Political Prisoners in Burma
Violence and instability have racked Burma in recent years and the Burmese government’s brutal persecution of the Rohingya people has driven much of this. During this conflict, authorities have imprisoned many nonviolent activists and journalists for speaking out against the government of Burma. Unfortunately, this inhumane and unjust treatment of political prisoners in recent years is a continuation of a historical trend of human rights abuses that the Burmese government perpetrated.

Recently, U.S. lawmakers have begun to take a legislative response to Burma’s treatment of political prisoners. In July 2019, Senator Ed Markey introduced the Burma Political Prisoners Act to the Senate with Senator Marsha Blackburn as a cosponsor. The Act primarily seeks to offer various forms of assistance to Burmese prisoners of conscience, and also has sections dealing with child soldiers and freedom of the press. In order to understand what this bill would do and why it is so important, it will be useful to take a look at the historical background of political prisoners in Burma.

Prisoners of Conscience in Burma

While Burma is a country that has always struggled with implementing a stable democracy and promoting free speech, a particularly brutal government led-campaign of killings and arrests of protestors took place in 1988. Since 1962, general Gen Ne Win and his Burma Socialist Programme Party, the only political party allowed in Burma’s government, led the country. In order to protest the repressive regime, student activists organized a nationwide general strike that took place on August 8, 1988, in what people came to know as the 8888 Uprising. The protests prompted a brutal backlash in which government forces killed thousands of protestors and arrested thousands more.

Following the 8888 Uprising, Burma’s military leaders formed a junta known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council or SLORC. In 1989, SLORC declared martial law within the country and arrested thousands of people. The council then became the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in 1997 and began arresting thousands of members of the National League for Democracy (NLD), an opposition party led by Aung San Suu Kyi. In 2007, a protest movement of Buddhist monks against the ruling SPDC also resulted in hundreds of arrests.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party won a landslide victory in national elections in 2015 and officially came to power in 2016. Kyi, who became Burma’s State Counselor, a position akin to Prime Minister, had campaigned promising to promote human rights and democracy within the country and promised not to jail people for their political beliefs. However, groups such as the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners have documented that since the Kyi took office in 2015, at least 35 political prisoners have received convictions. In fact, the AAPP counted 42 percent more political prisoners in 2015 than the year before.

The Burma Political Prisoners Assistance Act

Senator Ed Markey introduced the Burma Political Prisoners Assistance Act on July 10, 2019, and Senator Marsha Blackburn co-sponsored it. Since Senator Markey is a Democrat and Senator Blackburn is a Republican, this bill represents a newfound bipartisan statement of policy regarding political prisoners in Burma. The bill includes a variety of provisions aimed at assisting political prisoners in the country, including:

  • A statement of policy that supports Burma’s transition to a “democratic, peaceful, and prosperous state” calls on Burma to immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners and urges Burma to repeal laws used to persecute those who speak out against the government.

  • A requirement for the Secretary of State to provide various kinds of support for civil society groups that work to secure the release of political prisoners. These forms of State Department assistance include providing support for the documentation of human rights abuses with respect to political prisoners in Burma and supporting travel costs, legal fees and post-incarceration mental health and career opportunities for former political prisoners and their families.

  • A specification in the U.S. legal code regarding the definition of prisoners of conscience.

  • “The delegation of specific United States mission staff who will observe trials in politically motivated cases.”

  • The bill also includes a section condemning Burma for its use of child soldiers and specifically calls for the release of the child soldier Aung Ko Htwe.

Conclusion

The bill in its current form has gone to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which will debate it. It is unclear whether the bill will make it out of committee, or if it has a chance to pass if the Senate as a whole considers it for a vote.

The Borgen Project reached out to Senator Blackburn for a comment. She stated, “The people of Burma deserve to live in a nation where speaking freely does not result in political imprisonment. Last month, Senator Markey and I introduced legislation that will provide the State Department with more tools to advocate for democracy and provide aid. I ask my colleagues in the Senate to stand in solidarity with the people of Burma by swiftly passing this legislation.”

Given the grave human rights situation in Burma with respect to prisoners of conscience, it is paramount for the Senate to deliver a comprehensive, bipartisan response.

