The release of hundreds of political prisoners is the latest in a series of steps taken by the Government of Burma in its move toward democracy. Furthering its promise to partner with Burma in its reform process, the U.S. has increased dialogue on another important rights issue: human trafficking.
“While this is a country endowed with many natural resources, the most precious is its people,” U.S. Ambassador-at-Large Luis CdeBaca said during a recent visit to the country. “They deserve freedom from modern slavery whether here or abroad.”
Ambassador CdeBaca recently met with officials in Burma for what he called a “frank and open” discussion on forced labor, sex trafficking and recruitment of child soldiers. Ambassador CdeBaca said he saw “a recognition of the problem and an openness to act,” in the meetings with his counterparts in the Burmese government. He was encouraged by actions by the government in recent months. For example, trafficking victims who had returned home were previously involuntarily detained for two weeks. The Burmese government has issued a decree ending this practice.
As the country moves to reform oppressive laws, Ambassador CdeBaca called on the Burmese government to change British-era laws that allow for state-sponsored forced labor. Although the government issued orders limiting the scope of these laws in 1999, the military in particular continues to act with impunity.
“It basically says that it is legal for the municipal government or the military to use forced labor,” he said. “As long as it's still legal for the Government to use forced labor in that manner, it will be very hard for there to be improvement under [the] international standards.”
He called for an increase in efforts toward victim identification and care and an increase in investigation and prosecution of human trafficking crimes.
Since the State Department began issuing its annual Trafficking in Persons Report , Burma has received the Tier Three ranking, which is the worst ranking available. Ambassador CdeBaca says that he hopes this will improve in the future.
“We're hoping that we'll see more such reforms and more such policies on the part of the Government going forward,” he said. “ …[And] there's plenty of time for the Government to continue to do positive steps towards compliance with [the] minimum standards.”