Burma, North Korea, Laos Fail To Stop Human Trafficking, U.S. Says

By Susan Krause
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - The U.S. Department of State has cited three East Asian nations - Burma, North Korea and Laos - for failing to make a significant effort to combat trafficking in persons, according to an annual report released June 5.    

In the department's Trafficking in Persons Report for 2006, the three are among 12 countries ranked in the lowest of three categories.  The categories, called tiers, were determined on the basis of government action to combat trafficking, prosecute offenders and assist victims.  (See related article.)

The department first determined whether a country was a point of origin, transit or destination for a significant number - usually at least 100 - of victims of severe forms of trafficking.  It then assigned each country to one of the four tiers on the basis of that determination. 

In its evaluations, the State Department compiled information from U.S. diplomatic posts, foreign government officials, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and published reports.  The diplomatic posts conducted investigations to gather information - meeting with government officials, representatives of local and international NGOs and multilateral organizations, journalists, academics and survivors of trafficking. 

Countries in Tier 1 fully complied with standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA).  Those in Tier 2 made significant efforts to comply with the TVPA, but did not reach full compliance.  

A special "watch list" was established for countries in Tier 2 that showed a significant number of victims of the most severe forms of trafficking, a significant increase in numbers of victims or other evidence of falling backward.  In the East Asia-Pacific region, Cambodia, China, Indonesia and Malaysia were included in this category, as well as Macau and Taiwan.

Countries that did not comply fully with the standards of the TVPA and did not make significant efforts to do so were placed in Tier 3, the lowest rank.  Third tier countries may be subject to certain sanctions by the U.S. government, including withholding of nonhumanitarian, nontrade-related assistance funds.  


Burma is a source country for human trafficking for the purpose of forced labor and sexual exploitation, according to the report.  Burmese men, women and children are trafficked to Thailand, China, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Korea and Macau for domestic service, forced and bonded labor in industrial zones and agricultural estates, and prostitution.  The Burmese military has been implicated in trafficking persons for forced labor, and there have been reports of forced enlistments of children in the Burmese army. 

"The Burmese government made minimal progress in prosecuting trafficking-related cases, especially cases involving trafficking for sexual or labor exploitation," the report said.

The State Department said Burma passed anti-trafficking legislation in September 2005 that addressed sexual exploitation, forced labor, slavery, servitude and debt bondage.  But the law has not been applied effectively, the report says, because of corruption in Burma's judiciary and lack of resources.

For more information on Burma, see U.S. Support for Democracy in Burma.


North Korea is also a source country of persons trafficked for the purpose of forced labor and sexual exploitation, according to the report. 

The North Korean government's own repressive activities have contributed to the problem, the report notes.  The government operates forced-labor prison camps, incarcerating an estimated 150,000-200,000 people.  An unknown number of North Koreans have attempted to escape the camps by fleeing across the Chinese border.  In China, they are vulnerable to trafficking rings, sold as brides to Korean and Chinese men or forced into prostitution and exploitative labor arrangements.

Little information is available on North Korea's legal system, the report says, and there are no known laws that directly address trafficking in persons. 

"The government does not acknowledge that trafficking is occurring, either within the country or transnationally," the report says.

For more information on North Korea, see The U.S. and the Korean Peninsula.


A significant number of men, women and children in Laos are economic migrants who fall victim to commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor arrangements in Thailand, the report says. 

Laos is also a transit and destination country for women who have been trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation.   

A "Law on Women" passed in September 2004 was intended to protect victims of trafficking, but the government of Laos has not implemented its provisions fully. 

Laos has no specific anti-trafficking legislation, according to the report, and data is limited on local officials' efforts to prosecute other offenses, such as kidnapping and prostitution.

"Overall, judicial and law enforcement institutions are extremely weak and corruption is widespread in Laos," the report says.


Countries on the Tier 2 special watch list should receive "special scrutiny," according to the State Department. 

Cambodia was placed on the watch list, according to the report, because "the determination that it is making significant efforts is based in part on commitments to sustain progress over the coming year."  Cambodia increased its enforcement efforts over the past year, the report notes, with more police actions, leading to arrests and convictions of traffickers.

China was assigned to the watch list for a second consecutive year because it failed to show evidence of increasing efforts to address transnational trafficking, according to the report.

"The government of China provides reasonable protections to internal victims of trafficking," the report says. "However, protections for Chinese and foreign victims of transnational trafficking remain inadequate and victims are sometimes punished for unlawful acts that were a direct result of their being trafficked - e.g., violations of prostitution or immigration/emigration controls."

Indonesia was placed on the watch list for failure to show evidence of increasing efforts to combat trafficking, according to the report. 

"The Indonesian government has not passed a much-needed anti-trafficking law that has been under consideration for three years," the report says.  "While the government launched an unprecedented anti-corruption campaign, widespread corrupt practices continued to contribute to trafficking."

Malaysia also was cited for failure to show evidence of increasing efforts to combat trafficking and protect trafficking victims.

"Some commitments made by Malaysian officials in 2004 and 2005 went unfulfilled," the report says.  "Although Malaysia has criminal statutes that allow it to punish elements of trafficking, Malaysia lacks comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation that would enable officials to identify and shelter victims and to prosecute traffickers under a single criminal statute."

For additional information, see Human Trafficking

The full text of the 2006 Trafficking in Persons Report is available on the State Department Web site.