– Andrew Bryant
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts about Myanmar Child Soldiers
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, might be on its way to achieving democracy but it is still far away from achieving a stellar record when it comes to human rights. This becomes especially evident in the case of child soldiers.

In this article, the top 10 facts about Myanmar child soldiers will be presented, one of the biggest problems this nation is currently facing.

Top 10 Facts About Myanmar Child Soldiers

  1. According to Human Rights Watch, Myanmar has the highest number of child soldiers in the world. Children are army members of both confronted sides- the national army as well as rebel groups in the ethnic minority regions outside the capital of Yangon. Roughly 350,000 soldiers make up the Burmese army with an estimated 20 percent of them being child soldiers.
  2. The children are usually taken against their will from public areas, such as parks and train stations in their town. They are often abducted and forced to be conscripted. If they refuse, they are threatened with jail time.
  3. After the 2008 Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar, many families were separated and many identification documents were destroyed or damaged. This made easier for the army recruiters to prey on the vulnerable children, particularly orphans since there is no one to identify and protect them.
  4. One of the examples of exploitation of children for army purposes can be seen in the Northern Rakhine state. It has been verified that 53 boys have been used by the Border Guard Police for various purposes that include maintaining the camps, as well as constructing and carrying equipment.
  5. The largest ethnic opposition groups, the United Wa State Army, has the largest number of forcible child conscripts. Another notorious group, the Kachin Independence Army, is the only military group in Burma that recruits girls.
  6. Boys as young as 12 are forced to fight and to commit human rights violations against the civilians that they are made to round up. This includes setting villages on fire and carrying out extrajudicial killings.
  7. Human Rights Watch has urged the Burmese government as well as all opposition ethnic rebel groups that forcibly recruit children under the age of 18 to stop the practice and release all current child soldiers. It has also called for these state and non-state actors to cooperate with international organizations such as UNICEF.
  8. In June 2012, the Burmese government signed a Joint Action Plan with the government and armed groups to take steps in order to reintegrate the child soldiers into civilian life. The plan also entailed allowing U.N. workers to access military bases.
  9. Since signing the deal in 2012, the government has released 924 children, according to a statement released by child protection agency UNICEF.
  10. The government has released 75 child soldiers in 2018 as part of the above mentioned process to end decades of forced recruitment of soldiers under the age of 18.

In conclusion, Myanmar’s development will be incomplete without the eradication of the problem of child soldiers. As long as the ethnic groups and the official Myanmar Army continue to use child soldiers to fight in their wars, the twin path of democracy and development are still a long way off.

Maneesha Khalae
Photo: Flickr

Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act of 2017The Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act of 2017, a bill focused on promoting democracy and human rights in Burma, was recently introduced in the United States Senate.

While Burma has taken steps towards becoming a full democracy, the country operates under a constitution in need of reform. Drafted in a convention boycotted by the National League for Democracy, Burma’s constitution fails to fully recognize the rights of ethnic minorities and guarantees the military’s nominees one-fourth of the seats in parliament. Due to the rule that more than three-fourths of parliament must agree in order to amend the constitution, this means that no changes can be made to the constitution without the support of the military.

The Rohingya

The military’s involvement in government is especially concerning for Burma’s large population of various ethnic groups, particularly the Rohingya, who they are engaged in a violent civil war with. In the past two months, over 600,000 Rohingya people have been displaced from their homes. In what is essentially an ethnic cleansing, the military is persecuting the Rohingya by burning down their homes, raping women and young girls and torturing and killing prisoners and civilians.

Many civilians have become refugees but most do not have access to basic care. Over 95 percent are drinking contaminated water and many are starving before they even cross the border. Refugee camps are growing quickly and so are the rates of malnutrition and disease, particularly in children.

The Bill’s Goal 

The goal of the Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act of 2017 is to end the suffering of the people of Burma and establish a democracy that will respect their human rights. If this act is passed, $104 million will be used to assist the victims of Burma’s military and to help those who are displaced to return home.

The act also states that the U.S. government will demand accountability for all who have committed crimes against humanity and lays out a plan for economic restoration as well as assures its intentions to place economic sanctions, visa bans and trade restrictions where necessary.

