US-based activists Friends of the Earth (FOE) are alleging political interference in Malaysia’s upgrade in this year’s human trafficking report and have filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) demanding the immediate release of all communications by the US State Department in the last two years on the matter.
The global social and environmental lobby group has also filed a request under the law for the all communications by Undersecretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human rights, Sarah Sewall, over the same issue, which saw Malaysia being upgraded from Tier 3 to Tier 2 in the 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report.
The upgrade has removed a significant barrier to President Barack Obama’s pursuit of the 12-nation trade pact, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), the text of which was agreed upon four days ago.
FOE said recent reports indicated that political appointees had meddled in the compilation of the 2015 report by challenging State Department human rights experts’ rating recommendations for 17 politically-strategic countries and inflating the assessment of 14 of them.
The report ranks 188 countries on their efforts to combat human trafficking.
Friends of the Earth, in their statement, said Malaysia’s unsubstantiated upgrade was particularly alarming because of its overt importance to the trade deal.
“While the Obama administration recently obtained Fast Track authority to negotiate the TPP, Congress restricted negotiations with countries that have the worst records in combating human trafficking,” FOE said, adding that Malaysia was one of those countries.
It added that in the July TPP round of negotiations, the State Department took Malaysia off its human rights blacklist by upgrading its status from a Tier 3 to the less incriminating Tier 2 Watch List rating.
The US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations had begun hearings into whether political interference occurred in the classification of certain countries in the trafficking report, FOE said.
Last week, six House Democrats wrote to the State Department Inspector General calling for an internal investigation into the State Department’s handling of the 2015 report in relation to Malaysia’s status, it added.
When visiting Malaysia in August, US Secretary of State John Kerry (pic) denied that Malaysia’s upgrade in the human trafficking report was done so that the country could join the TPP trade pact.
Kerry said the upgrade for Malaysia was based solely on improvements made by the administration in combating human trafficking in 2014, such as passing new laws, increasing investigations and starting a new victim protection programme.
“Let me be crystal clear. I approved the report and I had no conversation with the administration about it. The decision was based solely on the recommendations of my team.
“It was made without any regard to other considerations,” Kerry said in Kuala Lumpur.
In May, Malaysia came into the international spotlight after mass graves the bodies of human trafficking victims and slave camps were found deep in the jungles of Perlis, the country’s northernmost state. – October 9, 2015.
- US upgrades Malaysia in annual human trafficking report as trade deal looms [9 Jul 2015]
- John Kerry: Malaysia’s human trafficking ranking upgrade nothing to do with TPPA [6 Aug 2015]
- Kerry urges Najib to do more on human-trafficking [5 Aug 2015]