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Cablegate: An Ngo Perspective On Anti-Trafficking Efforts in Northern

VZCZCXRO1778
PP RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHCHI #0057/01 0940236
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P R 030236Z APR 08
FM AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0731
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS
RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHINGTON DC
RUEFHLC/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC
RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 0787

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 CHIANG MAI 000057

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR G/TIP - MARK TAYLOR, SALLY NEUMANN

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KCRM KWMN SMIG PHUM TH
SUBJECT: AN NGO PERSPECTIVE ON ANTI-TRAFFICKING EFFORTS IN NORTHERN
THAILAND

CHIANG MAI 00000057 001.2 OF 002


Sensitive but unclassified; please handle accordingly.

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Summary
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1. (SBU) Most Burmese who become trafficking victims knowingly
enter Thailand illegally, but fall prey to deception and
coercion after crossing the border, according to the head of a
key anti-trafficking NGO operating in the region. Child
prostitution has diminished significantly in northern Thailand,
owing to years of work with senior police officials who now have
a "clear understanding" of the problem. Judicial processes have
also improved. Testimony by victims is treated sensitively in
an increasing number of cases and courts are beginning to permit
testimony by remote camera so trafficking victims do not have to
face perpetrators who could still exact retribution. A
continuing lack of police professionalism, however, could lead
to entrapment and blackmail if concerted action were attempted
against the demand side of prostitution. The Thai government is
now contributing to the funding of anti-trafficking NGOs, but
they remain heavily dependent on USG support. End Summary.

--------------------------------------------- --------------
--------------
Child Prostitution Suppressed, but Challenges Remain
--------------------------------------------- --------------
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2. (SBU) On March 20, Econ Counselor, who was visiting from
Bangkok, met with Ben Svasti, Program Director for Trafcord, an
NGO that serves as a coordination body between the Royal Thai
Government (RTG) and other NGOs combating trafficking-in-persons
(TIP). Svasti explained that many Burmese, men and women, come
to Thailand looking for work, mostly in construction and other
labor intensive industries. Those trafficked into prostitution
generally come from among young women hoping for jobs in
restaurants. Typically, they work willingly with friends or
agents to cross the border illegally. Once on the Thai side,
however, their illegal status makes them vulnerable to deception
and coercion from trafficking agents. According to Svasti,
northern Thailand is not the final destination for many TIP
victims. Many are taken to Bangkok, Singapore, or Malaysia.
Since its founding in 2003, the work of Trafcord and its network
has led to the arrest of 111 individuals involved in human
trafficking.

3. (SBU) Svasti said that child prostitution is much less
severe than in the past. In northern Thailand, the practice is
suppressed; child prostitution is "much harder to find." Svasti
attributes this success to years of work with senior police
officials in the region. They "clearly understand" the problem
now. Senior provincial and police officials know that if we
hear reports that there are child prostitutes in any venue,
Svasti explained, we will conduct a raid, with accompanying
press and publicity. Acknowledging a point made by EconCouns,
he said that child prostitution may have gone further
underground, but even if it were true that child prostitution
had been eradicated, there is no doubt in his mind that if the
pressure against it were relaxed, it would come back.

4. (SBU) Significant challenges on the "push" side remain.
Burmese leave their villages because there is no work. If they
are simply caught and repatriated back to their villages, the
continuing lack of work and raised family and village
expectations often cause them to return to Thailand, even if
they have already been trafficking victims. Svasti says that
whenever possible, his organization tries to work with
international NGOs such as Save the Children or World Vision
where they have operations inside Burma. Re-integration
programs are essential if the return rate is to be reduced.
Unfortunately, the areas in which these organizations operate
inside Burma are limited.

---------------------------------------------
Improvements on the Legal Front
---------------------------------------------

5. (SBU) On the judicial front, Svasti cited significant
improvements. Not only are police much more aware of the
problem and cooperative than they were in the past, but
prosecutors are more willing to take on trafficking cases.
Inside courtrooms, procedures are slowly moving up to
international standards. In some courts, judges now allow
testimony to be given via remote camera so that victims will not
have to testify publicly in front of perpetrators who may still

CHIANG MAI 00000057 002.2 OF 002


have the means to exact retribution. Child witnesses are
interviewed only once, by trained social workers, with their
story recorded on video for later use in court. Things have
come a long way, Svasti related, from the days when victims were
repeatedly made to recount painful details by insensitive
low-level policemen.

6. (SBU) Challenges remain, however. Not all prosecutors are
eager to take on trafficking cases. Some policemen still are
using enforcement guides printed decades ago, when prostitution
charges could only be filed if perpetrators were caught in the
act, making it almost impossible to bring charges against
traffickers and brothel owners when those they had abused were
able to escape or had been rescued. Trafcord's newest
initiative in the legal arena is to press the RTG to allow TIP
victims to have their civil cases considered within the scope of
the criminal proceedings. Currently, civil suits cannot be
initiated until the criminal cases are finished. By that time,
many victims have been through enough and are unwilling to begin
another lengthy legal process.

7. (SBU) In response to a question from EconCouns, Svasti
agreed that the best situation would be for prostitution to be
suppressed across the board. However, he expressed concern that
a concerted effort now to arrest the "johns" seeking
prostitution may result in widespread entrapment and blackmail
because Thai police forces, while better than in the past, still
do not meet international standards for professionalism. He did
note, however, that things have progressed with regard to child
prostitution to the point where he believes that a foreign
tourist today who openly sought a child prostitute would likely
be reported to the police. The fact remains that there is a lot
of money involved in prostitution. Moreover, societal tolerance
and expectations are such that an effort to suppress it more
widely would meet resistance from many quarters.

8. (SBU) Right now, approximately 90 percent of Trafcord's
funding comes from the USG, with the additional 10 percent
coming from the government. However, the government's funds are
targeted for training and education projects and cannot be used
to meet Trafcord's operating costs and salary expenses. In the
past, UNICEF has funded up to 25 percent, but is rethinking its
program support and appears inclined toward targeting child
rights more broadly rather than the anti-child prostitution
focus that Trafcord has concentrated on in the past.

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Comment
--------------

9. (SBU) Having handled the anti-trafficking portfolio in
Embassy Bangkok in the mid-1990s, Econ Counselor was impressed
with the progress that has evidently been made in the
suppression of child prostitution since then. Underscoring
Trafcord's claims, another NGO, the IJM, ceased anti-child
prostitution operations in northern Thailand because there is so
little to do now. Svasti's claims that if Trafcord's work does
not continue child prostitution could re-emerge are obviously
self-serving, but in our view are nevertheless true. Sex
tourism in general, and child sex tourism in particular, are not
openly tolerated as in the past, but general attitudes toward
prostitution may take a generation to fundamentally change.

10. (U) This cable was coordinated with Embassy Bangkok.
MORROW

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