This act would greatly benefit the refugees who are currently starving and the aid groups who are stretched too thin to help. It would also prevent future genocide and help put an end to the ethnic cleansing and persecution of the Rohingya people.

– Jenae Atwell

Photo: Flickr

Senator John McCain Takes a Stand Against Ethnic Cleansing in BurmaOn September 12, 2017, Arizona Senator John McCain spoke out against the treatment of the Rohingya population of the Rakhine State of Burma, also known as Myanmar. The Rohingya people are mostly Muslim-practicing individuals, and according to the United Nations, they are under attack. Specifically, the U.N. stated that the situation, which is characterized by a series of “cruel military operations,” is a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

In his address, Senator McCain withdrew his support of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 (NDAA), which sought to expand a military relationship between the United States and Burma. Specifically, Senator McCain criticized Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her lack of interference with the ethnic cleansing in Burma, stating, “I can no longer support expanding military-to-military cooperation given the worsening humanitarian crisis […] against the Rohingya people.”

According to Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia Joshua Kurlantzick, Suu Kyi, who is a Nobel Peace Prize recipient for her work with democracy and human rights, “has never demonstrated much sympathy” to the Rohingya people. Suu Kyi has remained mostly silent throughout the humanitarian crisis; however, she has claimed that the ethnic cleansing in Burma was burdened by an “iceberg of misinformation,” which has further enabled the country’s continuous Buddhist nationalist movement.

The Rohingya people, a minority group within Burma‘s largely Buddhist population, are not recognized as an official ethnic group by the country’s government. The attacks against the Rohingya people escalated on August 25, 2017, when the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) targeted multiple Burmese police and military officials.

Approximately 270,000 Rohingya people have fled Burma in order to find safety and solace in Bangladesh. Additionally, tens of thousands of Rohingya people remain displaced throughout Burma. However, the Burmese government has suspended all foreign aid to the Rakhine State, which has left all of the Rohingya people without necessities like food or health services.

Human Rights Watch has called upon the United Nations, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to place pressure on the Burmese government in order to allow access to foreign aid for the Rohingya people. Suu Kyi’s silence has had a significantly negative impact on the attacks against the Rohingya people, but she can help stabilize the situation by allowing foreign aid to reach the misplaced Rohingya people.

The World Food Programme (WFP) is an organization that has provided approximately 580,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh with food, which is particularly important for pregnant women and young children. Also, the WFP’s nutritious food has slightly lessened the risk for disease outbreaks among the Rohingya refugees, as nutritious foods help to strengthen the immune system.

The Rohingya people still remain displaced throughout Bangladesh with no shelter; however, the WFP’s food delivery to the Rohingya people, and Senator McCain’s address, are important beginning steps to helping the refugees obtain better lives.

Emily Santora

Photo: Flickr

Ethnic Cleansing in BurmaOn September 12, 2017, Arizona Senator John McCain spoke out against the treatment of the Rohingya population of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. The Rohingya people are mostly Muslim-practicing individuals, and according to the United Nations, they are under attack. Specifically, the U.N. stated that the situation, which is characterized by a series of “cruel military operations,” is a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. Thus, the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar must not be ignored.

In his address, Senator McCain withdrew his support of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 (NDAA), which sought to expand a military relationship between the United States and Myanmar. Specifically, Senator McCain criticized leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her lack of interference throughout the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. He stated, “I can no longer support expanding military-to-military cooperation given the worsening humanitarian crisis […] against the Rohingya people.”

According to Joshua Kurlantzick, the Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia on the Council on Foreign Relations, Suu Kyi, who is a Nobel Peace Prize recipient for her work with democracy and human rights, “has never demonstrated much sympathy” to the Rohingya people.

Furthermore, Suu Kyi has remained mostly silent throughout the humanitarian crisis; she has claimed that the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar was burdened by an “iceberg of misinformation,” which has further enabled the country’s continuous Buddhist nationalist movement.

The Rohingya people, which are a minority group within Myanmar’s largely Buddhist population, are not recognized as an official ethnic group by the country’s government. The attacks against the Rohingya people escalated on August 25, 2017, when the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) targeted multiple police and military officials.

