Burma praised for anti-trafficking progress

Jan 22, 2010 (DVB), A senior UN official in Burma has congratulated the ruling junta on steps it has taken to tackle human trafficking, during a meeting yesterday of six Mekong states in Bagan.

It is the seventh year that the meeting, the Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative Against Trafficking (COMMIT), has taken place.

It is billed as a UN effort to get the governments of Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, China, Vietnam and Burma to discuss the problem of human trafficking, and included an ensemble of international NGOs, UN agencies and regional observers.

"The purpose is to reaffirm the commitment to eradicating all forms of human trafficking in the region, share and evaluate progress in 2009 and lay the foundations for future strengthened cooperation in counter trafficking," a UN press statement said.

Despite a US report last year that found Burma's human trafficking problem to be "significant", the UN's resident coordinator in Burma, Bishow Parajuli, said yesterday that the Southeast Asian state had made good progress in the past six years.

"Myanmar [Burma] was the first country in the Mekong region to pass a comprehensive anti-human trafficking law in line with international standards," he said.

"It was also one of the first countries to establish a specialist anti-trafficking police unit, widely regarded as best practice, and has passed a five-year National Plan of Action in areas like prevention, law enforcement and protection."

According to Ohnmar Ei Ei Chaw, liaison officer for the UN Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking (UNIAP), the meeting also included discussions on "collecting databases [of human trafficking statistics] and conducting surveys and research to learn about trafficker networks and the needs of trafficking victims".

Parajuli followed that "it is imperative that we continue to address the root causes" of human trafficking in Burma, such as unemployment, poverty and abuse.

However, according to a Chin community leader and head of a Burmese refugees centre in Kuala Lumpur, the problems of remaining in Burma can outweigh the maltreatment of trafficked persons. "To you they are traffickers; to us they are travel agents," he said.

Meanwhile, the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper today quoted Burma's home minister, Major Maung Oo, as telling the conference that Burma "is no longer a safe haven" for traffickers.

Indeed according to many workers who have paid traffickers, it is no longer a safe haven for workers either, following decades of economic mismanagement and a political climate that denies labour rights and fuels high levels of forced labour.

Reporting by Joseph Allchin and Naw Say Phaw

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