A forthcoming annual US State Department report on human trafficking will relegate Myanmar to a shortlist of worst offenders, officials told Reuters.
The decision aims to pressure the newly elected government, led by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, and Myanmar’s powerful military to act against the enslavement of Myanmar migrants in neighbouring countries, Reuters said. Many migrants come from the Rohingya Muslim minority, which continues to be subjected to widespread abuse in Myanmar.
The US is also leaning on Myanmar’s military to cease the use of child soldiers in its longstanding conflicts with rebels from ethnic minority groups. The military also routinely forces villagers to perform unpaid labour.
The State Department’s annual report on ‘Trafficking in Persons’ will be published on Thursday.
The US decision to drop Myanmar to Tier 3, the lowest grade, places it alongside countries like Iran, North Korea and Syria. A Tier 3 ranking means that anti-trafficking efforts do not meet “minimum standards” and it is “not making significant efforts to do so”.
A Tier 3 rating can trigger sanctions limiting access to US and international aid, but US presidents frequently issue waivers against such action.
Myanmar has been on the so-called ‘Tier 2 Watch List’ for the maximum four years permitted by US law, so the State Department either had to justify an upgrade or else automatically downgrade it.
Reuters says the decision on Myanmar was hotly contested within the State Department, and followed concerns that some assessments in last year’s human-trafficking report were watered down for political reasons.
A Reuters investigation published last August found that senior diplomats repeatedly overruled the State Department’s anti-trafficking unit and inflated the grades of 14 strategically important countries.
Reuters says many in the US Congress support the move because “the chronic abuse of the Rohingya has not been dealt with at all”.
The UN’s human rights watchdog last week warned widespread human rights violations against the Rohingya could amount to crimes against humanity, The World Weekly reported.
Last year’s State Department report on human trafficking described Myanmar as “a source country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labour and for women and children subjected to sex trafficking”.