Approximately 370,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar in order to find safety and solace in Bangladesh. Additionally, tens of thousands of Rohingya remain displaced throughout Myanmar. However, the Myanmar government has suspended all foreign aid to the Rakhine State, which has left all of the Rohingya people without necessities such as food or health services.

Human Rights Watch has called upon the United Nations, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to place pressure on the Myanmar government in order to allow access to foreign aid for the Rohingya people.

Suu Kyi’s silence has been demonstrated to have a significantly negative impact on the attacks against the Rohingya people, but she can help stabilize the situation by allowing foreign aid to reach the displaced Rohingya people.

The World Food Programme (WFP) is an organization that has provided approximately 580,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh with food, which is incredibly important for pregnant women and young children. The nutritious food provided by WFP has slightly lessened the risk of disease outbreaks among the Rohingya refugees, by helping to strengthen the immune system and health outcomes. They are seeking further financial resources to continue their work in tackling the crisis.

The Rohingya still remained displaced throughout Bangladesh with no shelter; however, WFP’s food delivery is a great first step to helping the refugees obtain better lives.

Emily Santora

Photo: Flickr

Rohingya MuslimsAs a minority group, Rohingya Muslims have been subjected to violence throughout the entirety of their existence. In what is being called “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide”, more than 400 Rohingya Muslims were killed in Burma in the month of August 2017.

The extreme violence that Rohingya Muslims have been facing in Burma has caused almost 90,000 to flee to neighboring Bangladesh in search of safety. The violence was reportedly set off by a group of Rohingya insurgents who attacked police posts in the Burma state of Rakhine on August 25, 2017.

Rohingya militants are being blamed by Burmese officials for burning homes and killing civilians. However, rights monitors and Rohingya Muslims argue that the Burmese Army is using this claim to force them out of Burma.

Rohingya Muslims living in Burma do not receive full citizenship rights, and they often need to seek official permission to marry or travel outside of their villages.

The violence has prompted responses from various world leaders, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who brought the matter before the United Nations General Assembly this month. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also endorsed this call.

Zarif denounced the “global silence on continuing violence against Rohingya Muslims” saying that “international action [is] crucial to prevent further ethnic cleansing—UN must rally” in a post he made on Twitter.

Additionally, Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif has been encouraging Burma to investigate the alleged atrocities against the Muslims of Rohingya.

According to a United Nations spokeswoman, the Rohingya Muslims are “probably the most friendless people in the world” as they have struggled to find safety or permanent civilization in any area of the world.

While the Rohingya Muslims are facing violence, rape and injustice carried out by the Burmese army, their attempts to flee Burma are often met with more violence and brutality by human traffickers and coast guards of other nations.

This month, former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan filed a report that urged the Burmese government to restore citizenship rights, which were stripped in 1982, to the Muslims of Rohingya.

Although conditions seem nearly hopeless for Rohingya Muslims living in Burma, world leaders are working together to support this minority group. Help for Muslims of Rohingya is on the way, although it is in question whether it will arrive on time.

Kassidy Tarala

Photo: Flickr

Diseases in Burma
Burma, or the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, is a sovereign state in Southeast Asia. It is a coastal region bordered by India and Bangladesh to the west, Thailand and Laos to the east and China to the north and northeast. Currently, Burma’s population consists of approximately 53,897,000 people.

Between 1962 and 2011 Burma was under the control of an oppressive military junta who suppressed almost all dissent of their rule. With the ouster of the junta group in 2010, the country has since seen a gradual liberalization, but the effects of the allocation of state funding to mostly the military has taken its toll on the healthcare in Burma.

Due to almost 50 years of neglect by the junta and foreign sanctions restricting outside help, the health care system in Burma has suffered heavily. The World Health Organization (WHO) found that Burma ranked last out of 190 countries according to their “overall health system performance” in a study conducted in 2013.

Burma has taken significant steps to improve their health care system, but problems persist. The lack of funding during the junta regime cut off access to the majority of public health care facilities, making some of the most common diseases in Burma hazardous or even deadly.

Hepatitis A and E

Both hepatitis A and E are viral diseases that interfere with the functioning of the liver. Hepatitis is spread through the consumption of food or water contaminated with fecal matter in areas with poor sanitation. Infected individuals generally exhibit symptoms of fever, jaundice, abdominal pain and diarrhea.

