Imagine being a police investigator who’s been tasked with uncovering a human trafficking operation. You take your job seriously, and in one year expose a massive trafficking enterprise and produce more than 150 arrest warrants. One of the accused is a lieutenant general in the army, a trafficking kingpin. You’re celebrated by the international community and feel proud to serve your country in this way.
But before you know it, you find yourself quitting your job and fleeing to another country.
This is precisely what happened to Maj. Gen. Paween Pongsirin, Thailand’s most senior human trafficking investigator. He is currently seeking asylum in Australia. Here’s what happened:
- Last year, human trafficking camps were discovered in the jungles of Thailand. With pressure from the international community and a significant trade deal in the works, Thailand wanted to demonstrate that they were serious about putting an end to trafficking.
- Mr. Paween led an investigation that was heralded as successful, but says he was told by powerful people to scale back his work on the case.
- When he didn’t listen and submitted his case to prosecutors, he was commanded to take a new post in Thailand’s deep south, a hostile, unstable region where traffickers are known to operate. He requested to be given another post, one that didn’t put him at such high risk, but was denied.
“Human trafficking is a big network that involves lots of the military, politicians and police. While I was supervising the cases I was warned all along…By re-posting me to the deep south of Thailand it means they want to kill me.”
There are some pretty serious concerns here.
If what Pingsirin says is true, it means that Thailand’s government is more committed to the appearance of fighting trafficking than the reality of it. The appearance of complying is critical because it affects the country’s tier ranking in the annual U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons Report, which in turn has an impact on the trade deals Thailand is able to join.
Unfortunately, since Pingsirin will no longer be able to attend trial as a key witness, many will be intimidated from giving evidence. This means that punishment for those he worked so hard to arrest is unlikely.
This is yet another example of how corruption, the act of abusing public power for private gain, is one of the largest hindrances to the fight against human trafficking.
My hope is that Paween Pongsirin gets the protection he needs, and that Thailand is pressured to take a serious look at both its human trafficking and corruption issues. It will be interesting to see whether this development affects Thailand’s tier category in this year’s Trafficking in Persons report. Definitely a story worth following in 2016.