Human rights groups criticize Malaysia upgrade in trafficking report

By Andrew V. Pestano
Human rights groups criticize the U.S. government's upgrading of Malaysia in its annual Trafficking in Persons report. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
Human rights groups criticize the U.S. government's upgrading of Malaysia in its annual Trafficking in Persons report. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

WASHINGTON, July 28 (UPI) -- Human rights groups have criticized the United States for upgrading Malaysia's human-trafficking record, arguing it was a political move to further advance the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The U.S. Department of State on Monday released its annual Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) that analyzes the efforts of 188 countries to comply with minimum standards required to eliminate human trafficking for sexual exploitation or forced labor.


The report determines compliance on three levels. Countries that saw their record improve from the worst level to the medium level are Malaysia, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia and Papua New Guinea.

"The upgrading of Malaysia... sends a dangerous message not just to the government of Malaysia but also to all 188 countries covered by the U.S. TIP report, that human trafficking and modern-day slavery can be condoned with impunity; it makes a mockery of the TIP report," the Malaysia-based Tenaganita anti-trafficking group said in a statement. "The U.S. claims to value human rights but it is now prepared to barter the freedom, dignity and lives of victims of human trafficking for its own economic gain."

The United States argues that the decision to upgrade Malaysia's status was due to the country's "significant efforts" to eliminate human trafficking.


The TPP needs final approval from the U.S. Congress and President Barack Obama.

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Malaysia's convictions against human-traffickers were lower than in the previous year, said Phil Robertson, deputy director for Human Rights Watch's Asia division.

Trafficking and abuse of immigrants is still being done "with impunity," Robertson said.

"How can the State Department call this 'progress'?... This upgrade is more about the TPP and U.S. trade politics than anything Malaysia did to combat human trafficking over the past year," he said.

U.S. Undersecretary of State Sarah Sewell said that mass graves of immigrant workers found earlier this year in Malaysia were discovered after the reporting period for this year's TIP. She also denied that the TPP had anything to do with Malaysia's upgrade.

The Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking, based in the United States, said in a statement that the status upgrade "lacked credibility," also accusing the U.S. trade agreement as the reason Malaysia received the upgrade.

"We are incredibly disappointed by the State Department's decision to unfairly upgrade Malaysia in this year's Trafficking in Persons report," Melysa Sperber, director of the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking, said. "Downgraded just last year, Malaysia demonstrated virtually no progress in addressing major human rights violations. In fact, more egregious incidents of forced labor, mass graves and slave camps have emerged in recent months. It's a blemish on President Obama's legacy that he chose to promote trade over human rights."


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