There was a 15 percent increase in the mortality rate of Hepatitis E between the years 1990-2013 in Burma. This is due in part to lack of educational materials and TV/radio broadcasting materials regarding the endemic nature of hepatitis in the country.

Typhoid fever

Another of the diseases in Burma caused by food or water contaminated by fecal matter or sewage. Triggered by the bacteria Salmonella typhi, symptoms include a high fever, headache, abdominal pain and either constipation or diarrhea. Typhoid fever is atypical to developing countries and is generally rare in industrialized areas. Mortality rates can reach as high as 20 percent of people infected.

The bacteria that causes typhoid fever is present in many Southeast Asian countries such as Burma in areas where there is poor water and sewage sanitation. Floods in these areas can also quickly spread the bacteria. Burma has suffered from heavy flooding since 2015.

Cholera

A diarrheal disease caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholera. An average of five to ten percent of those infected will have severe symptoms characterized by severe watery diarrhea, vomiting and leg cramps. Rapid loss of bodily fluids leads to dehydration and shock and can lead to death within hours without treatment.

The last major cholera outbreak occurred in late 2014 in the Yangon region of Burma. Over 200 patients tested positive for cholera and 41 were admitted to the hospitals for treatment. Township health officer Dr. Aye Aye Moe attributed the outbreak to poor sanitation, overcrowding and lack of clean drinking water. Authorities responded by chlorinating the water, providing information on food safety and improving sanitation through better waste management in the region.

Japanese Encephalitis

The leading cause of vaccine-preventable encephalitis in Asia, Japanese encephalitis is generally contracted through mosquitos. Most cases are mild but a small percentage of those infected develop severe encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) with symptoms such as a headache, high fever, disorientation, coma, tremors and convulsions. There is no universal treatment and care is generally specific to the individual.

The last major outbreak of Japanese Encephalitis in Burma occurred in 2014 affecting 41 people. Dr. Soe Tun Aung, the medical superintendent at Sittway General Hospital, said that steps that were taken to prevent the outbreak of the spread included spraying insecticide and repairing drains to prevent stagnant water in which mosquitos breed. Dr. Soe Tun Aung blamed an unhealthy environment along with a lack of awareness about the risks associated with mosquito bites as contributing factors associated with the outbreak.

Malaria

A mosquito-borne disease caused by a parasite. Individuals who contract malaria suffer from symptoms such as fever, chills and flu-like illness. Malaria is one of the most deadly diseases in Burma. The country accounted for close to half of all malaria deaths in the Southeast Asia in 2000. Burma has had issues with drug resistant strains of the disease and prevalence of the disease outside of city epicenters is very high.

Though there is still much to do, the government has made significant strides in allocating funding from the military to both medical goods and services to help fight diseases in Burma. This additional spending will not only improve the healthcare in Burma but will also create opportunities for multinational companies in healthcare consumer products, pharmaceuticals and medical services the ability to provide their services to the country.

The Burmese state, as well as the National Health Policy and the Ministry of Health have taken on the responsibility of raising the health status of the population. These important steps have the potential to improve overall healthcare and, through the liberalization of the country, allow outside organizations the ability to step in and provide support.

Drew Hazzard

Photo: Flickr

Collective Effort to Provide Assistance: Reducing Hunger in Burma
Burma, also referred to as Myanmar, is the second largest country located in Southeast Asia bordering the countries of Bangladesh and Thailand as well as the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal. Burma is reducing hunger showing a valiant effort by the government and nonprofits.

From 1962 to 2011, Burma was considered a pariah state due decades of oppressive rule from a military junta.

When the new civilian government came into power in 2011, the country found itself with remnants of human rights abuses, such as hunger, from the former military junta. However, government reforms and nonprofit organizations are underway in order to combat hunger in Burma.

According to the 2014 Human Development Report, Burma ranks 150 out of 187 countries in terms of being severely underdeveloped.

As a result, malnutrition rates in the country continue to rank among the highest in the world. With undernutrition being linked to the 35 percent of stunted children and the 8 percent of acutely malnourished children.

