by boat along the Itimbiri river and then using motorbikes to reach Likati. According to Eugene Kabambi, the spokesman for the WHO’s Congo mission, “four-wheel drives wont go through” the narrow forest roads, with Regis Billaudel, the head of mission of the medical NGO Alima, disclosing that “taking heavy equipment in all these zones is a real chilling…There it’s a world of motorcycles, cycles and stretchers.” He went on to say that an Alima team was already on its way to Likati adding “we are studying various possibilities.”
The last Ebola outbreak in the DRC occurred in 2014 and was quickly contained. According to official figures, it killed 49 people. This latest outbreak is the eight to date. Meanwhile in a separate outbreak that began in 2013, the Ebola epidemic in West Africa killed 11,300 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone and has left thousands more survivors with long-term health problems. The WHO was criticized at the time for responding too slowly and for failing to grasp the gravity of the outbreak.
Ebola is a viral illness whose initial sysmptoms may include a sudden fever, aching muscles and a sore threat, with subsequent symptoms including diarrhoea and vomiting and, on occasion, internal and external bleeding. Humans can catch the illness from close contact with infected animals. Inter-human transmission occurs through direct contact with infected blood or bodily fluids. Mourners can also catch it if they have direct contact with the bodies of victims at funerals.
On Tuesday, two spokesmen for soldiers behind a mutiny that has impacted Ivory Coast in the past five days have indicated that their leaders have accepted a government proposal on bonus payments and have agreed to return to their barracks, effectively ending the five-day revolt.
While so far neither the country’s defense minister nor government spokesman have confirmed the details of the agreement, a witness in Bouake, the epicentre of the uprising and Ivory Coast’s second largest city, disclosed that soldiers had withdrawn into their bases.
Reports have emerged that some Ivory Coast soldiers who participated in the five-day mutiny received notification from their banks that bonus payments wee credited to their accounts. According to Sergeant Seydou Kone, a mutiny spokesman, “some of them are getting messages from their banks. The transfers are being made. Its 5 million CFA francs (US $8,400) that’s arrived.”
The renegade soldiers, who have paralyzed cities and towns across the country since Friday 12 May, rejected an earlier deal that was announced by Defense Minister Alain-Richard Donwahi late on Monday 15 May. Leaders of the uprising however later disclosed that the agreement had been amended overnight, with Kone confirming in Bouake that “we accept the government’s proposal…We are returning to barracks now.” According to Kone, the proposal accepted by the soldiers means that 8,400 mutineers, mostly from rebel fighters who helped President Alassane Ouattara to power, will receive an immediate bonus payment of 5 million CFA francs (US $8,400), with another 2 million CFA franc being paid at the end of next month.
Back in January, in a separate mutiny, soldiers received 5 million CFA francs (US $8,400) each in order to end that revolt, with the government struggling to pay remaining bonuses of 7 million CFA francs, after the collapse in world prices for Cocoa, which is the country’s main export, squeezed finances. This most recent uprising erupted after a delegation representing the 8,400 troops announced that it had dropped the demand for further bonuses, angering other members of the group, who aid that they had not been consulted.
Residents in towns and cities across the country affected by the latest mutiny disclosed on Tuesday that calm had largely returned. Scattered gunfire was reported overnight in the commercial capital Abidjan and the western port city of San Pedro however it had petered out by dawn. According to locals, many schools in Abidjan remained closed. The African Development Bank also told its employees to remain home. While the situation was calm in San Pedro, a cocoa exporter and an official from the cocoa marketing board, the CCC, disclosed that businesses remained closed.
For up to date incidents in Ivory Coast and West Africa, please go to https://www.d-riskalert.com
Experts are describing a global ransomware attack that occurred this month as “the biggest ransomware outbreak in history,” adding that Russia appears to be the hardest hit.
According to some experts, up to 99 countries may have been affected by the ransomware cyberattack that struck the NHS health service in the United Kingdom. It is believed to be the biggest attack of its kind ever recorded.
Russia appears to be the hardest hit nation, with its interior nad emergencies ministries and biggest bank, Sberbank, reporting that they wer targeted. According to Russia’s Interior Ministry, around 1,000 computers had been infected, adding however that it had localized the virus. According to researchers from the Kaspersky Lab, Spain, India and Ukraine were also severely affected, with the group stating that the malware struck at least 74 counties. Research with security software maker Avast however have reported that they had observed 57,000 infections in 99 countries, citing Taiwan amongst the top targets. In the United States, the effect of the hack did not appear to be widespread, at least initially.
Hacking group Shadow Brokers reportedly released the malware last month, after claiming to have discovered the flaw from the US National Security Agency (NSA).
Experts have indicated that criminal organizations were probably behind the attack, given how quickly the malware spread. Ransomware is malicious software that infects machines, locks them by encrypting data and then attempts to extort money to let users back in. The software used in the latest attacks is called WannaCry, or Wanna Decryptor, and exploits a vulnerability in the Windows operating system. It effectively allows the malware to automatically spread across networks, so that it can quickly infect large numbers of machines at the same organization. Cyber extortionists tricked victims into opening malicious attachments to spam emails that appeared to contain invoices, job offers, security warnings and other legitimate files. The ransomware then encrypted data on the computes, demanding payments of US $300 to US $600 to restore access. Security researchers have indicated that they observed some victims paying via the digital currency bitcoin, though they did not know what percent had given in to the extortionists.