54 dead in truck not trafficked or not human?

Of course, Thailand’s Department of Special Investigation (justice ministry) won’t really do anything to investigate the deaths of 54 persons in a refrigerated container truck coming from Burma–most of them women–because it has a policy of not solving human rights cases, and because according to its policeman director this is not a case of “human trafficking”. Perhaps for Pol. Col. Thawee the fine point is not the definition of “trafficking” but the definition of “human”.

(For another example of the same see: Injured by blast? Where’s your ID?)


2 responses to “54 dead in truck not trafficked or not human?

  1. Commentary: Justice avoided
    Sanitsuda Ekachai, Bangkok Post, 24 April 2008

    Fifty-four people have perished in a horrific example of human trafficking in Ranong. But the police are refusing to touch the human smuggling ring. Guess why? Harsh poverty and political oppression are not the only principal factors for this endless influx of migrant workers from Burma.

    Equally important are our internal ills. Guess what? Call it state complicity. Call it systemic corruption. Call it heartlessness.

    Whatever we call it, they are the reasons why this hideous modern slave trade is thriving non-stop in our so-called Buddhist land. The Ranong tragedy is a case in point. Had it not been for the fatal breakdown in the ventilation system, the cold storage truck that was ferrying 121 workers would have made a safe trip to its destination in Phuket, as it had done countless times before. The local police would have been able to continue pretending – as they always have – that they know nothing about the blatant trade in human beings that is being carried out practically every day right before their eyes.

    Though the police cannot now feign blindness to the Ranong tragedy, it is interesting to see how they have reacted in order to protect the hand that feeds them. No, not us taxpayers. Guess who?

    If a case is registered as human trafficking, the migrant workers must be treated as victims entitled to state help and compensation. They must also be protected as witnesses so that the authorities can go after the masterminds and those involved in the human trade.

    But the police fiercely insist that the Ranong tragedy is not a case of human trafficking, because the workers had not been “lured or forced” to come to Thailand. In addition, the workers were “on the way, without a destination”. Therefore they may not be defined as slave labour. As such, the case can only be processed as one of illegal entry into the country, which means these Burmese migrants must be arrested, fined and deported immediately.

    These excuses are maddening not only because they are absurd, but also because they show how the police view us – as nothing less than perfect fools.

    How on earth can the police know that the workers were not lured or forced? How does the police define consent?

    According to the United Nations’ definition, trafficking in persons covers the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipts of persons by different means, be it through threats, use of force, coercion, abuse of power, or promise of future benefits. Consent is irrelevant when money changes hands for the purpose of exploitation.

    In the Ranong tragedy, the truck was headed for Phuket. How can the police claim the lack of a destination? Money changed hands several times in the transport of these workers, to feed the underground labour market run by the local mafia. How can the police say this is not an organised crime of human trafficking?

    It is the police’s narrow, self-serving definition of human trafficking that has made Thailand a hub in the smuggling of humans in the region.

    Thailand’s promises to the international community to combat human trafficking are empty because the police refuse to change their ways. And why should they? Last month, Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej suggested an innovative way to discourage the migration of ethnic Muslims from Burma into Thailand: round them up and leave them on a deserted island.

    There have also been attempts to mislead the public into thinking that the law against human trafficking is not yet in effect. This is not true. The present anti-human trafficking law protects only women and children, so it is being amended to cover male workers, too. The amendment will take effect in June.

    Of the 54 people who died of suffocation, 37 were women. There were also children among those in the deadly container truck. Why didn’t the police use this law to go after the big fish in the human trade ring? We all know the answer. That is why we cannot combat human trafficking – until we start combating our own police.

    Sanitsuda Ekachai is Assistant Editor (Outlook), Bangkok Post.

    Email: sanitsudae at bangkokpost.co.th

  2. This news in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis:

    56 survivors to be deported

    Bangkok Post, 15 May 2008

    Fifty-six illegal Burmese workers who survived last month’s cold-storage truck tragedy will be deported to Burma next week, while another 11 will remain in Thailand to testify as witnesses.

    Ranong deputy governor Yongyos Mekarun said arrangements for their deportation were agreed to at a meeting of Thai and Burmese authorities.

    An agreement was also signed to investigate the incident and bring those responsible to justice.

    Early last month, a total of 54 of 121 illegal Burmese immigrants travelling in the back of a cold-storage truck suffocated while being smuggled to Phuket from Ranong. The truck usually carries fresh fish. Six Thais have been charged in connection with the incident.

    Thanu Ekkachote, of the Lawyers Council, yesterday reproached investigators for not having questioned the women and children in the truck.

    Instead of getting to the bottom of the case they had done their work in a very slapdash way and opted for rapid deportation, he said.

    Only a few police and staff from a Ranong charitable foundation were responsible for identifying the bodies. Only 38 of the 54 victims had been identified and relatives were not allowed to identify and collect the bodies for funeral services, he said.

    Mr Thanu said it seemed justice had not been done for the surviving family members, who should get compensation and the legal rights due them.

    Chulalongkorn University law lecturer Withit Mantraporn said the survivors should be allowed to stay here temporarily and take legal action against the real culprits, instead of being put on trial.

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