In addition, erratic conflicts of communal violence increase, prevent and limit food security for those who suffer from hunger in Burma. Communal violence in Burma is often between Muslims and Buddhists fighting over sexual assault accusations and other local disagreements.

Nevertheless, Hunger in Burma is slowly being tackled in part due to efforts from Burma’s government and non-profit organizations.

The government of Burma has initiated a commitment to decreasing the amount of hunger within the country. In 2013, Burma joined the SUN Movement in order to establish a National Plan of Action in Food and Nutrition. Additionally, the National Nutrition Centre in the Department of Health is collaborating with the Myanmar Nutrition Technical Network in the hopes of reducing hunger as a solution to poverty alleviation.

The Action Against Hunger campaign has reported that in just 2015, the organization has helped roughly 111,787 people in Burma. This figure includes providing 50,271 people with nutritional support, 39,081 people with access to safe water and sanitation and 22,435 people with increased economic self-sufficiency.

In addition, the World Food Programme states that they are aiding in combating hunger in Burma through providing food assistance for the 128,000 displaced people in Rakhine State, the 5,000 in Shan and the 39,000 in Kachin.

Shannon Warren

Photo: Flickr

Thailand’s Fishing Industry Linked to Slavery
Thailand, one of the two countries down-graded last month on the U.S. human trafficking watch list has failed at protecting the population from being forced into slavery. As officials turn the other cheek, boys and men are trapped in a nightmare, laboring miserably on decrepit fishing vessels for prawns sold to British and American supermarkets.

The U..S Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report (TiP), which evaluates countries based on their success in combating the activities of traffickers in their jurisdiction, down-graded Thailand from Tier 2 to Tier 3, the worst possible rating, focusing the world’s attention on their lack of effort in fighting slavery.

According to an investigation conducted by The Guardian, the extensive role played by Thai authorities, fishermen and traffickers has been uncovered with the imprisonment of thousands of Rohingya in illegal, deadly jungle camps.

The Rohingya are Indo-Aryan peoples from the Rakhine State, Myanmar, who speak the Rohingya language. In recent years, Myanmar has been accused of human rights violations and ethnic cleansing instigated by the ethnic Rakhine Buddhist, victimizing the stateless Muslim Rohingya through looting, arson, evictions and outright cold-blooded murder. For many Rohingya the choice was simple: stay and die, or leave by boat.

The Rohingya attempting to escape the violence have no option but to flee to the seas, seeking passage by boat down the coast of Thailand to relative safety in Malaysia, but in many cases, these refugees were intercepted and sold like animals into slavery on the Thai fishing boats. Often victims were escorted into jungle camps by Thai authorities where they were held in transit.

The Thai fishing industry is a multibillion-dollar business estimated at $7.3 billion a year. The slavery trade hidden behind the frozen shrimp packages on the shelves of Tesco, Walmart, Carrefour and Costco stores is so profitable that many fishermen in Thailand have converted their ships to carry Rohingya migrants instead of fish, increasing profits in some cases by 230%.

According to The Guardian, testimony from survivors, brokers and human rights groups have indicated that hundreds of Rohingya men were sold from a network of jungle slavery camps in southern Thailand. Rohingya migrants actually sold from these camps said operations were conducted in full awareness of government officials, and, in many cases, they were directly involved.

The Guardian reported that the jungle camps were often open-air prisons in which Rohingya captives were held for ransom, their captors demanding money far out of reach of their families. Survivors described being raped and tortured as well as witnessing others beaten to death.

In May 2015, Thai and Malaysian investigators discovered several jungle prisons and mass graves used as holding pens for trafficking operations.

Thailand is facing unprecedented pressure from the global community. The European Union gave Thailand six months to crack down on illegal fishing and labor abuses or face a trade ban, which could result in Thailand losing up to €1 billion ($1.1 billion) a year in seafood exports.

In the wake of Thailand’s drop on the human trafficking watch list, Thailand seems to be attempting to fight the human atrocities poisoning the country and has announced tougher legislation to address trafficking. However, according to Melysa Sperber, director of the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking, little has been seen, and no evidence of real improvement has been realized.

– Jason Zimmerman

Sources: MSN, The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2
Photo: CNN