Empower have written an open letter to the Thai Prime Minister protesting against anti-trafficking raids and the appalling human rights abuses perpetrated against migrant sex workers by the state.
The background to this story can be read in much more detail in 'Hit & Run', Empower's recent research report. In particular the report contains a case study (Raid and Rescue 2 - Mae Sot, pages 79-85) in which 17 Burmese nationals were arrested as part of an 'anti-trafficking' raid in March 2011. The case study documents how the women were provided with poor interpreting, denied proper information about the reason for their detention and their rights, and how they have been held for over a year in a 'rescue' shelter as victims of trafficking and potential witnesses in a prosecution - despite their assertion that they were working in the entertainment venue voluntarily. The women were also subjected to mandatory and invasive medical examinations and tests and denied proper access to support and advice.
The full text of the Open Letter follows:
Open Letter to: The Prime Minister of the Royal Government of Thailand,
On the occasion of 5thJune 2012, National Anti Human Trafficking Day, Empower alleges that successive Thai governments have sacrificed the rule of law, their international human rights obligations and the well-being of migrant sex workers and their families, in an attempt to please the US government and satisfy the American anti trafficking agenda.
We accuse the United States government of using the issue of human trafficking to coerce its allies into tightening border and immigration controls. The US agenda has also created a climate where women crossing borders are all seen as suspect ‘victims’ of trafficking.
Recently on the 21stFebruary 2012 Empower released an in-depth research report, ‘Hit & Run’ done by sex workers which clearly identifies how the State is breaching rule of law and police procedure while arresting wrong people. (Report available on www.empowerfoundation.org)
Even though Thai governments have tried hard to appease the USA, Thailand remains on a Tier 2 watch list and risks being further downgraded in the annual Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP Report) due for release later this month. Empower sees the Trafficking in Persons Report issued by the US State Department as subjective and bias against the Thai Entertainment Industry in particular.
Furthermore Empower says the Thai government has so far failed to recognize the many improvements the Entertainment Industry has undergone in the last decade. The old days of the ‘green harvest’ and locked brothels are over. In the modern context, sex work is similar to other jobs. Exploitation in the industry is an issue of access to identity and work documents, labor rights and occupational health and safety. These are labor and human rights issues, not police or criminal issues.
Society is all too familiar with media images of uniformed police, fully armed storming Entertainment Places and apprehending young unarmed women. Women desperately try to hide their faces; sometimes the women are naked and not even given time to cover themselves. The women and girls never fight back; most don’t even dare to think about trying to run away and not one woman or girl has ever been found carrying a weapon. These events were commonly shown in the media well before the new human trafficking hysteria. The image of a hero or rescuer has now been added to the scene…it’s all very exciting.
However society never sees or hears of what happens after the rescue. Society is not told that the women are put through a range of unnecessary medical tests regardless of consent or their human dignity. They don’t know that women have been detained against their will for over a year in government shelters. No one knows about the pain and suffering brought about by the separation from children and family. Who could imagine that the women, who are the main family providers, are not compensated in any way by the State, and given just 3,000 Baht, (about 200 Baht per month) from private anti trafficking fund when they are eventually forcibly and formally deported?
Under the law there are provisions for social assistance but in reality the focus is on punishment. Little wonder women escape from their rescuers when they can.
Police enforcement of the law using raids encourages violence. We suggest that instead of continuing costly, and ultimately useless “raids and rescue” missions, it is time Thailand resisted being bullied by foreign governments and instead worked to ensure migrant sex worker’s access to documentation and fair working conditions in Entertainment Places.
Today Empower Foundation is calling on the Prime Minister of The Royal Government of Thailand to:
- Review the practices of anti trafficking act in relation to the protection of human rights and the rule of law
- Stop using sex workers as scapegoats in foreign policy and other political games.
- Stop police entrapment which contravenes police policy. Stop raids on entertainment places which are violent actions usually reserved for apprehending dangerous criminals. Stop arbitrary detention of sex workers.
- Protect the human rights of women arrested or assisted under the Anti trafficking Act and ensure they receive the full entitlements according to the Act e.g. translation, legal representation, compensation.
- Work together to promote accurate information about the modern context of sex work in Thailand to all agencies involved in anti trafficking.
The letter has been endorsed by:Sex workers of Krabi
Sex workers of Phuket
Sex workers of Samut Sakon
Sex workers of Nontaburi
Sex workers of Chiang Mai
Sex workers of Mae Sai, Chiang Rai
Sex workers of Mae Sot, Tak
Sex workers of Mukdahan
Sex workers of Ubon Rachatani
Sex workers of Udon Thani
Sex workers of Pattaya, Chonburi
Sex workers of Soi Cowboy, Bangkok
Sex workers of Soi Nana. Bangkok
Sex workers of Patpong, Bangkok
National Human Rights Commission
Office of the Prime Minister
Ministry of Social development and Human Security
Department of Special Investigations (AHTD)
Office of the Attorney General – Public Prosecutor, Ministry of Justice
United Nations Interagency Project on Human Trafficking UNIAP