Ron Corben | Bangkok
The U.S. ambassador for human trafficking, Luis CdeBaca, is calling for Burmese military officers to be held accountable for any involvement in human trafficking or the recruitment of child soldiers. Human rights advocates say an end to impunity by Burma’s military’s involvement with human trafficking is seen as a key test for the new civilian government.
After the end of an official visit to Burma, U.S. Ambassador for human trafficking Luis CdeBaca says he remains optimistic the civilian government will move to reduce forced labor and child soldier recruitment. But CdeBaca, who travelled to Burma with U.S. special envoy and policy coordinator for Burma Derek Mitchell, said senior military officers need to be held accountable for human-rights abuses such as forced labor.
“One of the things as well is the issue of accountability for the military officers, both the ones who use civilians for forced labor but also the ones who are engaged in recruitment child soldiers," said CdeBaca. "There have been a number of prosecutions for recruitment for recruitment of child soldiers but it’s all the low level guys.”
A 2011 Human Rights Watch report said over several decades the Burmese Army forced civilians to risk their lives in “barbaric conditions” in operations against rebel armed groups. It said military officers and soldiers faced charges of “committing atrocities with impunity.”
The report accused the Burmese military of colluding with Corrections Department officials to use an estimated 700 prisoners from 12 prisons to act as army porters during fighting in southern Karen State. The porters risk death from landmines.
The report added ethnic-rebel groups also face accusations of the indiscriminate use of landmines, the use of civilians as forced labor and recruitment of child soldiers.
The annual U.S. global report on human trafficking cited Burma for failing to comply with minimum standards or to make serious efforts to curb human trafficking.
CdeBaca said Burmese officials acknowledged the problems, which he said is “encouraging.”
He said Burmese steps to address human trafficking issues should also include the cooperation of neighboring countries, such as Malaysia and Thailand.
“I would like to see both legal and policy statements that end this practice of state sponsored labor," said CdeBaca. "That would be a very positive step forward. A more robust victim identification (program) where we see more victims being helped both here in Burma but also through the offices of the Burmese diplomats in Malaysia and Thailand.”
Spokeswoman Debbie Stothard, of the rights group the Alternative ASEAN Network, says the international community will need to maintain pressure on the Burmese government to move ahead with reforms.
“So when we look at the situation of trafficking of people and exploitation of children we have to really address the problem of impunity, we have to address the problem of mass forced displacement as a result of military attacks and harmful development projects,” she said.
Burma is seeking to improve international relations in a bid to see economic and political sanctions eased to open the way for foreign investment and economic development. But the international community says further reforms are needed, including the release of all political prisoners.