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AFP News
08-05-08, 13:49
US asks Asia to impose stiff punishment on labor traffickers

14 hours ago

WASHINGTON (AFP) — The United States called on Asian governments Wednesday to slap stiff penalties on labor traffickers, some of whom it said were exploiting loopholes in bilateral agreements in the region.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's senior advisor on the human trafficking problem said smugglers in the region deserved "potent penalties" rather than "mere slaps on the wrist" under agreements aimed at managing rising workers' migration in the region.

"I would emphasize the need for those who are subject to labor trafficking, to forced labor to be granted justice in the form of the traffickers being punished not just through receiving suspended sentences or fines but serious penalties," Mark Lagon, the US envoy to combat human trafficking, told AFP.

The United Nations suggests that prescribed sentences should be at least three to four years for human traffickers.

"But if you look, precious few people in Asia or frankly in the world are receiving serious punishments for that half of human trafficking, which is forced labor -- the other half being sex trafficking," he said after speaking at an American Society of International Law forum.

He said his office, which blacklists nations considered the worst offenders of human trafficking every year, had noticed a rise in the number of reported cases of labor trafficking.

Some of the cases "are occurring within the context of otherwise legal transnational labor migration, which is itself on the rise," he said.

Lagon said "very few, if any," of agreements forged by governments, particularly in Asia and the Middle East, contained provisions explicitly protecting migrant workers from conditions of forced labor or other forms of trafficking in persons.

He said labor destination governments should consider steps to ensure that recruited workers were not victims of "fraudulent work offers" or "conditions of debt bondage" while labor source governments should "prohibit and punish" any such exploitation.

On the human trafficking issue in East Asia, he said there were "serious problems there and we are trying to act as the partner with governments in the region to fight this."

In Vietnam, for example, the problem of labor recruitment being vulnerable to human trafficking is "compounded by the fact that labor recruiters have a direct connection to the government," he said.

North Korea, Myanmar and Malaysia are the three East Asian nations included in the State Department human trafficking blacklist last year.

Unlike North Korea and Myanmar, which have been on the list for years, Malaysia was a surprise inclusion last year for failure to show "satisfactory" progress in areas such as punishing acts of trafficking and protecting migrant workers from "involuntary servitude."

Lagon said Washington wanted to hold talks on the issue with the Malaysian government.

"We are encouraged by Malaysia passing a law on human trafficking and I think we want to work more with Malaysia to have a dialogue about more assiduous steps that the government can take, because there are Malaysians who migrate and, importantly, people who migrate to Malaysia who end up victimized."

On China, he cited issues such as child labor, the "relocation apparently through manipulation and force" of Uighur Muslim women from the Xinjiang region as well as the "victimization" of North Korean refugees.

In India, there are "substantial problems" of sex trafficking, child labor and bonded labor, he said.

"While there had been some real efforts at victim protection in the areas of sex trafficking and child labor, efforts at enforcement, punishment of the traffickers have lagged and recognition of the breadth of bonded labor continues to be an area of omission by India," he said.

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